2020’s Most Popular Trends Were As Peculiar As The Year Itself

Boleros? Belly chains? Harnesses? If it looked good on Zoom, it was a top trend in 2020 — no matter how confusing.

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In a year as strange as 2020, it’s only logical that the fashion trends that resulted from it would follow suit. After the year’s first Fashion Month, when the pandemic was but a whisper in many parts of the world, fashion pivoted. While fall ‘20 saw decadence reign supreme and impossibly beautiful gothic dresses, following the arrival of COVID-19, everything changed. In the process, some of the strangest, yet most intriguing pieces have gained traction. 
Knit bras and high-waisted underwear sets propelled the lingerie as outerwear trend, that involves displayed underwear. Think: boxers as shorts and bras as tops, styled with boots and an oversized blazer. Visible thongs reminiscent of the early ‘00s, which saw an unprecedented resurgence this year, fall within this trend, too. Other knitwear silhouettes rose in popularity due to our constant need for comfort in lockdown, though it wasn’t your typical turtlenecks and crewnecks that took center stage. Instead, boleros and shrugs were the shining stars, showing up on celebrities and Instagram influencers, alike. Extravagant brooches, spotted in Rodarte’s fall ‘20 collection, and other accessories were swapped out for belly chains, detachable collars, and harnesses, which were suddenly everywhere as well. 
And of course, there are face masks, specifically of the fashion-forward variety, that arrived on the scene in March to help halt the spread of coronavirus. While these were to be expected, the bows, chains, and scrunchies that arrived later to embellish the face mask, were not. Not only were face chains one of the most surprising trends of the year, they were also the most popular. Though, after months spent wearing them day in and day out, we can hardly call them a trend at all, but rather staples.
Had you asked me 12 months ago if I thought scarf-turtleneck hybrids would be trending and a pearl, Fenty belly chain would be in my shopping cart today, you’d be met with an eye roll and a scoff. I certainly wouldn’t have repurposed my sunglass chain to secure a face mask around my neck. And yet, each of the seven trends below, though weird, feels right at home in a year like this one. See them, ahead.
Face masks were 2020’s most ubiquitous fashion item. And though many people still wear either disposables or simple, cloth masks, plenty of others have had fun with the more fashion-forward designs. Early on this year, when masks were in limited quantity and front-line workers were going without PPE, a number of brands, including Christian Siriano, Burberry, Mango, Uniqlo, and more, pivoted their factories to manufacture face masks rather than clothing. Soon after, designers began selling stylish masks commercially, using various prints (see: Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet) and featuring bow-like details (Collina Strada, K.E.S) and chains (Second Wind).
Since, dozens of brands have joined, designing everything from leather and floral masks to accessories like chains and scrunchies to go with them. According to fashion search engine Lyst’s 2020 Year In Review, which analyzed shopping data from over 100 million shoppers, search for face masks has increased 502% year-over-year. (According to Lyst’s data, Off-White’s logo face mask was the most-searched-for item of the year after it saw a 450% increase in search between January and March.) Now you would be hard-pressed to find a fashion brand that doesn’t have a version of a face mask.
The detachable collar craze first entered the scene in February at Ganni’s fall ‘20 runway show in Copenhagen. Later that season, they popped up again at Tory Burch in New York and JW Anderson in London. But it wasn’t until we entered the Zoom era that these easy add-ons really took hold of our wardrobes. When you’re spending all your time on camera, a little can go a long way. That’s where detachable collars (and fun jewelry!) come into play. By adding a collar to an otherwise plain sweater or jacket, the top half of your outfit — a.k.a. the only half anyone on Zoom can see — automatically makes a statement. 
While many brands took this opportunity to design oversized Peter Pan-style collars, some, like La DoubleJ, went in a cozier direction, designing shearling, wraparound collars in the same vein as a scarf. JW Anderson’s striped, zip-up turtleneck collars have the same effect. That said, we’re suckers for the classics, with rounded, prairie collars by Commes des Garçons, Source Unknown, and Ganni all finding a place in our year-round wardrobes. 
When Katie Holmes was spotted on the streets of New York in August 2019 hailing a cab in a cashmere bra and matching cardigan set by the brand Khaite, the look went viral, thus kickstarting the knit lingerie trend. But not everyone (read: almost no one) can afford to spend $520 on a decorative bra — not to mention, an additional $1,500 on the matching cardigan. Luckily, after a few weeks in lockdown, more affordable alternatives to Holmes’ coveted duet started popping up at stores like Zara and COS. Now, nearly every brand features an iteration of the knitted bra or tank top in their collections. 
