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Fashion in Retrospect: Class of 2021

By Kaycia Ainsworth

2021 is finally over. For many it was a great year filled with health, wealth and success. For the rest of us, it felt like 2020 had been renewed for a second season. In the UK we spent half of the year inside wearing pyjamas and our fave slippers before Boris finally relented and let us out on the lash. Looking at some of the outfits that came out of the pandemic alive, you could tell we had been locked away from public sight for months on end, having just spent over a year indoors with nothing but TikTok to keep us company. Whether good or bad (or comfortable), the rise of popularity of the app ended up influencing quite a lot of our fashion trends, and they were definitely (interesting) choices.

With Covid still on an absolute rager, a lot of our trends were digital focussed. This renewed focus on digital trends challenged fashion’s inherent value in upholding tradition, evident in metamorphosis in both design and schedule. Multiple brands released collaborations with digitally driven creators, including the Balenciaga x Simpsons, Louis Vuitton x League of Legends and Burberry x Blankos. We also saw the introduction of virtual fashion brands such as The Fabricant. Brands refocussed on engaging with a digital market audience, releasing collections only available as game skins, and fashion-centric NFTs being sold for millions of pounds. As we welcome 2022 with open arms, we invite you to reflect with us on some of the best and worst trends and fashion moments from 2021.

Best: Moon Boots

Moon Boots are the classic Apres-ski it-girl fashion footwear. The shoes have been dominating the fashion sphere since the 1970’s but made a big comeback when they began trending in 2021. We can definitely see why - they are reasonably priced, at around £100 a pair - and their chunky cylindrical shape gives them an instantly recognisable silhouette that make the nylon snow boots a bold statement.

In 2000, this iconic piece of fashion history was showcased at The Louvre in Paris as one of the top 100 most iconic items of the 20th century. Thanks to this year's Y2K resurgence, we saw Moon Boots take centre stage once again as they were featured in A/W 2021 collections by Miu Miu, Kenzo, Dolce & Gabbana, and even Chanel. Dior collaborated with Scottish painter Peter Doig and showed custom Dior monogrammed Moon Boots with metallic hardware and tie strings instead of laces. Chloè also released a Moon Boots collab under their new creative director, Gabriela Hearst. The collaboration collection featured calfskin and knit focussed Moon Boots in Tannish Brown or Luminous Ochre. My personal favourite iteration of the Moon Boot is the fabulously camp Swarovski collab, completely swathed in sparkle. If only I had £3k lying around.

Worst: Bandana Tops

Don't get me wrong, when styled correctly and on the right person, it was okay. Just okay. Within mere days of this trend being spotted on fashion trend setter Bella Hadid, everyone and their mother had bought a size XL scarf and attempted to wrap it around themselves.

The life and death of this trend came in two waves. The first was at the start of the summer, when we were coming out of lockdown in the sun; Stylight reported a 121% increase in searches for bandana print. We were hungry for a new trend to give us that freeing feeling and, looking back at the near naked feel of the piece, this trend could have easily been it. Then the second wave, and arguably the worst thing that can happen to a fashion trend: fast fashion got hold of it. Mass produced and poor quality bandana tops flooded the market with lazy imitations of paisley emblazoned on cheap shiny polyester, and none of it fit right. Before you had time to blink, anyone within a 5-foot radius of a Be At One was spotted wearing their own mock version of it and it did not look good. It was pronounced dead at the scene.

Best: Demna resurrects Balenciaga Couture for FW21

This collection embodied everything we expect from a high fashion couture collection. Demna took us on a breathtaking visual design journey which simultaneously honours the heritage of the brand and pushes the boundaries, producing distinct pieces which inspire and change the course of fashion for the future. The collection was courtesy of Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna, who resurrected Balenciaga’s Couture house for the first time in the 53 years since Cristòbal Balenciaga himself closed it. The collection featured a serious and starch edge woven into traditional French couture with expert tailoring and inconceivable billowing structures, giving clear homage to Cristòbal’s original couture.

