What are people wearing today? An exploration of 21st-century style as we know it.
What is modern fashion?
Modern fashion stands apart from previous styles in one major way, and that is choice. We are living in an era where almost everybody in the developed world has access to thousands of items of clothes.
Moreover, social norms surrounding dressing are more relaxed than ever, resulting in people dressing more diversely and without restrictions—mixing and matching styles to find their personal look.
As fashion is central to modern life, it’s interesting to look at the world around us and review how current dress tastes have changed. It is constantly evolving, even more so in modern times, with the rise of throwaway culture.
Trends are shifting faster than ever, and it can be impossible to keep up. An outfit you love today could be out of style tomorrow, and vice versa. With fashion moving at such high speed, how do we keep up?
Today, modern style is about finding your unique style. It’s an opportunity to make conscious fashion choices that limit your impact on the environment while dressing in a way that expresses you.
Modern fashion is characterized by extremely fast-moving trends in the media as designers and fashion brands continue to release new products regularly. Depending on where you shop, you can find trends spanning multiple decades.
21st-century fashion differs from the eras that came before it. While we can attribute some signature trends to past decades, like the 1920s cloche hat, the 1950s tea dress, or the 1960s mini skirt, there doesn’t appear to be a standout stylistic mark of modern times. That said, there have been many key fashion moments and popular trends that have come and gone.
Some defining trends of the present include bold colors (notably hot pink), cut-out clothing, and the revival of y2k fashion, with everything from crop tops and ultra-low rise pants to colored sunglasses and chunky footwear. Another major trend in recent years is the shift towards non-binary fashion, and a general move towards queer culture and aesthetics.
Modern fashion innovations
As our views on fashion continue to evolve, so does our approach. With time comes innovations that match the current climate, taking fashion in new directions as the world calls for significant changes in the industry. Today, we have a fashion industry that is seeking new ways to operate and improve.
Many of the modern-day issues faced by the industry link to the global warming crisis. As the second most polluting industry after oil and gas, urgent action is necessary to reduce fashion’s carbon footprint. With climate change at the forefront of people’s minds, many fresh ideas are beginning to emerge.
We are now seeing the rise of recycled garments and materials, rental marketplaces, clothing reward programs, bio packaging, biodegradable fabrics, and zero-waste initiatives. Many of these factors contribute to extending the lifecycle of a garment, reducing waste, and replacing harmful materials with sustainable alternatives.
Case study: Gucci
Gucci is a powerful name and one of the oldest Italian fashion houses still operating. As of 2022, Gucci remains the most popular luxury fashion brand online for the fifth year, acquiring 15.7% of total search interest for luxury goods. Dior and Chanel follow closely behind.
Gucci is recognizable by its bamboo bag handles, horse-bit loafers, and signature green and red stripes that feature a single red stripe between two dark green stripes. The official logo is the iconic double G symbol. The Italian fashion house is best known for leather goods, ready-to-wear clothing, watches, and jewelry.
The first Gucci stores opened in 1921 in Florence, Italy, founded by Italian businessman and fashion designer Guccio Gucci. The Gucci fashion house initially specialized in imported leather luggage. By the fifties, it was a favored label amongst wealthy travelers and the Hollywood elite. In the 1980s, the Gucci reputation was damaged as it struggled to maintain success. This led to the hiring of American designer Tom Ford in 1990, who restored Gucci’s reputation.
Alessandro Michele is the current creative director.
Case study: Louis Vuitton
French fashion house Louis Vuitton was founded by Louis Vuitton in 1854. After working for 17 years as a craftsman for the Parisian atelier Monsieur Maréchal, Vuitton ventured out and opened his own workshop at number 4 Rue Neuve-des-Capucines.
He established himself as a master luggage maker, specializing in trunks and suitcases. In 1886, his son, Georges Vuitton, invented a new locking system for trunks, making it impossible for thieves to pick the lock.
In 1888, Vuitton created the iconic Damier print that immediately distinguishes the brand. Damier is the French word for ‘checkerboard.’ After the passing of Louis Vuitton in 1892, Georges took over the luxury fashion house. In honor of his father, he introduced the signature LV monogram in 1896, which features the initials LV, flowers, and quatrefoils.
