Fashion in the 2010s was underscored by a range of subcultures that met the world stage, from normcore to Gen Z Internet culture (VSCO Girls, anyone?). On another, far more formal plane, the British royal family’s popularity experienced an apotheosis not seen since the days of the late Princess Diana, as Kate and Meghan have taken after their would-be mother-in-law’s fashion icon status.
But while logomania, ath-leisure and the occasional fascinator led the decade style-wise, the fashion industry itself experienced profound cultural shifts over the last 10 years that spurred marked change in terms of larger issues including inclusivity, diversity and sustainability across the board.
As the 2010s come to a close, WWD looks at the seven fashion trends that defined the decade.
1. Goodbye Formalwear, Hello Ath-leisure
Fashion got casual in the 2010s. From the wellness movement to 24/7 access to just about anyone on Instagram and Snapchat, a relaxed culture ensued, giving launch to the decade’s most comfortable fashion trend: ath-leisure.
What started at the gym, as the boutique fitness culture proliferated in the decade, the demand for more fashionable workout clothes increased, too. Hyperstylized workout gear, from the ubiquitous yoga pant to sports bras, evolved with higher-quality fabrics, vibrant colors and graphic patterns, spilling from the spin class to the street.
The demand for ath-leisure fostered the boom of successful brands, such as Outdoor Voices (founded in 2014), Vuori Clothing (founded in 2013) and Bandier (founded in 2014) as well as establishing heritage brands like Lululemon, Sweaty Betty and Athleta, among others, as key players in the market.
Ath-leisure wasn’t restricted to just fashion. The trend made its way to the beauty industry in 2018, when a number of brands emerged with skin-care products that offered pre- and post-workout benefits.
2. The Royal Effect
The 2010s ushered in a number of high-profile additions to the British royal family, most notably the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, and the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, who have both had their own unique influence on fashion.
Much like the late Princess Diana, both duchesses have proven that they have the magic touch when it comes to influencing consumer purchases, with pieces they wear at royal engagements virtually selling out within minutes of their photos hitting the Internet.
Since her royal wedding to Prince William in 2011, Middleton’s style has become defined by heritage British designers with her go-to brands being Alexander McQueen, Emilia Wickstead and Jenny Packham. She’s largely stuck to royal dress codes, favoring structured coats, knee-length and long-sleeve dresses, high-waisted trousers and closed-toe pumps.
Markle, while only officially part of the royal family since her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry, has had a marked effect on fashion — and designers’ bottom lines. The duchess has become known for championing smaller and emerging designers, such as Mackage and Greta Constantine, and more affordable options from brands like Aritzia, Club Monaco and Reformation. The California-born Markle also has a sweet spot for American fashion designers, regularly wearing looks by close friend Misha Nonoo, as well as designers like Jason Wu, Brandon Maxwell and Veronica Beard.
Ahead of the royal wedding, the net present value to brands that Markle wore was estimated at 150 million pounds (roughly $212.1 million) according to David Haigh, chief executive officer of Brand Finance. On one instance that Markle sported a Mackage coat, the brand revealed that it garnered 1.6 billion media impressions in a 24-hour time span.
Both duchesses also had an effect on the bridal market thanks to their royal wedding gowns — Middleton with her long-sleeve lace Alexander McQueen gown and Markle with her cowl-necked Givenchy gown — spawning a number of duplicate bridal gowns.
3. A Street Style Star Is Born
Street style photography has long been a part of fashion week, but the phenomenon gained prestige and ubiquity in the 2010s thanks to the proliferation of social media. These street style images circulated on fashion blogs, web sites and Instagram more so than actual runway looks, spawning a budding class of influencers that today are industry powerhouses.
The dawn of the “street style star” can be credited in large part to the late New York Times photographer (and former WWD alum), Bill Cunningham. For decades, Cunningham was a fixture on the streets of New York, but he became a celebrity in his own right with a documentary about his work, which was released in 2011. The decade also saw the rise of other street style photographers, including Scott Schuman and Tommy Ton, who gave a platform to the self-styled fashion bloggers and put on display their widely acclaimed authentic style.
The frenzy around street style stars catapulted the careers of influencers like Leandra Medine of Man Repeller, Chiara Ferragni of the Blonde Salad, Aimee Song of Song of Style, Arielle Charnas of Something Navy, Susie Lau of Style Bubble, Nicole Warne of Gary Pepper Girl, Tamu McPherson of All the Pretty Birds and many other bloggers, influencers, fashion editors and the like.