The attention to detail throughout the collection’s design and marketing was utterly unparalleled, representing not only Demna’s imminently budding brilliance and ingenuity, but also his dedication to representing the current culture. Both the lampshade hats - designed by the legendary Philip Treacy - and butterfly shaped visor sunglasses became a viral talking point, as digital creators turned them into Instagram filters, allowing anyone with an internet connection to try them on. Kim Kardashian wore the collection for Kanye’s Donda album listening party and Rihanna wore it to the Met Gala. If it's good enough for Rihanna, it's good enough for me.

Worst: Cardi B in Schiaparelli

I'm going to be completely transparent here. The chance to say out loud how bad this was was the driving force behind this entire article. When I first saw it I could not believe my eyes. Cardi was wearing a mask of her own face, yet was unrecognizable. If I wanted to be kind I'm sure I could spin a story about how it not looking like her, even though it's a literal mask of her face, is some theoretical commentary on personal anonymity in the digital age of celebrity. However, writing that with any form of sincerity would feel like I had a knife to my back. It's bad. Ugly, even. If anything, the level of shock I felt is because in context it should not have come out this terribly.

Cardi is not one to miss an opportunity for a stunning sartorial moment and Schiaparelli are known for incredible and surrealistic gold design (see Bella Hadid at Cannes). This is very surreal, just not for the right reasons. Its giving night terror demon at the end of your bed. I even pitied poor Cardi when I looked closer at the mask to discover that those strange reddish brown shapes above the eyes were not eyebrows, but a reflection of the red carpet in her metallic visage. An accessory should never make you pity the person wearing it. Ever.

Best: Y2K

Truthfully, the Y2K resurgence is one of the better things to happen since the turn of the millennium. Almost every aspect of Y2K is about embracing positivity and intentionally brainless opulence - it feels like a warm hug from your younger self. It's bright, colourful, upbeat and girly. It reminded us all to not take life so seriously and to remember that there is, in fact, value in pure frivolity.

We saw butterfly tops make a triumphant return - butterfly anything was absolutely everywhere. Wading through a sea of micro mini skirts and millennial pink, the concept of “bimbofication” began infiltrating the cultural discourse, making way for its later development into the currently popular “yassification” trend. We also secured the return of Y2K alumni, with iconic brand Blumarine releasing a collection that epitomized that nineties bimbo glamour we were all so happy to celebrate once again. Y2K had such a resounding impact on popular culture that even McBling, Y2K’s tacky rhinestone-infested MySpace-famous cousin, had a short-lived revival. Unfortunately for us, the return of McBling only seemed to materialize in theory rather than in practice. The closest thing we got to a real McBling revival was a Juicy Couture tracksuit launch, and before we knew how good we had it the trend cycle had moved on once again. Mirroring the evolution of fashion in the nineties, we took a more alternative path. Y2K had developed into 90s soft indie staple and next trend up for analysis:

Best: Subversive basics

In a year filled with political chaos, systemic inequality, and discourse around the climate crisis, it's no wonder that we decided to reflect that in our basics. White t-shirts could not have hit the bin faster when subversive basics hit the market. Once simplistic tank tops, dresses and bodysuits were reworked and reshaped into something completely new. Cut-outs and twisted layering created a distressed surrealistic aspect that was hugely accessible - not only instantly available at a huge range of price points, but also easy to make yourself by cutting and layering tights. The digital trend emerged via TikTok with people sharing tutorials on how to cut, twist and layer different items to create different styles, feeding into its rapidly increasing popularity. The trend was also named via TikTok by trend forecaster and fashion consultant Agus Panzoni. Panzoni’s theory is that traditional basics are about reflecting the socio-economic climate, and “[rebelling] to the point of losing their utility,” becoming an affordable and easily accessible playground for the youth of the era to express themselves. The trend mirrors the trend cycle of the nineties, when the cultural focus of the era shifted from frivolity and omni-positive opulence to the heroine chic, recession-adjacent socio-political climate.

