Another decade of fashion is in the books. However, unlike most decades of fashion steered by music, film and celebrity, the 2010s leave behind a legacy that was influenced by social media, new gender codes and consumers’ unwillingness to sacrifice comfort.
Good or bad, here’s a look back at 20 fashion trends that shaped the decade.
Name another decade defined by a color? And a youthful shade of pink at that. Millennial pink seeped into homes, closets, businesses, grids and even advertisements in the 2010s like a mist of optimism, equality and empowerment. And in the process, the color gifted us with iconic fashion moments like the Giambattista Valli pink tulle gown Rihanna wore to the 2015 Grammy’s and the pink Edward Saxton suit worn by Harry Styles on the Today Show two years later. The Vogue-orchestrated Met Gala even swapped out its famous red carpet for a pink one at the 2019 event.
Long-sleeve wedding dresses
Along with searches for “Pippa Middleton,” the traditional nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011 sparked a trend for long-sleeve wedding dresses. Kate’s lace and organza Alexander McQueen gown inspired a rush of knockoffs that carried on for several seasons as brides-to-be began to embrace modest silhouettes over the strapless styles that dominated the bridal industry during the 2000s. Likewise, the Givenchy dress worn by Meghan Markle for her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry sparked demand for wedding dresses with 3/4 sleeves and bateau necklines.
In hindsight, the sneaker wedge—a polarizing concept that brands like Isabel Marant and Giuseppe Zanotti peddled in the early 2010s—may have been the precursor to athleisure takeover. The heeled sneakers, which were usually done up with tonal suede uppers or high-shine metal hardware, became a favorite off-duty style of cool girls (of the time) like Giselle Bundchen and Paris Hilton. Pure player sneaker brands like Nike and Puma soon followed with their own iterations of the contradictory style before the trend fizzled out, giving way to the rise of normcore basics and heritage designs.
Without a doubt, the denim industry’s hero for the decade was the skinny jean. While women latched onto the style for its curve-hugging attributes and versatility, advancements in stretch fabrications made the traditionally rigid fabric soft, flexible and comfortable for the first time. And despite best efforts by other bottoms like yoga pants and Mom jeans, the svelte style remained No. 1 throughout the decade. In 2018, NPD Group reported that sales for skinny jeans accounted for nearly 40 percent of women’s jean sales.
Proof that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, in the 2010s fanny packs became cool, “merch shirts” became a hot commodity and Dad sneakers became a status symbol. Normcore—and its Gen Z counterpart Dadcore—filtered into men’s fashion in the early 2010s as a cultural response to the Great Recession. Millennials’ budgets were tight, therefore evergreen items like white Stan Smith sneakers and Birkenstock Arizona sandals offered longevity and comfort while they waded through the storm. While it was dubbed an anti-fashion move by consumers, brands fully embraced the back-to-basics approach to dressing, resulting in a style that mimicked ’90s dad fashion made famous by Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Jobs (i.e. ill-fitted jeans, chunky white sneakers and sweaters or sweatshirts).
Gucci put the loafer back on the map, thanks to the 2015 introduction of its kangaroo fur-lined Princeton loafer slipper. While the shoe was initially criticized for its use of real fur and mocked for its impractical design, consumers warmed up to the idea of the sophisticated horse-bit loafer. The traditional silhouette snowballed into a multi-season ‘It’ item for men and women, updated with colorful leather, brocade, velvets and embroidery.
The yogi may go down as the most prolific fashion influencer of the 2010s. The legging—the high-stretch, pocket-less bottom intended for fitness activities—nearly took out the denim industry in the 2010s when the figure-hugging pant became acceptable attire for nearly all occasions. Brands like Outdoor Voices, Lululemon and Sweaty Betty built their empires on the garment, but a slew of fashion players soon got into the leggings game, blurring the line between performance and fashion.
The birth of festival fashion as a seasonal category in the early 2010s led to several cringe-worthy trends, including flower crowns and temporary “tribal” tattoos, not to mention the cultural appropriation of Native American headdresses. However, fringe came out on top as celebrities like Kate Moss, Sienna Miller and a host of young Disney stars made the boho trim commonplace on London and L.A. streets. Fringe boots, handbags and jackets from all tiers of fashion swished their way into style.
Brands played into millennials’ innate desire to be unique through personalized products. While Nike pioneered the concept with the launch of NikeID in 1999, customization took off in the 2010s as retailers and brands sought for creative ways to entice consumers back into stores. Brands like Levi’s, Converse and Madewell introduced personalization opportunities to their sales floors, while others like 3×1, Weekday and Indochino took customization a step further with one-of-a-kind garments.
Fashionistas’ fixation with hair accoutrements began in 2011 with fascinators, the small, whimsical take on traditional British hats that dotted the pews of Kate Middleton’s and Prince William’s wedding in 2011. Middleton and sister-in-law Meghan Markle have kept the style in the fore, frequently wearing the petite headpieces during royal engagements, inspiring copycats at horse races and Easter parades around the world. The trend evolved in the latter half of the decade with padded headbands—a nod to ’90s fashion and a tiara-like canvas for designers to decorate with knots, gemstones and pearls. Even Middleton closed out the decade by donning a black crystal embellished headband from Zara in November.
