Written by Megan C. Hills
After a year of awkwardly Zoomed-in awards show speeches and tie dye hoodies, it’s been a relief to see stars returning to the red carpet. Glamour came back with a vengeance, filling our feeds with color, sparkle and flashes of nostalgia. With highlights like Billie Eilish’s frothy Met Gala ballgown and Lady Gaga’s extraterrestrial Valentino microdress, 2021 was the year stars had an opportunity to redefine their wardrobes — and many delivered. Below are a few notable trends.
Trend 1. Dopamine dressing: After a year spent indoors, many stars took their opportunity to make a flamboyant fashion statement — as seen with singer Billie Eilish’s frothy ballgown at the Met Gala. Credit: Kevin Mazur/MG21/Getty Images
Bright colors, sparkling dresses and playful looks brought joy to celebrity wardrobes this year, as stars dressed themselves happy amid the ongoing pandemic. At the Emmys, Michaela Coel stunned in a highlighter yellow Christopher John Rogers outfit, while Anya Taylor-Joy was the picture of a retro Barbie in a hot pink dress and fascinator at the Venice Film Festival. Others channeled their inner disco ball: Dakota Johnson’s fringed Gucci creation stood out at the Venice Film Festival, and more recently, Olivia Rodrigo’s periwinkle American Music Awards gown glittered as she shuffled underneath its feathered hem.
Cardi B attends the “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime” photocall as part of Paris Fashion Week at Musee Des Arts Decoratifs on September 28, 2021 in Paris, France. Credit: Richard Bord/WireImage/Getty Images
Fashion history became this year’s biggest red carpet flex, as stylists and celebrities sought out rare archival pieces from decades past. The growing interest in upcycling and vintage undoubtedly played a major role in the trend, which included Rodrigo donning a ruched 2001 Versace gown to the MTV VMA awards and queen of the archive Bella Hadid seen in vintage Gucci, Stella McCartney for Chloe and more in street snaps. And who could forget the olive green Jean Paul Gaultier gown worn by Kylie Jenner?
Daring to bare
Zoë Kravitz attends The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City. Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Post-lockdown red carpets were sexier than ever as some pandemic restrictions eased and celebrities returned to the public eye. Sheer dresses, such as Zoe Kravitz’s Saint Laurent Met Gala look and Megan Fox’s Thierry Mugler gown (paired with a nude thong) at the MTV VMAs, were seen at many major events, while other celebs like Zendaya, Kendall Jenner and Halle Bailey opted for peekaboo cutouts.
Sophisticated midriff-baring ensembles were sported by Carey Mulligan, Rina Sawayama and Alicia Keys throughout the year, while Lil Nas X, Kim Kardashian and Hailey Bieber were among those who covered up in skintight catsuits that left little to the imagination.
Troye Sivan attends The 2021 Met Gala Celebrating In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13, 2021 in New York City. Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images
With Gen Z challenging gender binaries on TikTok and discussions about fluidity reverberating throughout the fashion industry, celebrities weren’t shy about pushing boundaries. With LGBTQ+ stars leading the charge — including Billy Porter in a blush pink trailing suit and designer Harris Reed launching their debut gender-fluid fashion collection — others followed suit: Troye Sivan wore a minimal dress to the Met Gala and Kid Cudi wore a Kurt Cobain-inspired floral gown for his Saturday Night Live performance, followed by a wedding dress at the CFDA Awards.
Some took more subtle approaches, including Bowen Yang, with his platform Syro heels poking out from under the hem of a sharp suit at the Emmys. Nail polish was also widely embraced by stars such as Lil Yachty and Tyler the Creator, and Styles and Machine Gun Kelly even launched their own nail polishes.
Fashion as wearable art
Bella Hadid poses as she arrives for the screening of the film “Tre Piani” (Three Floors) at the 74th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on July 11, 2021. Credit: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
The sight of Bella Hadid at Cannes Film Festival this summer, wearing a Schiaparelli brass necklace designed to look like a pair of lungs, stopped the internet in its tracks. That surreal, artistic approach to fashion continued throughout the latter half of the year.Di Petsa’s “wet look” dresses, created by self-described interdisciplinary artist Dimetra Petsa and meticulously layered with tulle, transformed stars such as the Hadid sisters, SZA, Chloe Bailey and Megan Thee Stallion into water nymphs who looked as though they had just emerged from the sea. Zendaya opted for a similar style, crafted out of nude leather by Balmain, for the Venice premiere of “Dune.” Her look was offset by that of her co-star Timothee Chalamet, who was dressed in a glittering Haider Ackermann outfit that looked as though it had been spun out of the night sky. Of course who could forget Kim Kardashian’s dramatic look at the Met Gala — a faceless custom Balenciaga outfit that provoked questions about the nature of celebrity while spawning endless memes on Twitter.
Gemma Chan paid tribute to Anna May Wong at the Met Gala. Wong is considered to be the first Chinese American Hollywood star. Credit: Getty Images
As many stars went all out with their post-lockdown wardrobes, others took a step back to pause and pay homage to those who paved the way before them. Throwbacks to specific celebrity and supermodel outfits were seen throughout the year.
At the Met Gala for instance, Gemma Chan honored Chinese-American film star Anna May Wong in a Prabal Gurung dragon-embellished mini dress and coiled braids, and YouTuber Nikkie de Jaeger stepped out in a floral dress with a ribbon reading “Pay it no mind” pinned to her hem — a reference to transgender Stonewall activist Marsha P. Johnson. Kendall Jenner, on the other hand, channeled Audrey Hepburn with a sheer gown covered in crystals. The dress was a contemporary take on one worn by Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.” Zendaya made a number nods to icons, wearing a long version of Beyonce’s Versace 2003 BET Awards dress to the same event this year and a yellow cut-out gown to the Oscars, modeled on one previously worn by Cher on “The Sonny & Cher Show.” And Angelina Jolie kept the throwback references close to home at the London premiere of the “Eternals,” with daughters Zahara and Shiloh sporting some of Jolie’s previously worn red carpet dresses as they accompanied her. Jolie wore a 2018 Valentino gown.
Avril Lavigne attends the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards at Barclays Center on September 12, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Credit: Astrid Stawiarz/WireImage/Getty Images
Championed by Gen Z stars like Dua Lipa and Addison Rae, the noughties obsession held strong through 2021. All the old trends were back in full force, spotted in Beyonce’s hot pink Versace platform heels and Lipa wearing different butterfly outfits a la Mariah Carey — even a Von Dutch-esque cap was touted by Rihanna and Miley Cyrus.
Surprising brands such as Ed Hardy and Juicy Couture made a comeback among the celebrity set, and retro staples like mesh printed tops, monogram prints and corsets became go-to pieces.
Other maligned Y2K styles, including low-rise jeans and baby tees, also found their way into the closets of Lipa, Hadid and Kaia Gerber. That love for the ’00s shows no signs of slowing down, and it’s likely we’ll continue to see celebrities champion the decade into 2022, with Versace, Fendi and others all steering the bandwagon.