This signalled the blending of Y2K, McBling and Logomania into what the Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute calls “Zen-X,” an aesthetic which formed as part of the “natural organic” shift away from excess and a “resurgent wave of environmentalism.” We see aspects of “Zen-X” as well as sister aesthetic, “Eco-Beige” in the 2021 subversive basics trend as the colour palettes developed into soft natural and nude tones and “handcrafted forms.” The later development of a more eco-focussed subversive basic towards the end of this year has acted as a prefigure to the budding “Ballerina Grunge” trend that is about to bloom for 2022. You will have to check back for our 2022 trend forecast to hear more about that.

Worst: Treating women's bodies like a fashion trend

Whilst this “trend” aka major societal issue isn't exactly new, in 2021 the treatment of women's bodies as if they were a fashion trend really upped the ante. The amount of BBL’s (Brazilian Butt Lift) procedures surged, and according to Google keyword data, the term “BBL” was searched roughly 200,000 times per month between January and May of 2021. A 2017 report by the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation noted that Brazilian Butt Lifts had the “highest mortality rate for any cosmetic surgery.” I must be clear in saying, there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking or getting this procedure or any other form of cosmetic surgery. There is, however, a problem when a surgence in this procedure is discussed and promoted almost purely as a ‘trend’. Different forms of women's bodies should not be treated as something that can go in and out of fashion. Your body is forever, it is irreplaceable and more importantly, it is yours.

Capitalism has poisoned the culture around body acceptance and body positivity as it leaves us trying to commodify different body shapes and encourages unhealthy attitudes towards ourselves in order to be the most appealing or to turn a social or financial profit. Not only do we expect more of womens bodies, we expect them to turn to dangerous methods to meet these aesthetically driven expectations. Throughout history women's bodies have been used as a tool for advertising. Sex sells, and thanks to the wage gap, men have more expendable income than women, making them the target audience. Research published in The European Journal of Social Psychology notes that “our brains are more likely to process men as whole, and women, as a sum of their parts.” Objectifying and commodifying women's bodies doesn't just negatively affect women, but leaks out into a culture of body shaming that also disproportionately affects people of colour, disabled people and trans+ people.

Best/Worst: Avant-Basic

The triumphant takeoff and subsequent nosedive of ‘Avant-Basic’ repeats a cautionary tale of trends we have loved and lost. The initial buzz around Avant-Basic was born through social media. TikTok and Instagram were responsible for this one, as images of brash maximalist outfit inspo flooded our explore page. The designs were nothing short of spoon-fed surrealist psychedelia, with wavy perspective patterns and graphics creating a contemporary eclectic vibe. The designs were 60’s kitsch and had a distinct cartoonish novelty, yet were simplistic and utterly pedestrian. Paloma Wool’s ‘Enya’ top had a waitlist spanning across multiple months, whilst House of Sunny’s ‘Hockney’ dress was being resold on Depop for up to $1,500. The popularity of the dress had Vogue comparing owning it to being in a “cult.” Avant-Basic was taking over, and fast. The designs were so popular that people were selling dupes of dupes, the designs immediately picked up by counterfeit culture. One too many dreadful duplicates hit the market and everyone started to look a bit like Fran Drescher on acid. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it can't be without criticism. There were high hopes for Avant-Basic, but we knew it wouldn't age well. The positives of the trend were that it inspired everyone to be adventurous with their fashion choices, and that's not always an easy feat. The loud designs meant that the much cheaper dupes still looked as good as their expensive counterparts, making the trend super accessible and easily replicated. The downside was that it started to become, for lack of a better word, gaudy. She was good while she lasted, but she wasn’t forever. The dupes that were so accessible to so many of us were poor quality and unsustainably made, meaning the garments most of us were wearing weren't going to last past a few wash cycles. I think we knew pretty early on it wasn't going to be one of the timeless styles of the era, but as long as we take forward its brave adventurous spirit, then the work here is done.

