2010-2019 – So What Was Fashion?

McQueen’s Plato’s Atlantis collection, spring/summer 2010

The decade got off to a glum start in February 2010 with the unexpected passing of fashion’s brightest star, Alexander McQueen (although his last collection would go on to influence women’s fashion well into the decade.) Most fashions at the beginning of the decade were restyled knock-offs of vintage looks, jersey dresses and cardigans that clung and draped about the body, or jackets worn over T-shirts and spandex leggings – a substitute for pants that is still popular at the end of the decade. Footwear had a new look with open-toed boots and hyper-styled shoes with towering platforms and skinny heels by designers like Nicholas Kirkwood.

Nicholas Kirkwood, 2010

Things got even more glum in 2011 when fashion’s next brightest star, John Galliano, had a public melt-down that ended his stint at Dior and put his career on hiatus while he went through rehab. Fashion moved towards drab colours like putty, nude, grey, and eggplant. McQueen’s legacy inspired short, mirror-print dresses that paired well with the new footwear styles and stood out from the animal prints, boho tops, and other trends that had been recycling through fashion since the turn of the century.

Luxury brands began to embrace their own vintage histories when companies like Chanel loaned dresses from past collections to stars walking the red carpet. Lagerfeld’s vision for Chanel would became increasingly similar from season to season as he perfected a look that really didn’t need to explore new directions to remain successful.  

Kate Middleton’s fascinator was the biggest fashion story of 2011

Fashion industry news in 2012 included Marc Jacobs leaving Louis Vuitton after 16 years, and Galliano picking up the needle again after his temporary banishment. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of who was designing under what label. Sarah Burton was expertly maintaining Alexander McQueen, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli took on Valentino, Hedi Slimane replaced Stefano Pilati at Yves St. Laurent, Alexander Wang took over Balenciaga from Nicholas Ghesquiere, and Raf Simons was named creative director at Dior. The revolving door of young creative directors at long-established ateliers got more confusing as the decade progressed. 

Tattooing remained popular but with concerns over tanning-bed induced skin cancer, spray tans (identifiable by their orange hue) became more common. For men, undercut hairstyles with shaved temples were matched up with moustaches for ‘Movember’ cancer awareness campaigns. 

The problems of fast fashion created by companies like Zara, H&M, TopShop, Primark, and Forever 21 began making news. The high cost of cheap clothing in a price-war race to the bottom came to light when the Savar factory collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013 killing over 1100 employees who made Benetton, Joe Fresh, Walmart, and other fast fashion clothing brands.  

Inclusive and diverse – real women model Rick Owens spring 2014 collection

Steampunk was fading when the Hipster lumbersexual arrived in 2014. Men with dad-bods and man-buns adopted full Ozark-style beards, plaid flannel shirts, 90s grunge-style ripped jeans and knitted toques. For women, black boots, catsuits, and biker jackets were popular, sometimes worn with seapunk pastel tinted hair, or long hair with swept-to-the-side bangs like Taylor Swift. The new buzzword for the year ‘normcore’ identified dressed-down looks like pyjamas worn by teenagers to school.


For non hipsters a trend for dressing up became evident when Yahoo revealed their top searched question of 2015 ‘How do you tie a tie?’ While more businessmen were donning blue suits with brown shoes, the most controversial fashion news story of the year occurred when Barack Obama wore a tan suit for a press conference during an August heat wave. Across the Canadian border, Justin Trudeau’s novelty socks were the only faux pas commented on by the fashion press. 

For women, neutrals were making a strong comeback, and trouser suits gained momentum in every pant style from legging tight to palazzo wide. Fashion was finally moving away from retro vintage inspirations to conspicuously contemporary styles, using futuristic textiles and technology via designers like Iris van Herpen.

Iris van Herpen 2015 — too extreme for most, but influential in pushing fashion to look forward to the future

The Adidas collections by Stella McCartney brought rise to the new term ‘athleisure’ in 2015. Her upscale athletic clothing styles took yoga pants and hoodies into the luxury market and set off a trend that continues to grow. The word ‘athleisure’ was even officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2016, just as flyknit sneakers by Nike were becoming popular. The most controversial athleisure outfit of the year was the burkini – a head to toe swimsuit designed for Muslim women that was as scandalous to some as the bare breasted monokini had been fifty years earlier. 

In a palette of black and white tailored shirts and ankle-length skinny pants, shapeless jackets, and soft, woolly coats, a non-gender-specific style gained popularity mid decade.

In 2016, fashion was becoming political. Trump, Brexit, Black Lives Matter, transgender bathrooms – these were the headlines of the year, and fashion was not immune to being a part of those headlines. Fashion politics continued into 2017, from pink pussy hats to President Trump’s inability to knot his tie to the right length.

