12 of the Biggest Fashion Trends of 2020 (And 3 That Couldn’t Stand the Test of Time)
This past year has been like no other in recent memory. Almost nothing about 2020—from our obsession with Joe Exotic to the rise of face mask chains—was at all expected. So, of course, very little about the fashion trends from the past 12 months felt normal or predictable, either. Sweatpants became not just acceptable but fashionable, and multiple ‘90s styles made their triumphant return to our closets. With the help of data gathered by the global shopping platform Lyst and our very own fashion coverage , we compiled a list of the biggest fashion trends of 2020. Here, the good, the bad, the confusing and the cashmere bras that filled our closets this year.
The Heavy Hitters
These were the trends we saw flooding our Instagram feeds, the ones we bought in multiples and the pieces we’re most likely to continue wearing long into 2021.
1. Tie Dye
This ‘60s throwback had been growing in popularity since 2018, but it really hit a fever pitch around March and April. It became an easy and cheerful way to take comfy stay-at-home basics, like T-shirts and sweatpants, and make them feel a little less drab or dowdy. A gray sweatshirt reminds us of high school gym class and Rocky sweating his way up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A tie-dye sweatshirt, on the other hand, brings to mind images of sunshine, summertime fun and Jerry Garcia. We tie-dyed everything both as a way to shake up our wardrobes and to distract us from the difficulties we were facing in the hippie spirit of peace, love and happiness.
This will forever be remembered as the year that comfort reigned supreme. And nothing embodied this better than the fact that we all collectively deemed it not just acceptable but actually fashion-forward (not to mention, work-appropriate) to wear matching sweatshirts and sweatpants for any and every occasion. Socially-distanced meetups with friends, coffee runs, Zoom meetings with our bosses, virtual date nights—all were attended while sporting coordinating fleece, waffle-knit cotton and even cashmere. Even celebs like Katie Holmes were spotted out and about in their finest sweatpants (on a date, no less).
3. Bike Shorts
When Kim Kardashian first stepped out in spandex shorts paired with a tight tank top and strappy heels in 2016, many thought she looked ridiculous (this writer included) and assumed the look would surely go down as one of her worst-dressed moments. Little did we know, we’d soon all be rocking the Princess Diana ‘80s-era trend, day in and day out. They swiftly became summer’s answer to spring’s sweatsuit craze. And while we’re not entirely sure we’ve nailed down the right way to style them, they’ll almost certainly be making another appearance in our 2021 outfit rotation.
4. Podiatrist-Approved Footwear
As it turns out, walking around barefoot 16 hours a day doesn’t do our feet much good, especially if we’re tramping on hardwood floors (yes, even when they’re covered by carpet). In much the same way that we seemed to go from zero to 60 with comfortable clothing, we went from wearing no shoes to developing an insatiable lust for, not just any footwear, but footwear that’s actually good for our feet. Searches for “orthopedic” or “podiatrist-approved” shoes skyrocketed a few weeks into quarantine—right when the plantar fasciitis started to rear its ugly head—and we never looked back. Crocs, already beloved by chefs, nurses and anyone under age 3, became a hot commodity, especially after collaborations with Christopher Kane, Madewell and singer Bad Bunny. We searched for summer sandals, fall boots, house shoes, running sneakers and winter boots Dr. Scholl himself would’ve approved of. To be honest, we can’t assume heels will be making a comeback any time soon.
5. ‘90s Nostalgia
Maybe it was a yearning for simpler times, maybe it was the natural cycle of fashion trends or maybe all we wanted was a sense of comfort found in the symbols of our youth—whatever the reason, this was the year that ‘90s styles came roaring back full force. Polo collar sweaters, claw hair clips, flannel shirts, combat and lug sole boots, scrunchies and baguette handbags were at the tops of our shopping lists. And now that the cold has settled in, the iconic The North Face Nuptse puffer coat has been making a triumphant return to the streets of NYC (and elsewhere, too) with a new generation of hip-hip fans. Only time will tell which trend will be next, but we feel confident 2021 will continue the rise of nostalgia.
6. Cashmere Everything
We know exactly who to thank (or, should we say blame?) for this luxurious trend: Katie Holmes. Cashmere is a timeless cozy fall and winter staple, but it was the actress’s matching cashmere bra and cardigan set back in September 2019 that really set our hearts ablaze. It was as if her look was a reminder that the luxe knit didn’t have to be limited to just pullovers, beanies and winter gloves. Shoppers combed the internet looking for cashmere sweatpants, hoodies, bike shorts, tank tops, scrunchies, socks and, of course, bras en masse. And if the recent uptick in searches is any proof, it looks like even more people will be enjoying these cozy, comfy pieces come the holidays.
