2021: A Year in Fashion


As 2021 comes to an end, relive and recall the most fabulous and…questionable fashion trends from the year. What did we wear this year and why? And what is the fashion forecast for 2022?

2021 was a year full of unique trends including distinct and often adventurous fashion. This year we have witnessed furry shoulder bags, wild animal prints and the revival of the low-rise jean, as well as a variety of other daring styles. 2021’s extraordinary fashion stemmed from numerous influences. While trends and styles were once pulled from runway shows, fashion magazines and catalogs, celebrities, youth culture, and social media (most notably TikTok) now dictate popular fashion.“The biggest influence is social media itself, especially TikTok and Instagram,” said Sophomore Karwaan Kotwal, “with so many things and people to follow, people are able to figure out what they like.”

 In 2021, influencers were more than just personalities to be watched by their millions of followers, they have grown to be so much more. They now have a colossal impact on pop culture and have  become the number one trend setters of the fashion world. When asked who has most influenced the popular styles of the year, Senior Elise Cantrell said the answer is social media stars like Emma Chamberlain that, as of late,  have been dubbed  fashion icons, especially among Gen Z. “ I feel like I woke up one day, and everyone was looking to her for what she wore. She had this overnight transition from “Brandy Melville-girl” to high fashion…” said Cantrell, “It definitely does inspire a lot of people because it’s different, but still accessible.” 

Sophomore Christina Burbage agreed that Chamberlain was a sure icon of the year, and contributed to her own style as well as many others. “Whenever she changes her style, everyone else does with her. Whatever she’s wearing, everybody else is.”

It is impossible to ignore the effect the pandemic had on our clothes in 2021. Historically, our clothes have become more bold following periods of immense struggle or despair. The fashion of 2021 and likely the rest of the decade parallels periods such as the 1920s following the influenza pandemic of 1918. This year we witnessed the use of over the top embellishments and a focus on androgyny similar to that of  the roaring 20s. However, perhaps the more obvious influences on our fashion this year were the 2000s and the 1960s. Fashion is cyclical, and rarely does the industry produce a style or trend that is entirely new. Fashion typically follows what is called “The 20 Year Rule” which entails that a piece of fashion is introduced, loved,  then later despised, before being loved once again, routinely in the span of about 20 years. We are constantly revisiting and revitalizing fashions of the past. As we have entered the early 2020s, the 90s still hold a place in our hearts and in our closets; however, the 2000s have made a major comeback in the last year with the modernization of the Y2K and mid-2000s styles. Ms. Spradling, Potomac Falls’ Fashion Design teacher, said, “The 90’s has still been a big influence on the styles of 2021. In the 90’s people wore baggy and loose fitting clothing like baggy jeans, oversized blazers, and cropped tops and I am seeing this trend everywhere this past year.”

 Many of the styles that defined 2021 fashion were pulled from the early-to-mid 2000s. This year saw a rise in graphic and logo tees, wide-leg pants, baguette shoulder bags, and the revival of the low rise jean, as well as distinctly 2000s brands such as Von Dutch and Ed Hardy. Cantrell said, “Y2K made a huge comeback…” she added, “it really came with the rise of thrifting. All the stuff you would find was either from the early 2000s or the 90s.”

The fashion of the year also greatly resembles that of the 1960s, with the largest influences being the hippie and mod subcultures, as well as some rock and disco trends. One of the greatest comebacks from the period has been the designs of Mary Quant, an English designer, one of the most influential of the era, and an instrumental figure in the london-based mod fashion movement. Quant is credited with the creation of the miniskirt, which witnessed a revival this past year. There was also an emphasis on eccentric, art-inspired prints and patterns, similar to both the designs of Quant and Yves St. Laurent, including checkerboard, color blocking, child-like flowers, and unconventional animal prints like cow, zeborah, tiger, leopard and dalmation. This year, there was a focus on bold colorations as well as sweet pastels, with examples being marigold orange, candy pink, and sage green. Burbage said that experimenting with playful color palettes was a large part of fashion this year, “I liked a lot of colors this year. I definitely started wearing a lot more colors than I have before.”

A byproduct of social media’s impact on the fashion industry is that we are more and more frequently witnessing micro-trends, which are singular items that quickly rise to popularity, then die out just as rapidly. Kotwal described the phenomenon of micro-trends and why they are potentially problematic, “These micro-trends are happening due to the fast-paced overconsumption that has come from social media.”

Examples of microtrends from the last year include fuzzy shoulder bags from brands such as Unif and The Ragged Priest, the House of Sunny Hockney dress, and patchwork jeans which were sold by a variety of brands ranging from luxury designers to fast-fashion companies like Shien. “Small Sunglasses.” Cantrell said with certainty, “I think they’re gone. I think people liked them for a week, and now they’re never gonna’ come back.”

Burbage said that while she participated in  some micro-trends such as the popular patchwork pants, she does not believe they will survive to see 2022, “as much as I loved those pants at the time, I think 2021 is where they can stay.”

Though most of the micro-trends and superficial fads of 2021 will not make it to the new year, we have seen the emergence of many timeless styles that have the potential to be popular for years to come.  Most of these staples come in the form of simple and reliable pieces that remain over time. “The oversized chunky cardigan is a piece that might be able to hang around for a few seasons in our wardrobes. You can wear this piece over athleisure yoga pants and sports bras for a cool, just-from-the-yoga-studio look, or layer it on top of a brightly colored dress to balance out the boldness of color,” said Spradling.

Burbage said that trends relating to basic clothing pieces  such as jeans have more potential to be long-lasting, “Low-waisted jeans, flare jeans—different kinds of jeans got really popular this year, and I feel like that will definitely continue to be popular.”

So, what can we expect to see in 2022? Can we predict the fashions of the new year? “Fashion shows that run in fall are typically showing collections that will appear in stores the following spring. So by watching the most recent fashion week shows we can see some predictions that could be in stores in Spring 2022…” said Spradling. Bold colors and prints will likely remain in vogue into early spring. “This spring it looks like bolder colors and prints will be in fashion along with cut outs and exposed midriffs. There were a few designers that were experimenting with fringe, so that could show up in some really interesting ways this spring too,” Spradling added.

The 60s and 70s as well as the Y2K era will continue to influence the fashion world in 2022, and their influence will be heavily prevalent in accessories such as sunglasses. Cantrell said, “With the rise of the 70s as well as Y2k, big, chunky sunglasses have come with that, and will make a comeback.” She added that future trends will likely stem from sustainability, “That’s really going to be the root of all trends, what people can find easily at the thrift store.”

These styles will continue to make waves in 2022; however, as we advance further into the new year, we will likely move away from daring color palettes to more neutral, autumnal, and earthy colorations, and will see a rise in more specific and individual aesthetics. Kotwal said niche aesthetics such as ‘granola’ are likely to blow up in 2022 and exhibits many of the styles we can expect to see in the new year, “Granola is going to be one of the top styles next year. It’s muted browns and earth tones, heavily inspired by being outside with nature.” He added that fashion based in and inspired by nature will become increasingly prevalent as we emerge from the pandemic, “It will get really big as we try to reconnect with everything we’ve lost touch with and been deprived of.”