Fashion Trend: Neon

Neon backstage Jason Wu

Backstage at the Jason Wu Spring 2012 collection

If we take even a quick glance at the Spring 2012 runways, the undeniable presence of neon is glowingly apparent. Designers such as Rodarte, Nanette Lepore, Jason Wu and Peter Som featured highlighter hues in designs for the season. Marking an undeniable comeback for neon, advertising campaigns are nodding at the trend in makeup and lighting: For example, for Spring, Versace featured Gisele Bündchen in a neon-soaked campaign shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. This superbright color family isn’t new to fashion, but it is back with fresh sense of wearability.

Left: Jason Wu Spring 2012; right: Versace Spring 2012 campaign

Neon accents are being seen in the form of a single, blinding accessory against an otherwise neutral ensemble. The trend has manifested itself in many different and personalized applications, from a pair of neon-bright high heels with jeans and a blazer to a neon-painted statement necklace. For the 2012 Met Costume Institute Gala, model Coco Rocha debuted hot-pink ombre hair.

This superbright color family isn’t new to fashion, but it is back with fresh sense of wearability.

Like many big trends, neon popped up in a few major collections last year. Christopher Kane showcased a neon-heavy collection that received major critical acclaim; his perforated leather accessories in orange, pink, green and yellow were a stand-out success. Also that year, Alber Elbaz for Lanvin sent a single neon-yellow top down the runway. Then, during summer 2011, top fashion bloggers and editors went bananas for the Cambridge neon satchel, making it an instant classic as well as a highly imitated design.

Most fashion followers point to the ’80s and early ’90s as neon’s most prominent moment. Jane Fonda’s spandex workout gear and the graffiti harem pants worn by Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air bring back strong memories from 20-plus years ago. In an industry that reinvents itself twice a year—while constantly referencing the past—fashion’s historical embrace of neon gives insight to its modern application.

Neon in Greek translates to “neos,” meaning new. The word seems appropriate, considering the substance has found a new identity approximately every 20 years. Neon was discovered in 1898 by two British chemists, Sir William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers, when chilling a sample of the atmosphere, warming the liquid, and capturing the gases as they boiled off. The characteristic brilliant-red color that is emitted by gaseous neon when excited electrically was noted immediately. “The blaze of crimson light from the tube told its own story and was a sight to dwell upon and never forget,” Travers wrote.

After being added to the periodic table, the element’s uses first became popularized in the 1920s in the form of huge neon signs, allowing New York’s Times Square to define the city’s insomniac identity. By the ’50s, Las Vegas’ custom billboards served as invitations into the fantasy world known as the Strip. Neon-like colors re-emerged in the ’60s through pop-culture prophet Andy Warhol’s silkscreen paintings. From this point on, vibrant hues became an essential part of fashion, advertising and the fine arts. And, of course, in the ’80s, the desire to dress up in a manner resembling a glow-stick was not avant-garde, it was In. Plastic jellies, neon spandex and fluorescent, neoprene fabric dominated until the early ’90s.

Now, neon is back—but in a much more subtle context. This bright trend is best enjoyed in small doses: think hot-pink nail polish, a bold yellow belt or a neon-green clutch. And make sure to save these pieces—in 2030, neon should be back.

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  1. So true! And I LOOOOVE it!

    Haley Jun 28 / 6:03 pm

  2. […] Try Neon Accesories Wearing neon accessories is another great way to ease yourself into the neon fashion trend. There is now a wide range of neon-colored accessories that you can choose from. For instance, spice up a dark corporate outfit with a fun neon necklace. Going out for the evening? Give that little black dress a touch of color by donning a chunky neon bracelet. Even adding a neon ring or a neon handbag to your everyday casual outfits can make a huge impact. […]

    What To Wear: Neon | Feb 19 / 5:27 am