BEST: Miss Sohee

Miss Sohee completely blew us out of the water this year when they released their self described “Demi-couture” collection. Their collection signified a cultural shift toward the rise of haute-camp that we had initially begun interacting with during the Y2K trend. In harsh contrast to the type of camp we were experimenting with in the Y2K trend, Miss Sohee’s designs brought a refined and decadent image of camp that not only contributes to its well defined and documented place in mainstream style, but also draws attention to its prevalence throughout fashion history. Miss Sohee’s gowns are highly realised creations which draw clear inspiration from high art, whilst being classically beautiful. Their silhouettes are the epitome of camp, they are outrageous yet are classically beautiful and dynamic. Every inch of their craftsmanship is detailed, opulent and sophisticated. The social impact of their designs has been monumental, they can be credited as bringing haute-camp to the forefront of mainstream fashion throughout 2021.

WORST: Shaming poor and plus sized people for consuming fast fashion

This year we shared a very serious discourse surrounding our consumption of fast fashion, especially in relation to waste and its impact on the environment. We stated what we knew already, fast fashion is terrible for the environment and terrible for the garment workers who produce it. Around 10,000 items of clothing are put in landfill every five minutes, and most of the materials used in fast fashion are synthetic fibres, which will never break down. A Lot of garment workers for fast fashion companies are outsourced to other countries where it is legal to pay a pittance, exploiting workers for their labour, which allows the companies to sell the clothes for such low cost. We all know that fast fashion is actively harmful. The discourse was mainly active on TikTok, where there is no clear person to aim the discussion to and no particular company to aim the discussion around, because it is so widespread and because of the nature of how TikTok videos interact with its audience. This led to a one-sided conversation where people had lots of complaints, but no one to receive them other than other members of the public who could hopefully change their habits. Where this discussion turned unhealthy, however, was when people began to critique without clear distinction. For example, a rich person consuming large amounts of fast fashion in comparison to a poor person consuming fast fashion in whatever amounts they can afford, cannot be treated the same. This is because the context in which they utilize fast fashion is completely different and leads to different outcomes. A rich person consuming fast fashion can afford to buy large amounts of it, and can afford to throw it away, which is what makes it bad for the environment. A poor person, however, may only be able to afford a few items, most of which are also items that are necessary for living, and when they do buy those items, they will be kept for longer because of the lack of money to throw the clothes away and buy more. The same context stands for plus sized people. It is already harder for plus sized people to buy clothes on the high street and in vintage stores. Many social media trends also revolve around taking plus sized clothes in to be smaller to fit avid thrifters, meaning that plus sized people have much less options in general. A plus sized person buying fast fashion because they lack the options to do otherwise is not the same as a slim person buying fast fashion if they have the means to do otherwise. Discussions on social media can often leave nuance and context to the comments section, which is both easily removable by the content creator and also based almost entirely in opinion. Of course we should always have in depth discussions about how fashion impacts society and the planet we live on, but we should never use it as a vehicle to criticise people out of context. That's punching down on the person who actually needs fast fashion, not punching up at the people who make it such a damaging industry.


This year has been a cultural shift in the world of fashion - not only because of all of the great trends that have come and gone, but also because of the legends that we have lost. We are sad to see the passing of Virgil Abloh, artistic director of Louis Vuitton, an innovative designer who blended high fashion and streetwear, as well as changing the face of traditional french luxury and contemporary menswear. He is a legendary artist of his craft and changed the world of fashion for all of those who will come after him. In memoriam, Louis Vuitton showed his Spring Summer 2022 collection at the “Virgil was here” show in Miami.

Alber Elbaz was an incredible womenswear designer who worked at Yves Saint Laurent and Guy Laroche before becoming creative director of Lanvin in 2001. He completely transformed the relationship between Hollywood and the fashion industry, and broke down barriers of elitism to allow the public access to the fashion inside of Hollywood. Throughout his career he blurred the lines between fashion and technology and sought to redefine how we interact with the industry. 45 of the industry's biggest designers contributed to a show to close Paris Fashion Week in memoriam to Alber, titled “Love Brings Love.” Carla Sozanni, founder of 10 Corso Como, shared that he was “obsessed” with creating a show, “like Cirque Du Soleil, and asking every fashion designer to contribute something to it. Now it’s happening, but in another way.”

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