7. Telfar Bags
There were very few specific items this year that had the same long-lasting impact as Telfar’s shopper totes. Nicknamed the “Bushwick Birkin,” these simple leather bags, made by self-taught designer Telfar Clemens, have slowly but surely become a status symbol among young creatives, but they truly blew up on a national scale in 2020. This meteoric rise was in part due to a collaboration with Gap that ultimately didn’t go forward as planned (the details of which are still a bit fuzzy) right at a time when Black-owned and small businesses were being championed by the public. Plus, the brand held a genius one-day-only Bag Security Program, which allowed shoppers to pre-order any style, any color and any quantity of bags they’d like, to be delivered over the course of the next year. Telfar’s totes occupy a unique space in the fashion world, being considered both a must-have designer item and, with prices ranging from $150 to $257, an item that’s actually accessible for a larger number of people. Oprah even included the brand on her list of Favorite Things for 2020. Now that the Bag Security Program orders are finally rolling out, you can expect to see a whole lot more of Telfar in the very near future.
8. Fancy Face Masks and Mask Chains
We couldn’t possibly talk about fashion in the age of COVID-19 without mentioning face masks. Fashion designers and at-home crafters alike used up fabric scraps from previous collections or projects to make pretty patterned options, and we embraced the idea of matching our masks to our outfits. There were innovative designs that incorporated adjustable ear loops, anti-fog technology and even tech fabric for those looking to workout safely. Of course, alongside all those practical developments there were also some purely fun trends as well, like the introduction of mask chains (aka sunglasses chains for your face mask). Because if you’re going to wear a face covering all day, you might as well have some fun with it, right?
If you can’t actually escape to a gorgeous English cottage in the countryside with delightfully overgrown gardens and the promise of daily access to freshly baked pie, the next best thing might be to dress as if you’re there anyway. So, we spent our spring and summer sporting embroidered cardigans, straw hats, floaty blouses and nap dresses, all in delicate Liberty-inspired floral prints or pale pastels. The true breakout star of this twee sartorial moment was the nap dress—part nightgown, part prairie dress, 100-percent focused on comfort—which, like our beloved sweatsuits, were definitely worn both to sleep in and to make grocery runs.
The fall evolution of cottagecore’s storybook aesthetic ended up being the sartorial version of a woodsy cabin vacation, equally quaint and rustic and equally chock full of fun fashion potential. October saw us moving away from ruffles and floral prints and embracing flannel shirts, hiking boots, beanie caps and shackets (a combo shirt/jacket perfect for layering), instead. Our imaginary escape simply switched from tea parties in the garden to hot toddies and afternoon hikes in the Pacific Northwest.
11. Zoom Tops
With almost all our social interactions happening over Zoom, FaceTime, Skype and Google Hangouts, all anybody saw of us for months on end was the upper half of our torsos. So while we stopped caring all that much about what was on our lower halves (be it sweatpants, bike shorts or the rare pair of jeans) we paid a lot of attention to our necklines. Exaggerated Peter Pan collars, Victorian-era square necklines, puff sleeves, mocknecks and turtlenecks reigned supreme as we tried to frame our faces in the most flattering way.
12. Princess Diana’s Kitschy Sweaters
We’ve been copying royal fashion for years now—whether the inspiration is Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, Princess Diana or even QEII—but with most royal engagements canceled or made digital due to COVID-19, we had to get our princess fashion fix from throwback styles instead. In a very 2020 (aka, unpredictable) move, Princess Diana’s wonderfully weird collection of kitschy, childish knitwear came out on top as the royal-approved style to copy. And we think The Crown only has a little role in all of this. With the help of Harry Styles and cottagecore, Rowing Blazers even decided to bring back Di’s iconic black sheep sweater with input from the original designers.
Flashes in the Pan
These fleeting fashion statements had a major impact in the moment, but ultimately didn’t stand the test of time, for better or worse.
13. Over-the-Top Tiger Prints
Animal prints are pretty much always in style, but we collectively took it to a whole new level of fierce after binging Tiger King on Netflix in March. Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin inspired us to pull out all the black and orange tiger stripes we could get our hands on, very often preferring gaudier pieces over anything actually stylish. It was incredibly fun and a sort of symbol that we were all in this thing together, obsessing over the same shows and embracing the same funky trends regardless of how silly they may be. However, much like interest in the show, the craze around anything and everything tiger print faded after just a few weeks.
14. Chain Necklaces, Connell Style
Because pretty much all celebrity events were cancelled this year, multiple trends came about thanks to whatever the number one show on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime happened to be that month. In May, that was Hulu’s Normal People based on the book by the same title from writer Sally Rooney. And while few people were inspired by Marianne’s dowdy bangs, lots and lots of people felt immediately drawn to Connell’s simple chain necklace (though we suspect some of that was due in part thanks to Paul Mescal’s subtly sexy charm). Searches spiked within 24 hours of the show’s drop and continued to grow over the next few weeks. Of course, once the show’s hype died down, this trend morphed to include chunkier designs and a heavier, more layered look.
After appearing on multiple runways for brands like Bottega Veneta, Jil Sander and Dior, and being touted by fashion magazines the world over as one of the biggest trends for Spring 2020, fringe just never really took off. There were some who embrace the purported trend during fashion month back in March, but once everyone returned home and found themselves quarantining until further notice, the fussy accent went the way of makeup and heels—which is to say we stopped wearing it all together.