The Year in Fashion – 2019

If you read fashion magazines you probably think 2019 was all about VSCO girls, the colour lavender, floral prints, bicycle shorts with blazers, tartan, equestrian boots, capes and trench coats, Gucci logo belt buckles, and sneakers, sneakers, sneakers. But these are disposable trends offered up by bloggers and fashion editors that keep you buying stuff. While athleisure continued to grab a bigger portion of the fashion market, the trends worth watching this year were not those that were ‘in’ but rather those that were on their way out. The miniskirt all but disappeared – not surprising for women’s fashion to become less salacious in the wake of #metoo (this also party explains why the Victoria’s Secret runway show was cancelled for good this year.) The designer handbag too has lost its once leading status in the fashion world. Also worth taking note is a slump in cosmetics. Oversaturated in brands, make-up has become less important as more women turn to skin-care over paint products.

While this year had its share of stories about cultural appropriation, racism, diversity and inclusion, the biggest trend in fashion was in regard to sustainability and the financial survival of fashion in the wake of the shrinking middle class who have been the purveyors of fashion since the French Revolution.

Sustainability: Textile and fashion production is the world’s second most polluting industry after oil and is growing only because of over-consumption. The UKs Extinction Rebellion movement has grown quickly and internationally since its October 2018 origins. There is a growing trend to buy less, choose quality over quantity, re-wear what you already own, and recycle everything else. To make the point that consumerism is at the root of our environmental problems, protesters blocked access to malls on Black Friday – the busiest shopping day of the year. The message is getting through to even large companies: Levi’s is working towards sustainability in the near future for all their products; Prada is also seeking sustainability that was required in order to get a 42.9 million pound loan; other companies including Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, and Madewell are buying back their own used clothes from consumers for upcycling. Some smaller designers are creating collections with a patchwork chic that uses fabric destined for the garbage. For consumers, renting over buying clothes is a growing trend.

Sustainability of the fashion economy: The growing polarization of wealth is creating two worlds of fashion, but both high and low ends are seeing lower profits. For the low end, a third of all sales are now online, saving overhead costs. Forever 21, that relied heavily on mall retailing, sought protection from bankruptcy this year primarily brought on by the high rents they pay (an issue that is a factor in many chain store failures). Despite some landlords rolling back rents, many high-streets are emptying out in New York, Paris, and Hong Kong due to high rentals for leading designer outlets. With a combination of high rents, E-commerce, less formal attire, and shoppers buying less, the fashion industry is scrambling. A recent study showed that in the U.S. for every fashion store that opens, two close as retail outlets become more like showrooms than shops.  

2019 saw the closure of Barney’s, Sonia Rykiel, and Zac Posen and the passing of Isabel Toledo, Karl Lagerfeld, Gloria Vanderbilt, Terry de Havilland, and Max Azria. As for this year’s biggest fashion faux pas? It was undoubtedly the tasteless school shooting hoodies produced by Bstroy.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to The Year in Fashion – 2019

  1. Daniel Milford-Cottam says:

    Also Sophia Kokosalaki, and I just heard yesterday that Josephus Thimister committed suicide last week.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thimister happened after I posted this review, and I covered Kokosalaki in a previous post. I limited the shout out to the biggest names because there were others, including Canadian designers, who most people wouldn’t know.

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