Denim’s freak flag flew in the 2010s. From denim thongs and swimwear, to “extreme cut-out” jeans, high-end designers, luxury streetwear labels and fast fashion brands churned out deconstructed denim in unexpected ways. The unusual (and often unpractical) iterations may have been a publicity stunt, but others were a creative way to shine a spotlight on upcycled old or unwanted jeans.
During a decade that rewarded those who “broke the internet” with skin-baring photos and brought conversations about body positivity to the fore, celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce and Kim Kardashian turned heads on the red carpet in sheer flesh tone frocks. The naked dress trend thrived (and died) on the red carpet, but the more commercial and wearable iterations of the trend took shape in women’s wear with tulle skirts, plumetis tops and transparent footwear.
Instagram was a breeding ground for accessories trends, but none more so than for handbags. Small novelty bags with untraditional shapes and constructions stepped into the limelight during the 2010s, giving up-and-coming brands like Cult Gaia, Mansur Gavriel and Staud the opportunity to churn out signature items. Influencers took to these bags like moths to a flame, accenting their monochromatic looks with miniature beaded handbags, transparent PVC totes, basket-like bags and colorful circle bags.
Another aftershock of the Great Recession that lingered into the 2010s, ankle boots became the footwear industry’s solution to the demand for versatile, season-less shoes—from both consumers and retailers. From a business perspective, the shoes cost less to make and buy than tall, and they appealed to a wide demographic of ages, budgets and style profiles. And from a fashion perspective, the ankle bitters were a perfect canvas for a variety of upper trends, including boho, moto, velvet and western.
The 2016 U.S. presidential election led to several fashion trends, including T-shirts with female empowerment messages, the color red and most notably, the return of women’s power suits. However, these weren’t the staid, shapeless suits of the ’90s working girl. Bold, colorful and strong, suiting became the uniform of “boss babes” around the world during the second half of the decade, worn casually with tees and sneakers on the weekends, or elegantly on the red carpet.
There was no single runway show or declaration by a designer that put cold-shoulder silhouettes on the radar of fashionistas. The detail just quietly swept over women’s fashion in the 2010s, highlighting a flattering part of the body and adding feminine flourishes to dresses and blouses.
If you wanted to identify a blogger-slash-influencer from in a large crowd in 2014, it would have only necessitated finding the wide brim felt hat. Floppy hats became the de facto accessory of hipster fashion bloggers, influencers and young Hollywood starlets, serving as a bohemian punctuation mark for outfits that typically consisted of ankle boots, cut-off shorts and fringe shoulder bags. The trend evolved into straw hats (sometimes with wanderlust sayings like “beach vibes only”) as the fashion bloggers became lifestyle and travel influencers.
As ’90s nostalgia kicked in and Gen Z began to look back at the decade’s style icons like Princess Diana, Cindy Crawford and Winona Ryder, there was one jean style that caught their attention and dollars—the mom jean. By 2016, the high-waisted, relaxed-fit jean linked to practical suburbia style became a favored style among women, and the counterpart to the Dadcore look that swept over young men’s fashion.
While women aimed to project a confident and powerful image through suiting, men took a turn toward camp and costume nearing the end of the decade. The “Gucci-fication” of fashion touched all segments of the industry—from loafers and embroidered handbags, to logo tees and home textiles, but the Italian brand’s lavish aesthetic had the most impact on men’s wear. Under the guidance of Alessandro Michele, who became Gucci’s creative director in 2015, the brand’s tiger and snake appliques, satin bomber jackets and embellished suiting inspired a thousand knock-offs, which are still populating the high-street stores.
The rise of streetwear was the culmination of several shifts in fashion in the 2010s. Normcore helped train fashionistas to accept “ugly” or ironic fashion. Athleisure had set a new standard for comfort among young consumers. The casualization of workplaces meant sneakers were the new norm, and pangs for ’80s and ’90s nostalgia reverberated across men’s and women’s wear. Meanwhile, luxury houses searched for ways to connect with Gen Z, and the fastest way to do it was to bring in a new class of designers with street cred. Top this off with the excitement that “drops” and collaborations bring to any brand or retailer, and you have the birth of a category that everyone wanted a piece of in the latter half of the decade, including Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Zara.
However, streetwear’s manifestation into mainstream fashion may be an example of too much of a good thing. Off-White creative director and streetwear aficionado Virgil Abloh lamented the death of streetwear in a recent interview with Dazed, and the Spring/Summer 2020 runways indicate a return to smarter dressing. It remains to be seen how a streetwear slowdown in the next decade will impact the categories’ OGs like Supreme, Bape and Palace.
Honorable mentions: embroidery, logomania, block heels, novelty patches, teddy bear coats, coordinating sets, green parkas, western belts, slip-on sneakers and rompers/jumpsuits.