Today, fashion influencers are fixtures at fashion week, sitting front row alongside celebrities and fashion editors. Their ubiquity, influence and prominence has also reshaped the landscape of brand marketing, with major companies eschewing the typical celebrity spokesperson for the influencer brand ambassador. Many of today’s biggest influencers have been tapped for these ambassador roles, including Charnas for Tresemmé and Ferragni for Lancôme.
4. Subcultures Go Mainstream
Perhaps ironically, the antitrend was the one of the most pervasive fashion trends of the 2010s. Fashion subcultures, the direct antithesis to ubiquitous, sometimes overstylized trends, proved to be even more popular than the original trends themselves, making their way from niche communities to the mainstream fashion runway. The decade saw a number of these subcultures enter the widespread cultural lexicon, most notably normcore, streetwear and Gen-Z Internet culture.
Normcore was meant as the antidote to overly ornate and stylized runways and designer goods. Instead, the trend put an emphasis on mundane, casual looks that historically were interpreted as anything but fashionable.
The term was originated by New York-based trend forecaster K-Hole with its 2013 report “Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom.” The report defines normcore as “moving away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that opts into sameness.”
Normcore in fashion translated as color palettes of white, beige, gray and black, with virtually no logos or prints. The trend’s main style icons were Jerry Seinfeld circa his Nineties’ “Seinfeld” TV days replete with dad jeans and chunky sneakers, and Steve Jobs’ uniform of Issey Miyake black turtlenecks, Levi’s and gray New Balance sneakers.
Other quintessential normcore looks included white sweat socks with sandals, Birkenstocks, baseball caps, windbreakers and tracksuits.
Streetwear was nothing new in the 2010s. The movement has origins dating back to the late Seventies and early Eighties’ surf, skateboard and hip-hop cultures of Los Angeles and New York City.
But in the 2010s, brands like Stüssy, Supreme, A Bathing Ape, Off-White and Hood By Air, reinvigorated the look and developed cult followings. Mainstream brands, luxury houses and retailers took notice and soon after, streetwear-inspired wares sprung up on the runways, most notably in terms of sneakers. For his Chanel spring 2014 couture show, the late Karl Lagerfeld broke tradition and dressed all of his models in sneakers in monochrome hues, creating a sporty vibe that was enhanced by accessories like knee and elbow pads and fanny packs. Lagerfeld continued this at Chanel’s fall 2014 ready-to-wear show, where he dressed models in technicolor sneakers as they walked the show’s supermarket-themed set.
The streetwear trend was also brought into the mainstream with many designer houses collaborating with cult-favorite streetwear brands. Louis Vuitton’s former men’s artistic director, Kim Jones, teamed with Supreme for its fall 2017 collection, which included co-branded items such as denim jackets and shirts that merged both brands’ logos and bright red leather goods with Supreme’s famous box logo. Industry sources claimed that sought-after collaboration increased both brands’ sales by 100 million euros.
Generation Z Internet Culture:
While still mostly in high school, the teenagers of Generation Z already have birthed a few fashion trends that are defining their generation, namely the E-Girl or E-Boy and the VSCO Girl.
These trends spring from the generation’s hyperconnectivity with social media and their inclination toward the relatively new social media platform, video-sharing app TikTok.
E-Girls can be best described as the evolution of the “scene kid” from the aughts. It’s a trend prevalent on social channels where teenagers post pictures and videos of themselves with pastel-colored wigs and graphic makeup consisting of black winged eyeliner, rainbow-colored eye shadow and hearts drawn on the cheeks.
VSCO Girls, on the other hand, are both a meme and a fashion trend among teenage girls. The trend has origins linked to TikTok, however, its name comes from the photo-editing and sharing app, VSCO. The trend is a blend of the classic preppy style with a beach aesthetic, with girls looking to oversize T-shirts that cover their shorts, Birkenstock sandals, puka shell chokers, Pura Vida bead bracelets, colorful hair scrunchies and Fjällräven backpacks. VSCO Girls are also known for being environmentally conscious, with their staple accessory a sticker-covered Hydro Flask water bottle.