Another pivotal moment in the brand’s history was when Marc Jacobs was appointed creative director in 1997. He transformed the luggage-only company into a major fashion house with monogram handbags, luxury leather goods, steamer trunks, high-end clothes, shoes, and accessories.
Case study: Prada
Like many other fashion powerhouses, Prada began as a luxury leather goods company. It was founded in 1913, when Mario Prada opened the first store in the prestigious Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy. Prada sold bags, trunks, and other luggage accessories to the wealthy.
In the mid-seventies, his granddaughter Miuccia Prada joined the family business, focusing on accessories before introducing women’s shoes in 1979. In 1988, Prada hit the Milan catwalk with its first complete ready-to-wear collection for women.
The Prada shows are some of the most anticipated shows in fashion, and Miuccia Prada is considered one of the most influential designers of our time. Since taking the reins, she has brought us many monumental shows.
A signature Prada concept is ‘ugly chic,’ which debuted in the 1996 Spring/Summer collection. It challenged conventional standards of femininity and beauty, bringing back gaudy colors, clashing patterns, and clumpy footwear.
New York Fashion Week
In chronological order, New York is the first of the ‘Big Four’ fashion capitals to present at fashion week. The location of NYFW has changed over the years, but it is now situated at Spring Studios in Tribeca. Although, as of late, many designers are returning to presenting off-site.
New York Fashion Week began with Eleanor Lambert, an American fashion activist and publicist. She paved the way for American fashion, setting up Press Week in 1943, which later became Fashion Week. Paris had always been the fashion epicenter, but under German occupation during the Second World War, the opportunity arose for American fashion designers to showcase their work and gain recognition. New York was now on the fashion map.
Numerous big names have come out of American fashion, including Calvin Klein, Halston, Ralph Lauren, Rick Owens, Oscar de la Renta, and Tom Ford. NYFW is widely associated with minimalism and a more polished aesthetic than the elaborate designs that occur in London and Paris.
Milan Fashion Week
Historically, Milan was the second of the Big Four fashion weeks to arrive. It was born in 1958 and hosted by the Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italia, which translates to the National Chamber of Italian Fashion. It sought to present the best of the Italian fashion industry.
Before Italy emerged into the international fashion market after World War Two, Italian fashion was small-scale and remained local. Various cities began to compete for a title within the international fashion scene, with shows taking place in Florence, Rome, Venice, and other cities.
However, Milan soon secured its position as a fashion capital, especially later when a stream of Milan-based designers stole the limelight. Key figures include Giorgio Armani, Miuccia Prada, and Gianni Versace.
Italian fashion is adored for its elegance, sensuality, and sexiness. A perfect reference to iconic Italian style is the little black dress worn by Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini’s 1960s film La Dolce Vita.
Paris Fashion Week
Paris Fashion Week (PFW) marks the end of the fashion month. Many people consider PFW the ultimate fashion showcase, featuring several of the greatest names in the industry, including Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Saint Laurent.
The first Paris Fashion Week took place in 1973, with the first fashion show held at the Palace of Versailles. Paris’s shows continued to evolve into the theatrical masterpieces we see today. It is favored for honoring the traditional standards of Parisian haute couture, producing some of the finest craftsmanship in existence. French fashion is best described as elegant yet effortless.
London Fashion Week
Second on the fashion week schedule, London is the youngest of the capitals to enter the Big Four. London Fashion Week has a particular mood that centers around imagination and fresh, emerging talent. The city boasts a rich history of extraordinary design and fashion visionaries.
Percy Savage set the wheels in motion for LFW, staging the first London fashion show at The Ritz hotel. But it was in 1983 that the British Fashion Council formed before the very first London Fashion Week was born the following year.
The official first location was in a car park at the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington. Betty Jackson, Ghost, Vivienne Westwood, and design graduate at the time, John Galliano, were among the first designers to partake in London Fashion Week.
The line-up as of 2022 includes multiple renowned brands, such as Burberry, Erdem, JW Anderson, Molly Goddard, and Rejina Pyo.