Ah, fashion. Fast-moving, dazzling and amorphous, the seasons race past in the blink of an eye, with ever-changing silhouettes, hemlines and shoe heel heights. At the other end of the spectrum are styles that evolve slowly and gracefully over months, deepening in our affections as the years pass.
From the #MeToo movement to Black Panther, the past 10 years have also been about seismic social change, all of which has echoed through fashion. As the decade draws to a close, we look back at the defining trends and moments, both fast and slow, that have had an impact on us and shaped the way we dress.
If the toweling Juicy Couture tracksuit could sum up the 2000s, so the past decade can be encapsulated in one word: athleisure. A hybrid of athletic and leisure, this trend translates as expensive trainers and high-end tracksuit bottoms. Championed by the world's most exclusive brand – Hermes – where hoodies are cut from buttery soft leather and cashmere is the go-to for tracksuits, we have grown used to putting comfort above fashion – to the point that it is hard to see how we can ever return.
When former Valentino design duo Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri scattered tiny gold studs over shoes and dubbed them the Rockstud, something huge happened. Launched in 2010, the Rockstud remains a bestseller nine years later as T-strap heels and pointed flats, despite the £535 (Dh2,575) price tag. Although oft copied by the high street – a move that is normally a death knell – the originals are still just as popular.
The Kate effect
When Catherine Middleton married Prince William on April 29, 2011, the wedding was watched by an estimated global TV audience of 162 million, and by a further 101 million online. The bride's decision to wear a dress by British designer Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen was a major boost for the British fashion industry. (Her sister and maid of honour, Pippa, also became something of a minor celebrity for her flattering dress as she carried Kate's train into the church.)
Since then the duchess has been credited with the "Kate effect", in that whatever she wears inevitably sells out. For the official portrait marking the birth of her eldest child, Prince George, for example, sales of the Seraphine dress she wore increased by 400 per cent. When pregnant with her daughter, Princess Charlotte, she donned a £30 Asos polka-dot maternity dress that sold out in every size within minutes of the photo going public, as did the off-the-shoulder Zara dress she wore to a charity polo match this summer and the Topshop smock dress she sported on her recent official tour of India.
The midi skirt
Possibly the biggest, most lasting shift over the past 10 years has been the lengthening of skirts. This may sound like a tiny thing, but given the adage linking hem height to the state of the economy, this actually speaks volumes. Caught between confidence (short) and trepidation (long), the longline midi skirt first appeared at Burberry in September 2013, and never left. Easy to wear and elegant, it also speaks of the growing influence of the Asian and Middle Eastern markets, which both favour a more demure leaning or what has come to be known as “modestwear”.
This, ironically, started as an anti-fashion stance in 2013 until – in a case of life imitating art – it transformed into an actual trend. Based on the notion of not wearing designerwear, instead just wearing clothes that were comfortable, normcore soon took on a life of its own when it unwittingly overlapped into "dad fashion" territory. This hit the runway for spring 2018 when Balenciaga deep-dove into Dadcore, or the art of dressing like your father. High-waisted jeans (preferably ankle flappers), jackets that didn't fit well, and just plain ugly shirts were catapulted into high fashion, that the rich and famous scrambled to be seen in. "You can't dress trashy 'til you spend a lot of money": never has Billy Joel's 1979 song It's Still Rock and Roll to Me seemed so prescient.
If a glance in your wardrobe reveals frayed, mid-tone jeans (probably high-waisted), then you have Vetements to thank. Founded as a fashion collective in 2014 by Demna Gvasalia (more on him later), this small group of designers specialised in creating left-field fashion such as oversized proportions, asymmetrical clothes and hoodies as dresses. It also pieced together denim into frayed jeans for its autumn / winter 2015 show, paired with T-shirts, sweaters and oversized trench coats, which sold out in days despite the hefty £790 price tag. Made by unstitching two pairs of vintage jeans and remaking them into one, the faded, worn-in denim look triggered numerous micro trends. Think frayed hems, chunks cut out above the heel, split seams and kick-flair hems.
Ain’t Laurent without Yves
A trend so small, this comprises just one item, but one that hit the mood perfectly. In 2014, small label What About Yves took umbrage with the decision by Yves Saint Laurent designer Hedi Slimane to drop the first name of the founder. As Paris rose in uproar, so a T-shirt emblazoned with "Ain't Laurent without Yves" became the thing to be seen in. The subversive garment sold like hot cakes, drawing Slimane's fury. When now-defunct Paris store Colette began stocking it, Slimane reacted by pulling the entire spring 2014 stock from its shelves.
Only rarely does a designer come along who triggers a seismic shift in fashion. One such name is Alessandro Michele, who took over the reins at Gucci in 2015. Having already quietly worked at the house for 12 years, being named creative director unleashed his vision. His opening show for the brand in February 2015 – which he had only five weeks to pull together – sent boys and girls down the menswear runway dressed in clothes that crossed gender boundaries. Suddenly patterns were there to be clashed, and looking like a granny who got dressed in the dark was the only way to be seen. In autumn that year, Michele also released the fur-lined loafer, which became the shoe equivalent of a supernova.
Yeezy 350 Boost trainers
Kanye West may be something of a divisive figure, but there is no denying his business chops. Launched in 2015 in collaboration with Adidas Originals, the Yeezy 350 Boost offered a new type of construction in knitted fabric, and a new extended rounded heel. Delivered via much-hyped, selective "drops", the trainers quickly proved impossible to keep on the shop floor, and customers went to extraordinary lengths to bag the shoe that no one could get hold of. In turn, this spawned a massive resale market, and by applying a highly restrictive sales tactic – the same used by Hermes for its much sought-after Birkin bag – the Boost helped grow West a business estimated to be worth $1.9 billion (Dh6.9bn) in 2019.
