They say that hindsight is 20/20.
And yet at the close of this year, we’re still struggling to make sense of the various ways our lives changed.
From a fashion perspective, our wardrobe needs shifted. Who could have imagined that we’d all spend so much of this year in sweatpants? Or that a cloth face mask would become everyone’s go-to statement piece?
Some of us — myself included — missed dressing up so much that we took new sartorial risks, pairing stilettos with pajamas and formalwear with slippers. It was a good reminder that deep down, we’re all really dressing for ourselves, and the so-called “rules” of style are meant to be broken.
Clothing also became even more political this year, as the election loomed and the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum. As a result, the fashion industry did some serious soul-searching, coming to terms with its considerable racial missteps and making an effort to amplify more diverse voices going forward.
As we look toward 2021, it’s important to acknowledge that despite the challenges, we’ve all learned a lot from our pandemic year. From “Black Is King” to Telfar, here are the most stylish standouts of 2020, and how they’ve changed fashion for the better.
Comfort was key
If it didn’t feel good, it was out. Sweatpants, hoodies, leggings — especially in trendy, celeb-beloved tie-dye, worn by the likes of J.Lo — became the sartorial standard bearers of quarantine. Cozy-chic items, such as silky pajama sets and the Instagram-famous Hill House “nap dress,” caught fire. But people got creative in their search for comfort. Take Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who took to the campaign trail in a uniform of tailored pantsuits — and Converse Chuck Taylors.
Black Lives Matter upended the industry
After the police killing of George Floyd in late May, and the Black Lives Matter movement took off globally, it became clear that the fashion world had some serious work to do. Big-name brands and websites were held accountable, with some forced to dismantle and publicly apologize for their actions toward the black community. For her part, Brother Vellies creative director Aurora James called on stores to devote 15% of their retail shelf space to black-owned businesses. In what has become a sweeping call to action, the Fifteen Percent Pledge Foundation has gotten retailers such as Sephora, Macy’s and Rent the Runway on board.
We rocked the vote
With a divisive election grabbing headlines, designers including Prabal Gurung, Mother and Tory Burch created custom ballot-themed pieces (all with some proceeds going to charity). Celebs got on board: Lizzo rocked a body-hugging Christian Siriano dress, emblazoned with the word “vote,” to the Billboard Awards in October.
Masks became essential
When the global pandemic hit in mid-March, masking up became the biggest and most critical trend. In March, Siriano began using his design studio to produce masks for health-care workers. While the concept seemed novel then, designers everywhere followed suit, creating PPE ranging from medical grade to wearable eye candy. As a way to encourage the public to mask up, Lady Gaga modeled five over-the-top face coverings at the VMAs in late August.
Swag got serious
When NBA ballers returned to the courts in July — within the confines of their famous “bubble” — they wanted to bring attention to their sisters in the WNBA, who were coming back to play, too. LeBron James, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard all stepped out in the WNBA’s orange logo hoodie. The rest is history: the hashtag #orangehoodie took off, and the sweatshirt became the WNBA’s top-selling swag.
Harry Styles pushed gender lines
Who would have predicted that the former boy-bander would become one of the most adventurous dressers of our time? But the One Direction star has proved to be fearless when it comes to style, showing up to the Brit Awards in February wearing a pearl necklace, a lace-collared shirt and Mary Janes. He finished the year posing on the cover of Vogue’s December issue in an apron-top gown.
The “It bag” survived
This year, the “Bushwick Birkin” went mainstream. Telfar’s minimalist tote has been around since 2014, but demand for it shot up as more people learned about the affordable, vegan leather purse, which ranges in price from $150 to $257. The black-owned brand, which aims to democratize fashion by keeping prices low, caught some flack on Twitter when users pointed out that it was becoming harder and harder for buyers to snag one. In response, Brooklyn-based designer Telfar Clemens launched the brilliant Bag Security Program in August: a 24-hour online event allowing shoppers to pre-purchase the color and size of their choice, slated to arrive in January.
Celebs re-wrote the rules of the red carpet
The Met Ball and Cannes were the first major red carpets to be canceled. But some shows went on — such as the Emmys — with nominees attending both virtually and IRL. Dress code-wise, it was a fun free-for-all: Rachel Brosnahan opted for silky pajamas, while Zendaya wore one glamorous gown after another. Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett made a statement at the Venice Film Festival in September: she showed up in a disposable blue mask and the same flouncy Esteban Cortázar dress she had worn to a film premiere in 2015.
We escaped to the small screen
From the Chanel-covered streets of “Emily in Paris” to the iconic palace fashions on display in “The Crown,” television gave us a much-needed mental vacation from sweats and slippers. “The Last Dance” sparked conversations — and countless online odes — to Michael Jordan’s style, cementing his status as a ’90s fashion icon. (Oversized suits! Gold chains! Matchy outfits!)
Fashion shows scaled back
Brands found a way to engage us — without the celebrity-filled front rows, glitzy after-parties and late-night dinners. Instead, New York Fashion Week went almost entirely remote, and European designers got creative, too. To show off its Spring/Summer 2021 collection, Moschino used doll-sized marionettes instead of real models. Meanwhile, Chanel’s Métiers D’Art show, which took place Dec. 1, featured just one guest: brand ambassador Kristen Stewart.
‘Black Is King’ was a visual feast
Leave it to Beyoncé to find a way to bring fantasy-level fashion into our living rooms. Her latest visual album debuted in late July on Disney +, and featured clothing from major houses including Valentino, Mugler and Balmain. But it was her longtime stylist Zerina Akers’ commitment to featuring black designers that made this stylish masterpiece sing. A glittery fringe frock from Lace by Tanaya, a bejeweled lace trench-dress with built-in gloves and headpiece by Bronx designer Jerome Lamaar of 5:31, and money-printed pajamas by Duckie Confetti all made us gasp.
Stores stepped up
It’s hard to imagine a more challenging climate for retail than a global pandemic that made in-person shopping almost impossible. To survive, brands had to get creative like never before. Shout-out to Sarah Jessica Parker, who showed up in person for the flagship opening of her new SJP Collection store in July and — wearing a mask, of course — helped starstruck customers try on her latest styles. All hail the shoe queen.