5. Inclusivity and Diversity Take Centerstage
The long-awaited movement for inclusivity and diversity had a profound effect on the industry in the 2010s. Designers and brands across the board made commitments to making their businesses, runways and designs both represented by and available to people of all races, gender identities, size and age.
Chromat, for one, has championed diversity and inclusivity in fashion since launching in 2010, serving as a beacon to an industry that needed to catch up. Chromat designer Becca McCharen-Tran has long cast her runways with a diverse set of models, including those that are plus size, transgender, pregnant, amputees and breast cancer survivors. Most recently, McCharen-Tran cast plus-size model Tess Holliday in her 10th anniversary spring 2020 collection, where the model was seen wearing a dress that read “sample size.”
Christian Siriano is another champion of the movement toward inclusivity and diversity in fashion. The designer is known for creating red-carpet looks for actresses who have publicly said that designers had refused to outfit them due to sizing restrictions.
In 2016, Siriano responded to a 2016 tweet by comedian Leslie Jones who said that no designers were willing to dress her for the premiere of her film “Ghostbusters.” Jones went on to attend the premiere in a custom, off-the-shoulder red dress created by Siriano and has worn a number of his looks on the red carpet since.
The industry also made strides in inclusivity in terms of ageism. The decade saw the likes of then 80-year-old Joan Didion cast as the face of Céline’s spring 2015 campaign, Carmen Dell’Orefice still an in-demand model at 88, and most recently, iconic supermodels Pat Cleveland, Carol Alt, Patti Hansen, Christie Brinkley, Carolyn Murphy and Christy Turlington Burns, returning to the runway at New York Fashion Week fall 2019.
The 2010s were chock-full of watershed moments, from model and body activist Ashley Graham, who made history as the first plus-size model to cover Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue in 2016 to Halima Aden becoming the first hijab-wearing model to be signed by IMG Models and walk the New York Fashion Week runway. Rihanna for one, was widely celebrated, for putting on a diverse lingerie fashion show for her second Savage x Fenty collection at the end of the decade. The movement was also prevalent in the beauty world, with CoverGirl tapping influencer James Charles as its first male spokesmodel in 2016, as an example.
6. Proud (And Perhaps Ironic) Consumerism
On the other end of the normcore spectrum, Millennials developed a penchant for nostalgia: enter logomania (again).
The second half of the decade was laden with logocentric pieces, with highlights including Vetements’ much sought after DHL logo T-shirt; Balenciaga’s fall 2017 men’s wear collection (which riffed on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign logo), to Supreme’s iconic box logo.
Virgil Abloh, for another, launched his fashion label Off-White in 2012, changing the landscape of streetwear and logomania thanks to his ironic usage of quotation marks for his product names and designs.
Luxury designers were quick to jump on the logomania bandwagon. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele has revived logomania at the Italian fashion house, creating modernized, colorful updates to the brand’s handbags and increasing popularity for the brand’s logo belts.
Dior, for another, saw a newfound interest in its classic logo Saddle Bag originally released in the brand’s spring 2000 collection. The “It” of the aughts was re-created by Kim Jones for his first Dior men’s spring 2019 collection and by Maria Grazia Chiuri for the fall 2018 ready-to-wear collection, and has since regained its “It” status.
7. Amped-Up Runways
Over-the-top runway sets have long been de rigueur in fashion, but in the 2010s, designers took over-the-top to a whole new level. Fendi, for one, held its 90th anniversary show at Rome’s Trevi Fountain in 2016, Chanel, for another, had a 115-foot-tall rocket — that actually launched at the close of the show — at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2017.
Kanye West arguably had one of the most widely panned shows of the decade for his Yeezy Season 4 collection. Logistical information was scant until just a few hours before the show, where West shepherded editors, critics and showgoers to New York’s Roosevelt Island, essentially holding them captive in the scorching heat. The heat led to multiple models collapsing on the runway, with spectators rushing to assist them. The show ultimately received scathing reviews and backlash on social media.
West’s close collaborator and friend, Virgil Abloh, however had one of the most memorable runway moments of the decade with his first collection as artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s. Abloh showed a collection that signaled a new era for the brand, blending Louis Vuitton’s luxury roots with Abloh’s streetwear sensibility. The show was seen as a watershed moment for the designer house, with Abloh rushing to embrace West after his finale walk and the two openly weeping.
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