Once upon a time, going out with a misbuttoned shirt was a faux pas akin to leaving your fly open, but in 2016 that changed. The misbutton became one of the hottest trends partly because everyone could do it. Just pick up a shirt, do the buttons up wrong and, voila, instant style maven. Being fashion, things soon got out of hand and misbuttons were seen on coats, blazers and denim jackets, all so undone that it was a wonder how they stayed on at all. We got used to fabric bunched uncomfortably under one arm, with the other side perilously close to falling off. This segued into further micro trends, such as the partly tucked-in top and, briefly, the let's-wear-tops-back-to-front craze, like a grown-up Kris Kross.
Feminism becomes fashionable
Slogan tees were very much a thing of the 1980s (Frankie Says Relax, anyone?), yet when Chiuri arrived at Dior for autumn 2016, she made them relevant for a new generation. Gone was the "Choose life" of Wham!, replaced instead with the "We should all be feminists" of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Suddenly everyone raced to put out pro-women statements including Prabal Gurung with his "The future is female" tee for autumn / winter 2017. In October 2017, came the #MeToo movement and, suddenly, we all felt like we had helped change the world. The one serious misfire of the slogan moment notably came in June 2018, via First Lady Melania Trump, who visited a migrant child detention centre in Texas wearing a jacket that read "I really don't care, do U?". While we have since learnt this was a dig at her stepdaughter, rather than the homeless children, regardless of target, it did little to bolster Trump's likeability factor.
Rise of the plus size
This isn't a trend per se, but more of a realignment. After years of much talk, but very little action, curves on a woman finally became acceptable again for the first time in a century. In February 2016, model Ashley Graham made history as the first curvy woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Three months later, singer Rihanna launched her Savage x Fenty lingerie line, with models ranging from petit to plus size, including pregnant model Slick Woods, who went into labour on the runway. In an interview with British Vogue, Rihanna described herself as having "the pleasure of a fluctuating body type, where one day I can literally fit into something that is bodycon, and then the next day – the next week – I need something oversize". In 2017, sports giant Nike also released its first plus-size mannequin, in a move that went entirely unnoticed until early in 2019, when British journalist Tanya Gold declared the fuller figures to be a "dangerous lie". Nike stood its ground, the internet slammed Gold for being fatphobic and curves became the new normal.
The ugly trainer
We're looking at you, Balenciaga. The Triple S trainer clomped into our lives via the men's autumn / winter 2017 runway, looking like Frankenstein's monster. Seemingly made by melting other people's trainers over a flame and sticking them all together, the Triple S was big, heavy and extremely ugly. However, designer and Balenciaga head Demna Gvasalia (of Vetements fame) once again succeeded in tapping into some sort of zeitgeist, appealing to fashionistas and sneakerheads simultaneously. Pieced from different colours and materials, it felt retro enough to be comforting, yet was modern enough to be desirable. The name refers to the three soles melded together for its distinctive, clumpy, almost wedge shape (Triple S, geddit?), while the upper is pieced together in awkward colour combinations such as dusty pink, yellow and red. Despite the £780 price tag, it sold out almost immediately.
The Batsheva dress
Her name may be unfamiliar, but when former lawyer Batsheva Hay started making her own dresses in 2017 inspired by the clothes of the Pennsylvania Dutch, she triggered a trend for loose, tiered dresses that has swept the industry. Shops are filled with extra-roomy prairie dresses fit for Laura Ingalls, and while the patterns may have shifted from tiny florals to dots to plains, the cut is unmistakable. With a flat yolk that layers down almost to the ankle, and invariably worn with white trainers, every second woman seems to own one. Its most famous version is the polka-dot Zara dress, that despite costing £39, spawned its own Instagram page – @hot4thespot.
When Enninful took over as editor of British Vogue in December 2017, it signalled the end of one age and the start of another. The first man to head the title, Enninful also smashed race boundaries, when he put model Adwoa Aboah on his debut cover. A Ghana-born Londoner, Enninful has since heavily featured models, artists and talents of colour, reflecting the city around him. Just one month after he took over, the film Black Panther was released, making 2018 the year when it was finally OK to be black in mainstream media.
The legacy of Karl Lagerfeld
Despite his age, the world was still shocked when octogenarian Karl Lagerfeld died in February 2019. Having dominated the fashion universe for so long – he was first discovered in 1954 when he won the Woolmark Prize alongside Yves Saint Laurent – Lagerfeld's legacy is hard to downplay. He headed French label Chanel for a staggering 36 years, and was at the helm of Italian house Fendi for an astonishing half century. He led Chloe during the 1970s, in an era so influential, current designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi is still referencing it heavily. Although often criticised for being rude to those he felt fell short of Parisian chic (including singer Adele, to whom Lagerfeld had to send armfuls of Chanel bags after calling her overweight), his enormous influence on fashion cannot be overstated. Whatever he touched turned to gold, and he is the reason we all wear fingerless gloves.
Back to the future
Fashion is a buffet table of ideas to be plundered and enjoyed, which is why the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s have all enjoyed return trips down the runway this past decade. From the 1990s, we saw smiley faces, bucket hats and shell suits re-emerge, while 1980s bumbags, shoulder pads and crop tops all had a renaissance. Even cycling shorts got a look in. Platform shoes from the 1970s reappeared, as did Studio 54-era slinky jumpsuits, printed maxi dresses and even bell-bottomed trousers.