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How Fashion Got Its Mojo Back in 2021

Fashion’s quarantine comeback got several false starts in 2021 due to third and fourth waves of covid and new variants, but a crop of “aesthetics” born online, the return of red carpets and pop culture, in general, are charging its battery. Gender lines continue to blur in fashion, personal style is increasingly experienced and expressed online and eco-conscious shopping is also on the rise, according to Lyst’s “The Year in Fashion 2021” report.

Over the course of the year, over 150 million consumers browsed the fashion shopping platform, offering Lyst a deep dive into the movements and key moments that influenced fashion.

Here’s a look back at the trends that inspired consumers to get out of the sweats and back into fashion.

Influential moments

There was time in 2020 when neutral colorways were pinned as the future of fashion—for both their calming and seasonless qualities. Consumers, however, flipped the switch when they were finally allowed back into social settings.

From April to August, searches for bright, bold colorful pieces, specifically in hot pink, orange, yellow and green, spiked 191 percent, Lyst reported. This form of dopamine dressing translated into accessories as well. From March to August, demand for statement jewelry, specifically “colorful,” “beaded,” “rainbow” and “resin” skyrocketed 545 percent.

I.N.C. International Concepts
I.N.C. International Concepts Courtesy

When vaccines arrived in the spring, “vaccine tops” came with it. Though deemed a “cheugy” trend by Gen Z TikTokers, searches for tops with the terms “one-shoulder,” “off-shoulder,” and “cold-shoulder” jumped 73 percent from February to March. But bare shoulders were just the start of it.

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As social distancing measures lifted, the return of nightlife and special occasions brought the resurgence of “going-out” fashion. Short hems were one of the fastest-rising trends in 2021, Lyst stated, as searches for mini skirts and dresses jumped 221 percent year-on-year. Global searches for high heels grew consistently from May and “disco heels’’ spiked 233 percent in the same month.

By September, however, nature was restoring itself. After being postponed and then cancelled in 2020, fashion’s biggest night, the Met Gala, returned to celebrating American fashion. As a result, online searches for Brother Vellies, which dressed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in a “Tax The Rich” statement gown, spiked 120 percent in less than 24 hours, and pageviews for ERL, as seen on A$AP Rocky, rose by 259 percent, Lyst reported.

Balenciaga, which dressed Rihanna in a couture puffer coat gown and Kim Kardashian in a now meme-famous head-to-toe black T-shirt dress, captured the most clout from the event, with searches for the Demna Gvasalia-led brand spiking 505 percent within 48 hours.

The event kicked off a close-to-normal fashion month with in-person runways and events in New York, London, Milan and Paris. While Balenciaga once again stole the limelight, thanks in part to a short film starring The Simpsons, Lyst saw demand for preppy brands and items climb.

Following New York Fashion Week, Lyst saw searches for Thom Browne skirts increase 36 percent, loafers increase 28 percent and Peter Pan collar shirts jump 23 percent.

What’s your core?

Fashion’s playful mood played out across social media in 2021, particularly on TikTok where Gen Z waged a friendly war with skinny jean-wearing millennials and their cheugy accessories like Golden Goose sneakers and Gucci’s “Double G Buckle” belt.

“Style-specific debates, especially between Gen Z and millennials, took off on the platform,” Lyst report.

The clash of styles, however, shows signs of impacting retail. According to Lyst, baggy jeans searches saw 55 percent year-on-year growth, with Levi’s and Weekday being popular options. Levi’s loose fit jeans, in fact, was named Lyst’s most wanted item of 2021. Meanwhile, skinny jeans and jeggings have been slated for the discount bins on Black Friday.

Despite Gen Z’s distaste for millennial style, the cohort enjoyed their elders’ Y2K-era fashion. Spearheaded by fan accounts and documentaries about millennial icons like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, the Y2K renaissance also flung brands that had their heyday in the 2000s, including Von Dutch, Juicy Couture, Ed Hardy and True Religion, back into the spotlight.

True Religion
True Religion Courtesy

The hashtag “Y2Kfashion” has generated more than 220 million views on TikTok, Lyst reported, while searches for “Y2K” increased 389 percent year-on-year.

A close cousin to Y2K and rave fashion, “kidcore” emerged as another nostalgia-fueled trend in 2021. The childlike aesthetic—defined by bright colors, toy-inspired accessories and clashing prints—emerged as a respite from pandemic basics and eventually grew into a key men’s wear trend worn by Pete Davidson, Tyler, The Creator and Justin Bieber.

In fact, Bieber and his streetwear brand Drew House partnered (twice) with the unofficial footwear brand of kidcore, Crocs, mostly recently for a collection in March that subsequently sold out

Though “picnic core” is rounding the corner, other so-called “cores” shaped fashion in 2021.

Inspired by the Netflix hit show “Bridgerton” and Princess Diana-inspired plotlines for “The Crown” and “Spencer,” consumers channeled their inner monarch with royalty-inspired fare. New York brand Rowing Blazers capitalized on “royalcore” when it re-released the iconic black sheep sweater Princess Diana famously wore in the 1980s. The sweater was on backorder for months.

Rowing Blazers
Rowing Blazers Courtesy

Demand for Dilara Findikoglu’s “B” necklace inspired by the same one worn by Tudor Queen Anne Boleyn spiked when Bella Hadid was seen wearing it, and searches for “tudor” spiked 24 percent over the summer with Reformation’s “Tudor dress” receiving the most pageviews, Lyst reported.

An offshoot of 2020’s cottagecore, the Taylor Swift-inspired “cabincore” inspired an uptick in searches for earthy items. Searches for hiking boots increased 234 percent year-on-year, and searches for flannel shirts jumped 145 percent.

“The TikTok-driven fashion trend, which blends normcore with gorpcore and cozy, practical knitwear, prefers hikes in the woods and relaxing in a cabin, as opposed to sunny countryside picnics and baking bread,” Lyst described.

Coming soon

Hints to what lies ahead for fashion in 2022 is written in the stars—literally.

“2021 saw some of the biggest human space flight moments in history take place, especially when it came to space tourism,” Lyst stated. “This new development in travel will continue to inspire more future-minded designs and technologies.”

The demand for multi-sensory fashion is also rising. As clothing becomes more technical and functional, Lyst reported that searches show an interest in highly tactile clothing like head-to-toe shearling outfits and natural materials like feathers and wood.

This attention to texture and hand feel, however, won’t overpower the allure of stripped-down designs. “With the announcement of Phoebe Philo launching her own namesake brand after stepping down from her creative director role at Céline in 2017, the designer’s return will no doubt bring back her signature minimalist aesthetic and pared-back approach to luxury designs,” Lyst stated.

This less-is-more aesthetic may become the blueprint for workwear. As companies prepare to fully reopen their offices in 2022, more attention will be paid to office attire. Lyst anticipates that wardrobes will need to adapt to hybrid work schedules that allows for comfort and professionalism. Sharp and tailored garments will juxtapose with softer lines and materials for a polished but comfortable look.