The undercut hairstyle, fashionable in 2012, was dropped by all but the Alt right during 2016 who paired it with white polo shirts and chinos for a ‘faschic’ look

Rules of conduct came into question in 2017. Vogue declared in late November that “…the biggest rule is that there are no rules. You can wear a princess gown with sneakers! A bathrobe to an evening event! Even slippers to the office!” However, dress codes did still exist. This became apparent when two teenaged girls were not allowed to board a United Airlines plane for wearing leggings. A few months later, a brouhaha erupted over a ban on sleeveless frocks and open-toed shoes for female reporters at the U.S. Congress. More dress code stories hit the headlines ranging from whether restaurants could require their hostesses to wear high heels, to fashion dos and don’ts posted by American restaurants that were really thinly disguised racial profiles. 

Leggings, especially nude coloured, were THE worst fashion of the 2010s

The Hipster look began to wane as designers jumped on transgender chic for menswear. Many young designers avoided traditional fashion weeks and directly marketed to their fanbase via Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Some of the older, established labels, like Vivienne Westwood and Versace, profited from market interest in their vintage pieces by remaking favourites from past collections. At auctions and vintage boutiques, buyers were battling it out for museum-worthy couture. 

Other than Meghan Markle’s trend-setting preference for bateau necklines, politics made most of the fashion headlines in 2018. Fashion news always seemed to be about some sartorial gaff, from cultural appropriation to the “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” green Zara jacket Melania Trump wore to fly to Texas to visit children separated from their families at the U.S. border. Other politically-charged fashion news in 2018 and 2019 included: the closure of Ivanka Trump’s off-shore fashion business due to the widespread boycott of the Trump brand; Hollywood actresses creating a fashion blackout at the Golden Globe awards; Nike catching flak for hiring Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er quarterback who started the ‘Take a Knee’ anti-racism protest; France’s gilets jaunes yellow vest protestors; Dolce and Gabbana’s promotional ads that offended the entire Chinese nation; London fashion week going fur free; a Gucci sweater resembling blackface; and Victoria’s Secret last fashion show due, in part, to pushback for their propagation of unrealistic body images.

Melania Trump on her way to visit children separated from their parents at the Texas border, 2018

Via cheap labour, massive investment, and luxury spending, the fashion industry underwent a ‘Chinafication’ over the past thirty years. However, as the decade came to a close, it became apparent that the fashion industry was no longer sustainable, either economically or environmentally. Textile production is the world’s second most polluting industry after oil and only remains profitable because of over-consumption. A growing trend to buy less, choose quality over quantity, wear what you already own, and recycle everything else is beginning to change the fashion industry and will have a larger impact in the 2020’s. 

Extinction Rebellion at London fashion week, 2019

Some companies like Levi Strauss and Prada are working towards zero carbon footprints in the near future, others like Eileen Fisher and Patagonia are buying back their own used clothes from customers for upcycling. Some designers create collections in a patchwork chic that uses up textile off-cuts otherwise destined for the garbage.

There has been a seismic shift in retailing in the 2010s as a third of all sales are now direct to consumer online purchases. Brick and mortar shops are becoming more like showrooms as streets and malls, previously crowded with retailers, empty out. 

Parisian couturiers and New York fashion editors are no longer the leading fashion influencers. Today’s fashions are influenced by computer-generated algorithms, duck-faced Instagram selfies, bloggers, Facebook ‘likes’, and YouTube instructional videos. Get ready for the 20’s because everything is changing… 

We lost a lot of fashion history in the 2010s: Vidal Sassoon, Nolan Miller, Gloria Vanderbilt, Terry de Havilland, Max Azria, Karl Lagereld, Isabel Toledo, Ottavio Missoni, Hubert Givenchy, Judith Leiber, Kate Spade, Alexander McQueen, Michael Vollbracht, Emmanuelle Khanh, Gina Fratini, Laura Biagiotti, Kenneth Jay Lane, Pierre Berge, Herve Leger, Azzedine Alaia, Andre Courreges, Sonia Rykiel, James Galanos, Bill Cunningham, Oscar de la Renta, Koos Van den Akker, Jean Louis Scherrer, Arnold Scaasi, Elio Fiorucci, Madame Carven, John Fairchild, Lilly Pulitzer, Emanuel Ungaro, and Glamour magazine.

The Year in Fashion — 2017

This has been a weird year for fashion where the mundane and the bizarre freely mixed… even at the museums. Numerous museums celebrated the 70th anniversary of Dior while the Met honoured Rei Kawakubo, a living fashion artist. Meanwhile, the Museum of Modern Art didn’t look at the art of fashion at all, but rather the meaning of contemporary clothing, boiling it down to 111 important pieces from the past century.

While museums couldn’t decide how to approach the topic of fashion, Vogue declared in late November that “In these dark times, take a bit of solace that the fashion world …is becoming more egalitarian, and more accessible, than ever before. And in this new, democratized world of style the biggest rule is that there are no rules. You can wear a princess gown with sneakers! A bath robe to an evening event! Even slippers to the office! Your gym clothes are now your work clothes and your party outfits are your weekday pick-me-ups.”

