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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.