Among our favorite cozy, knit lingerie options are Jacquemus’ itty-bitty strapped bras from the French designers’ fall ‘20 collection, Isa Boulder’s sexy and comfortable crochet bras, and Cashmere In Love’s ribbed bra-and-underwear sets. But don’t get us wrong, the more cost-effective styles are equally perfect for lounging around the house during the holidays.
Arguably the strangest trend to come out of 2020 is the bolero, a shrug-like silhouette that was big in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. But unlike the tiny, cropped cardigans of yesteryear, 2020’s iteration is chic and versatile. From snug pullovers to open-front shrugs, the trend has taken hold at fast-fashion brands and luxury retailers, alike, for a couple of reasons. One, they’re perfect for cozy, at-home dressing when your ancient radiator (or is that just me?) won’t cool down no matter how many windows are open. Zoom also plays a role in this trend, as it’s yet another easy-to-throw-on fashion item with the power to enhance just about any look. 
At Simonett, a Miami-based, woman-owned fashion brand, this nostalgic trend arrives in the form of a cropped, ribbed shrug with long-sleeves and an open front. Same goes for the style currently available at COS, which is made of cashmere. Peter Do and Rosie Assoulin, two beloved designers, opted for a pullover style, rather than an open-front one — the former’s, a turtleneck, and the latter’s, a crew neck with a matching knit tank top — this year. Zara, Frankie Shop, and Pixie Market, all followed with a similar pattern.
When you think of peek-a-boo thongs, you might remember Hailey Bieber’s 2019 Met Gala look: a bubblegum pink Alexander Wang gown with a low back that showed off her logo-embossed G-string. For us, when drumming up an image of a visible thong, it’s red carpets and award shows from the early noughties that surface: Britney Spears performing “Oops I Did It… Again” at the 2000 MTV VMAs, Christina Milian at Justin Timberlake’s Justified release party in 2002, and Gillian Anderson at the 2001 Vanity Fair Oscars after-party. 
Unlike in the early ‘00s, we’re not yet to the point of letting our thongs peek out from underneath low-rise jeans (thank god), nor are we sporting gowns with backs so low our G-strings are visible à la Beyoncé on the cover of British Vogue. Instead, we’re opting for designs that only give the appearance of a thong. Most notably, pants with hip cutouts from up-and-coming brands like Kendra Duplantier, Subsurface, and Neutra. Inspired by the Y2K era, these designers sought to create wearable alternatives to the red carpet looks they remember fondly from years past. 
There’s a hint of sense behind knit boleros and cashmere bralettes finding success during a time when we spend most of our time indoors, lazing away on the sofa. Harnesses — specifically, leather harnesses — however, aren’t quite so easy to explain away. Even so, when Zara released a leather harness belt for $49.90 a few months back, it sold out almost instantly. I, myself, posted it on Instagram, sharing my interest surrounding a product I had no reason to wear. And yet, I wanted one. (Unfortunately, not badly enough to purchase one before everyone else did.) Others were posting the harness, too, many of whom were also questioning whether or not buying a harness for the sake of fashion — during a pandemic, no less — was ridiculous or strangely reasonable. Since, the brand has released another alternative, this time for an even lower price. (It costs $39.90.) One of the two sizes available is already sold out. The other will assuredly follow. 
Perhaps the price was the reason behind the popularity. Because while Alexander McQueen, Anne Demeulemeester, Gucci, and Junya Watanabe all sell equally stylish alternatives, they range in price from $400 to $2,000. Or maybe it has something to do with being able to buy an item worn by Timothée Chalamet and Michael B. Jordan last year. Given that Chalamet and Jordan are two of 2020’s most stylish men, it’s no wonder we’d flock toward items they covet, especially if options arise that aren’t Louis Vuitton, and therefore, out of our designated harness budget. Or maybe it’s just another example of a Zoom accessory that can dress up a look.
Like many of 2020’s top trends, belly chains are nostalgic of the ‘90s and early ‘00s fashion. The midriff accessory first caught our attention early this summer, when Rihanna included a pearl belly chain in Fenty’s 6.20 drop, a three-part line inspired by ‘90s rave culture and ‘00s logomania. In October, model Lily-Rose Depp gave us another reason to bring back our retro body jewelry when she showed up to Chanel’s spring ‘21 show in Paris wearing a matching pink, tweed bra and jacket set, paired with a gold belly chain belt with “CHANEL” spelled out in diamond-encrusted letters. (Casual.) 
In the months following the show, belly chains surfaced on Instagram’s favorite jewelry sites, including éliou, Loren Stewart, and Bagatiba. Following in line with today’s top jewelry trends, pearls, tiny diamonds, and thick chains are all included in the belly chain genre. Unlike those trends, though, this particular jewelry item isn’t made for Zoom. Instead, at least to us, belly chains are gaining traction in fashion because they’re a fun, easy addition that’ll make you feel dressed up — even if no one else is around to witness it. 
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