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I’m probably not the best guy to talk about fashion. As a kid I once matched a striped shirt with a pair of plaid Madras shorts.

But I’m not the only person to have made some questionable wardrobe choices over the years.

Fashion Failures for the Ages

A quick visit to the Internet provides endless examples of fashion mistakes. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Velour tracksuits. A bad idea for young and old alike. Velour tracksuits are #1 in 5 Elderly Fashion Trends that Need to Be Retired. Seriously, do you need to see Grandma with anything written across her butt?
  • Shoulder pads. The exaggerated padding used in women’s clothing, not the protective gear used by football players. The history of this 1940s style reveals it’s a multi-time offender with resurgences in both the 1980s and 2010s. I say, three strikes and you’re out!
  • Saggy pants. A current and unfortunate trend. These are the only kind of pants my son owns. But I agree with President Barak Obama who once said, “. . . some people might not want to see your underwear — I'm one of them.”
  • Harem pants. Described as a cross between a skirt and pair of skinny jeans, these pants sport a drop-crotch style that is loose and baggy. Harem pants make saggy pants seem like a good look.
  • The leisure suit. No list of fashion mistakes is complete without the leisure suit of the 1970s. This polyester disaster was available in colors that ranged from bright white to tangerine and lime green. The leisure suit paired perfectly with a moustache and sideburns.

Get Ready for Steampunk

What do these current and past trends tell us about the future of fashion? Not much perhaps. But can today’s social sentiment predict what’s next on the fashion horizon? With huge amounts of social data available and a new generation of analytic tools, it just might be possible.

The folks at IBM Corporation analyzed more than a half million public posts on message boards, blogs, social media sites, and news sources. According to their analysis, you can expect to see steampunk styling in mainstream clothes, furnishings, and accessories by 2014.

Steampunk – for those of you might not know – started as a genre of science fiction set in the industrialized 19th century when steam power was king. It combines the Victorian aesthetic with unusually fanciful technology. Steampunk-inspired fashion can feature corset gowns for women, military jackets for men, and top hats for all. And keeping with the industrial theme, the clothes are often matched with leather accessories and goggles while accented with mechanical gadgets like cogs and gears.

A Powerful Tool for Retailers

Of course, this analysis doesn’t tell us whether steampunk – or any other fashion trend for that matter – will be an enduring look or yet another wardrobe mistake. But in any event, such predictions could be invaluable to designers and retailers trying to stay ahead of the fashion curve.

Increasingly, retailers are already using predictive analysis and data from social media and other sources to drive planning and customer engagement. Reza Soudagar – Senior Director, Database and Technology Marketing at SAP – writes about this in a recent blog about a renowned U.K. fashion house. Soudagar cites an example of how sales personnel can make recommendations using predictive analytics fueled by Twitter posts, fashion industry trend data, a customer’s individual buying history, and even their fashion phobias.

So will steampunk become the next fashion rage? Only time will tell. But if it does, I’ll probably make the faux pas of matching outfits with both sprockets and springs.

Tell me what you think are the worst fashion failures of all time, and be sure to style with me on Twitter @JohnGWard3.

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