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When most people think of fashion, they don’t picture this column or the average trip to the mall. Instead, they think of the glamorous world of couture, replete with catwalks and coat hanger-thin models, wearing outrageously impractical creations and strutting among crowds of high-brow socialites. Though this world exists, it has not been the focus of this column, as it is a world none of us will likely ever inhabit. What goes on there, however, does have a direct impact on the clothes we wear. So we decided to take a peek into that world to see why people care at all about designers, fashion shows, and the trends they bring.

So, why do we care about trends? They certainly don’t have to be followed — some of them are downright ugly! Since we no longer live in a world where we make our own clothes, however, there are two benefits to staying current with trends. First, the trends dictate what will be available at the stores most of us shop at; top designers heavily influence the clothing types carried at affordable stores. Second, experienced designers and stylists give the average person great ideas on how to put together flattering and artistic looks by experimenting with cut and fabric. This is particularly important for all of us here at MIT, since we certainly don’t have the time to do too much original experimentation.

We are, of course, not encouraging anyone to become slaves to the trends. Since it is true, however, that most of us shop in places that are influenced by trends (even thrift stores follow trends, just of decades past), trends provide a structure for ordinary non-designers to express their creativity. Therefore, given the silhouette and cuts that are popular during a particular season, consumers can shop for the fits, colors, and combinations that are most flattering to them. We encourage everyone not to turn away from designers, but instead embrace the creative guidelines they bring to our outfits.

Therefore, as a short orientation, here are some influential design houses and what they think you might be wearing in the next couple months and how you might make use of the information.

Burberry, a British luxury house founded in 1856, manufactures outdoor attire as well as everyday wear and accessories. You can probably spot the unmistakable checked pattern (aka Haymarket check) from a mile away. Burberry’s Spring 2008 collection focuses on short, highly worked chiffon and organdy dresses under puffy jackets and lightweight coats that run from rocker style to very rich.

Yves Saint Laurent was founded in 1962 and initially developed the beatnik look, safari jackets, tight pants, and thigh high boots. They also created the tuxedo suit for women. In a season where most of the fashion revolves around flowers and ruffles, YSL’s Spring 2008 collection is all about minimalistic elegance and a tailored look, with strongly cut, modern jackets.

Missoni, an Italian company based in Milan was founded in 1964 with what started as a small family owned store. Missoni is famous for their unique knits, colorful patterns and stripes on many types of fabrics (wool, cotton, linen, rayon and silk, etc.) and forty colors. Missoni’s Spring 2008 collection consists of the same noticeable knits and prints with all sorts of designs (short, long, zigzags, flowy, flowery, and boho styles).

Overall, the trend on the runways seemed to be a contrast of feminine, floaty dresses and masculine, tailored pants and jackets for the ladies. Guys, the runways are not so clear, but there is definitely a turn towards slim fit pants with lower, baggier crotches, and bright accessories and accents.

Now, what can you do with this information, you ask? Well, those of us looking for a spring jacket could pick up a tailored, suit-type piece, while the ladies looking for spring dresses could experiment with modern floral prints. And, we could all keep in mind the popular silhouettes when picking out spring accessories.

So, next time you hear something about a designer or have a chance to look through a magazine, don’t completely tune it out — it might give you something to think about. And remember the best thing about trends — you don’t have to adopt all of them. Take what you like and forget about the rest, and certainly don’t be afraid to look outside the usual ready to wear collections in the mall. Just create the mix that you’re most happy and comfortable with.