Layering and abstraction: The year in fashion

Photo of a rack of jeans
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

Related Posts

If 2020 was the year of patterned knitwear, funky tights and colorful Instagram-friendly aesthetics in clothing, then 2021 saw a shift toward cutouts and layering, structural asymmetry and a more sustainable, subversive fashion. The ongoing movement toward maximalism — a rejection of simplicity and embracing of excess — is here to stay, but experiments with strange shapes and new materials are replacing the wild colors and mixed prints that dominated the recent past.

Brands that became popular on social media earlier in the pandemic, such as Lirika Matoshi, House of Sunny and Lisa Says Gah, aren’t quite as trendy anymore. However, the DIY projects that many people turned to while cooped up at home, such as crochet balaclavas and screen-printed tanks, have stuck around. The year was defined by the deconstruction of familiar shapes and traditional utility, as well as playfulness in composition and texture. 

 The Y2K and ‘90s comeback of recent years — from low-rise jeans and graphic baby tees to velour tracksuits and Von Dutch hats — has already started to wane a little. The fashion cycle, which used to follow the rule of vintage revivals every 20 years, is accelerating at a rapid pace. Trends are becoming outdated faster and faster: chunky resin rings, fuzzy cheetah print bags, white tennis skirts and other microtrends from the past year have come and left. Instead, the hipster, edgy and twee aesthetics that marked the fashion of the 2010s are already making a comeback. Get ready for a 2022 filled with wedge sneakers, peplum tops and bomber jackets!

But fashion isn’t just about looking toward the past for inspiration. In 2021, more futuristic looks such as asymmetrical shapes, sheer materials and neutral color palettes came into view. Fashion forecaster Agustina Panzoni coined the term “subversive basics” to describe this new style, which points to a larger trend toward rebellious absurdism and abstraction in clothing. This kind of futurism in fashion indicates a rejection of the status quo and a growing sense of optimism looking forward. On TikTok, many users have formed their own takes on subversive basics — for example, by cutting holes in nylon tights and wearing them as a shirt, or by tying strings around a baggy sweater to make a sort of DIY corset. This style is thought to be heavily influenced by science fiction and dystopia, including recent media such as “Dune” and the upcoming installment in “The Matrix” series. Nobody embodied it better than Rick Owens at Paris Fashion Week this fall, where delicate layered fabrics and dark geometric cuts stole the show. 

This is not to say that the Unif “Faye Bag,” the I.AM.GIA “Halo Pant” or the entire Y2K aesthetic have gone entirely out of style, especially considering sustainability is more important than ever before. Despite what a New York City fashion student might say, one person’s discarded microtrend is another’s thrift shop score. Some trends are certain to stay around for a while: patchwork denim, oversized blazers, fur-lined coats, platform boots, midi skirts and classic corsets, to name a few. One of the best trends to come out of 2021 is the tabi boot, a type of shoe that originated in 15th-century Japan but was more recently pioneered by Maison Margiela. Despite its unconventional shape, the hooflike split toe has quickly become a cult favorite that is certain to stand the test of time. 

Overall, though, it’s a focus on layering, versatility and absurdism that made 2021 a defining year for fashion. Graphic prints became abstract shapes, clashing colors became neutral or monochromatic and traditional uses for clothing items became subverted and totally reimagined. 

Contact Asha Pruitt at [email protected].