The biggest fashion trends for 2021

We were all prepped and ready to make 2021 our most fashionable year yet, fresh off a year of sweatpants, cashmere, and Joe Exotic-inspired tiger designs. We embraced the concepts of revenge shopping and dopamine dressing and sought out the most effective methods to gradually return to wearing conventional clothes while maintaining the level of comfort we’d gotten used to spending the great majority of our days at home. Unfortunately, 2021 did not provide the victorious return to normality that we had hoped for, but that didn’t stop us from experimenting with a host of new (and some old) fashion trends. These were the top fashion trends of 2021…for better or worse, from Doug Funnie-approved sweater vests and Y2K 2.0 to that one wrinkled baguette bag we saw all over Instagram.

The biggest fashion trends for 2021


From Gen Z high students to 40-year-old professionals, what was previously reserved for Doug Funnie, Chandler Bing, and seriously geeky college professors has become a fashionable wardrobe essential for everyone. Yes, the sweater vest was one of the year’s more unexpected fads, but it was also one of our favorites. They’re very simple to put on, flattering on people of all ages and body types, and available in a variety of styles to suit any personality. Although we forecasted the arrival of the sweater vest in 2020, it was the TikTok boom of one affordable black-and-white houndstooth vest that actually sparked this favorite knitwear trend. We can’t fathom our sweater drawers without them anymore.


The emergence of the clunky combat boot might be traced back to Prada models strutting down the catwalk in lace-up boots with their own little ankle bags in 2019. Classic lace-up Dr. Martens (and the numerous spin-offs they inspired) didn’t truly become widespread until 2021. What is the reason for your return? Partly because of their ties to ’90s grunge nostalgia, and partly due to the fact that they’re just really fashionable and useful shoes. People have leaned heavily toward attire that is utilitarian above everything else in the last two years, and these boots are just that. Chelsea boots (both mid-calf and ankle-height) and Wellies, as well as even more bulky footwear alternatives like loafers and platform Mary Janes, quickly followed suit.


In 2021, the traditional Danish footwear was on the rise, with various designers (Hermès, Stella McCartney, Givenchy, Burberry, and others) showcasing them on the catwalk. While many millennials and Gen Xers were glad to wear comfortable, albeit eccentric shoes, Gen Z had a different opinion. Crocs—the clunky, EVA foam clogs worn mostly by cooks, nurses, and anybody under the age of 5—became a must-have item in what has to be the year’s most surprising trend flip. Crocs managed to seduce even the most fashionable members of Generation Z and monopolized the chance with partnerships with Justin Bieber, Bad Bunny, and Madewell, to name a few. Even if PureWow’s fashion editor doesn’t get it, don’t let that stop you from trying it for yourself, even if you weren’t born till 1997.


All these 2000s must-haves and more—scarf tops, butterfly clips, nylon bags, one-shoulder tank tops, patterned leggings, goofy prints—came storming back for a second turn in the limelight, with varied results. The era’s bright colors and smile-inducing patterns wowed younger generations, and many adults relished the opportunity to rediscover (or attempt for the first time) the trends that their preteen selves were most enthused about. Some, on the other hand, were not thrilled to see Juicy Couture tracksuits, Ed Hardy shirts, and low-rise jeans make a comeback. In any case, Y2K style had a huge influence in 2021, with everyone from fast fashion businesses like ASOS to high-end designers like Missoni drawing inspiration from the turn of the century.


Cut-out knitwear was all over the place this year, thanks to a mix of 2020’s love affair with all things soft cozy and 2021’s urge to dress up and go out. It was difficult to browse through Instagram this summer without seeing at least one (or more likely four or five) influencers wearing Cult Gaia’s Serita dress, which spawned a slew of midriff-baring and keyhole designs from high-end and low-end labels alike. As the weather dropped, the cut-out fad expanded to encompass additional shirts and sweaters, all of which featured a variety of exposed shoulders, collarbones, rib cages, and elbows. Loose string ties and asymmetrical cuts were two popular versions on the style, but as we approach 2022, the skin-baring enthusiasm seems to be dwindling down. We’ll have to wait and see whether we still want to wear backless knitwear in the New Year.


Exercise dresses and tennis skirts felt like ideal illustrations of how clothes may achieve such a duality, in line with the year’s main theme of trying to be both comfortable and attractive. We definitely can’t discuss exercise dresses without mentioning the Outdoor Voices design, which is credited with launching the trend when a slew of stylish women shared images of themselves wearing The Exercise Dress in early spring. Tennis skirts saw a similar social media-fueled surge, initially gaining popularity on TikTok before being accepted by the general public as a much more comfortable alternative to last year’s cycle shorts trend. Every sports brand produced its own version by the middle of the summer, enabling us to pretend to be Naomi Osaka-level tennis players seven days a week.


Although unisex fashion is not new, it has become a more widespread issue in the last year. Gender identity has grown increasingly apparent in the media in relation to a variety of themes, not simply fashion, and many firms have responded by creating genderless collections and more inclusive advertisements. Male celebrities like Harry Styles and Kid Cudi wore dresses, skirts, and pearl necklaces, while female celebrities like Billie Eilish wore large T-shirts and loose shorts to help battle the concept of “gender norms.” Fashion, regardless of who it was made for, should make you feel good at the end of the day. Wear it if it makes you happy.


In 2021, the Fendi baguette, Prada’s nylon shoulder bags, and other ’90s-inspired shapes were all over, but JW Pei’s Gabbi bag (followed quickly by JW Pei’s Eva shoulder bag) seemed to outshine them all. Both Hadid sisters, Megan Fox, Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Bieber, and pretty much every single fashion influencer on the internet were photographed wearing the scrunchy, vegan-leather design. You may wonder why. It’s cheaper than $90, available on Amazon, comes in a variety of colors, and is really fashionable. In some aspects, it resembled the Telfar bag from 2021—a beautiful tote that looks high-end without breaking the budget.


Mom jeans had been the most popular denim style for a long time (in fact, we’d argue they still were for the first half of the year), but autumn 2021 seemed to mark a shift. Looser cuts, such as wide-leg jeans from the 1970s, skater jeans from the 1990s, and boot-cut jeans, were our most desired styles. While mom jeans, like the millennial-favorite skinny jeans, will never completely go out of style, a desire to wear cozier, more relaxed styles makes perfect sense as a logical segue from sweats all day to the structured trousers we wore pre-pandemic.


Many people were motivated to be creative with their clothes as a result of being stranded at home, and nowhere was this more evident than on TikTok. Hundreds of people shared videos showing how to knot a belt, change bathing suit bottoms into tops, wear a cardigan upside down, and more. We also learned how to make a strapless or backless bra out of a basic T-shirt bra. Unfortunately, not every hack lived up to the expectations, but TikTok artists did come up with some unexpectedly great new ideas, and we’re ready to bet there will be plenty more to test before 2022.


For many women in our workplace, learning that yoga pants, a tried-and-true mainstay of mid-2000s fashion, were back in style was a rude awakening. Except for this time, TikTok-obsessed Gen Z renamed them as flared leggings. Thankfully, the term change was followed by new fashion methods that better appreciated the athletic feelings of spandex—think half-zip sweatshirts with chunky shoes, or graphic T-shirts with platform sandals.

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