Well — not really. Slippers in the office don’t say ‘I’m ambitious’, but underdressing for work can be as out of place as overdressing. Every time I turn on a T.V. , which only happens in hotel rooms now as we no longer own a television, I am always surprised to see female newscasters at 8 a.m., perched on stools in cleavage baring mini cocktail dresses, high heels, glittery jewellery, blown hair, and glossy lips. This is not just a Fox News look either. I can’t remember the last time I saw a female newscaster buttoned up in a tailored jacket with a serious hairstyle.

Despite these missteps fashion rules do still exist, and that was never more apparent than in 2017 which started off with the new U.S. president incapable of figuring how long his tie should be or how to keep it in place without using scotch tape. The fashion crisis worsened when two teenaged girls were not allowed to board a United Airlines plane for wearing leggings – a fashion item from the company’s no-fly list. A few months later, a brouhaha erupted over the ban on sleeveless frocks and open-toed shoes for female reporters in Congress, even during the swampy D.C. summer. Sexism couldn’t be blamed as men are required to wear even more stifling jackets and ties. Speaking as someone who was once kicked out of a restaurant for doffing my jacket during an August heat wave, these rules need updating… (however, I agree with United that leggings are NOT pants!)

Other ‘dress code’ stories came up this year, especially in the U.S. where some restaurants created long lists of wearable dos and don’ts. Although, the rules were often thinly disguised racial profiles: No bandanas, hoodies, jerseys, skull caps, puffy jackets… the lists went on and on to pin point which patrons were considered undesirable.

Rick Owens has good ideas but needs to rein it in at times.

Unlike street fashion, which has visually identifiable followers, high fashion became more of a blur of looks, trends, and overstatements designed to capture media attention. Over the past few years, designers who don’t meet company sales quotas are routinely turfed in favour of the next designer du jour, ping-ponging a label’s look until something works. The artificial haute couture agenda of rules that established seasonal runway and mid-season collections a century ago is dying. While many younger designers are going with online debuts, and films to showcase their looks on youtube, others still vie for media attention, producing theatrical looking costumes that will be sure-fire attention grabbers, and commercial disasters.

Trench coat maxi skirt and bra… really?

One of the worst trends of 2017 was transgender chic. The main problem is that it’s already been done – for centuries. Women borrowed tailored suits for horseback riding in the 18th century and Amelia Bloomer was advocating trousers in the 1840s. Men were wearing higher heels than women in the 1660s, and lacier cravats and silk stockings in the 1760s. Unisex jumpsuits and sweaters got a bit goofy in the late 1960s, but 15 years later, genderless dressing was perfected in blouson jackets, flat soled boots, and tailored trousers. So, when contemporary designers chuck 125 pound male models down the runway in flowered skorts and stilettos, it’s not fresh, it’s just desperately looking for attention.

What sold in 2017 were 1) Athleisure is still hot: upscale sneakers, tailored hoodies, trim fitted jogging pants. 2) Hipster is still selling, but only to 20-something men: double denim, plaid, toques… (I think its days are numbered) 3) Very specific time-sensitive trends: Stranger Things T-shirts, Fjallraven backpacks, dirty jeans. 4) Fast fashion is fading and there is a growing appreciation for timeless dressing. These fashions have long shelf lives because they are the offspring of ‘classic’ dressing (pleated skirts, shirtwaist dresses, thong sandals), and wearable art, like the 80s Japanese aesthetic for non-trending styles, perfected by masters of design like Miyake. These styles have longevity, and that’s good for the environment and pocketbook. You can put them at the back of the closet for awhile, then bring them back into your wardrobe after a few seasons.

Chanel 2015 — nobody will know…

This ‘investment’ dressing can include vintage and recent favourites, from a 70s Halston dress to a 2008 Rucci jacket. Stars are now regularly buying or borrowing vintage gowns for red carpet walks: a 75 Yves St. Laurent, an 82 Bill Blass, a 98 Valentino…  In keeping with this trend, many designers are bringing back past hits. Want something from Vivienne Westwood’s 1981 pirate collection? She’s recreating pieces now. And these days, every new Chanel season looks an awful lot like the last Chanel season, but in a different tweed.

Always well dressed in 2017.

Most of the fashion news came out of the U.S. this year, especially in terms of political statement fashions, from pink pussy hats in January to ‘fashy’ white polo shirts in August. But looking beyond all the crazy clothing stories, there were some trends worth noting. Platform shoes were scarce this year – maybe they finally decided to go on holiday. Skirts are also getting longer and tops a little more covered up – perhaps as a reaction to all the sex scandals clouding the news.

On a sad note, we lost a lot of talent this year: French boutique designer (especially known for eyewear) Emmanuelle Khanh; American bathing suit designer Anne Cole; English 1970s boutique fashion designer Gina Fratini; Italian knitwear queen Laura Biagiotti; American jeweller Kenneth Jay Lane; French fashion tycoon Pierre Berge; French designer Herve Leger; Tunisian-born French designer Azzedine Alaia, English royal dressmaker Evelyn Maureen Baker, and British film costumer John Mollo.