Welcome to the 2020 It List, where we’re taking a look back at the biggest moments in fashion that defined the past year, the trends we bought on repeat, and the brands that made their mark, both new and old. It’s a tradition here at Who What Wear that you might remember by its former name, the Street Style Awards, but since 2020 hasn’t exactly been a typical year, we’ve decided to shake things up too and rebrand our end-of-year report. This year, it’s all about what happened on Instagram and in the market. Yes, the year that felt like a century is about to come to a close, and while there’s plenty of sartorial newnesses awaiting us in 2021, let’s recap the past year, shall we?
So here’s how it worked: The editors at Who What Wear assembled a list of the 2020 trends that reigned supreme, created a voting form and then sent it out to all of you. Now that the reader votes are in and we’ve assembled our very reputable panel of critics, it’s time to discuss the winners.
Speaking of critics, let’s meet them. This year, we are proud to present our three critics, or panel of judges, if you will, each representing a different perspective in the industry. We have Caroline Maguire, fashion director of Shopbop; Aimee Song, influencer and designer of her Song of Style line; and of course, our very own Who What Wear Editor in Chief, Kat Collings. Each of our panel members weighed in on the biggest trends, brands, and items as chosen by you and chatted with us about why they mattered. From the trend of the year to the rising brand we should all have on our radars, it’s officially time to present to you the winners of the 2020 It List. So sit back, relax, and enjoy our official year in review.
“Twenty-twenty is basically the ’90s again,” one reader quipped, and well, they’re not wrong. We saw so many throwback styles reemerge this year from the decade that you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking a modern-day outfit was vintage (or vice versa). But out of everything fashion has brought back, there was no single item quite as iconic of both eras as shoulder bags.
Whether it was Bottega Veneta’s pouch or the vintage revivals that took hold, this baguette-like silhouette was all we could think about. “The classic ’90s shoulder bag is the hands-free bag of the year,” Maguire confirmed. “Its iconic shape adds a retro element to any look, and is especially chic in nylon or leather. This bag is also super versatile and can double as a clutch.”
One thing that has contributed to the shoulder bag’s meteoric rise is that it’s actually pretty useful. After several seasons of those microscopic mini bags, a carryall that’s equal parts fashion and function felt much-needed and our readers couldn’t agree more, calling these bags “a trendy yet practical accessory—you can swing it over your shoulder and be hands-free.” While designer versions were certainly the most coveted (ahem, looking at you, Prada Nylon Re-Issue), contemporary brands like Staud and BY FAR had versions that won us over.
This year, it’s only natural that a loungewear item won Basic of the Year. What used to be the cozy set you slipped into at the end of a long day has now officially become one of the most worn items in our entire wardrobes. Yes, everyone, sweats have entered the chat. Luckily, brands have responded to everyone’s stay at home orders with vigor by offering up cute sweats left and right. While surely everyone naturally gravitated towards these cozy matching sets, the rise in general popularity of the sweats movement was due largely in part to influencers backing their comfortable at-home looks all over Instagram. “Leave it to fashion girls to be two steps ahead. I swear that classic sweatpants started to trend around January, and then clearly exploded to the general public from there,” says Collings.
Aimee Song agrees that this is by far the most important basic of 2020, but she also notes that it didn’t always use to be. “I used to never ever wear sweatpants. My dressed-down look used to be a T-shirt and jeans, and now that feels like dressing up. I absolutely love my sets of active sweatshirts and sweatpants. They’re thicker material and come in so many cute colors,” says Song. “When done right, sweat sets, sweatshorts, and sweats, in general, provide the ultimate comfort while also looking incredibly cool,” states one of our voters on the matter. Working from home has created challenges for everyone, but getting dressed shouldn’t be one of those challenges, and that’s why the masses have turned to sweatsuits for both comfort and ease.
Prada or nada (sorry, I had to). But in all seriousness, Prada has managed to not only maintain its notoriety but only seems to gain more buzz season after season. With each new runway collection comes a slew of new creations that are basically guaranteed to become It items. Take the Cleo Bag for example. It’s a structured and minimalistic shoulder bag with the label’s iconic triangle logo, and it happens to be one of the most in-demand accessories at the moment. The special sauce? According to Maguire, it’s the brand’s ability to give us exactly what we want. "Prada continues to evolve and push boundaries season after season," she shared. "Transforming their iconic nylon pieces into the Re-Nylon collection was absolutely brilliant, not to mention sustainable."
The brand has managed to strike a precise balance between serving up newness and innovation while also capitalizing on what makes them such a nostalgic brand in the first place. For ’90s and ’00s kids everywhere, the Nylon Re-Issue collection was a dream come true. "Not only did Prada come through this year, but we brought our favorite Prada items back," one reader shared. “They truly encapsulated all of the best styles of 2020.” It’s true—Prada was behind the top trends of the whole year: ’90s handbags, chunky loafers, and even sweater vests were all highlights of the F/W 2020 collection. You’d be wise to look closely at their latest runway if you want to spot what will be new and next.
Coming as a surprise to literally no one, Bottega Veneta’s lug-sole boots led the pack for It Item of the Year (and did so with flying colors, I might add), which only solidifies the notion that everything creative director Daniel Lee touches turns to gold. “Many a good trend starts at Bottega HQ these days,” Collings confirms, “and the lug-sole Chelsea boots craze is no exception. I think they excelled with their experimentation: the distinctive soles showed up in red, green, and clear, so your stompy boots could stand out from the back.” And “craze” is really the only way we can describe the Bottega boot phenomenon—you couldn’t escape them whether you were scrolling through Instagram or shopping for a new pair of boots yourself.
Not only did Bottega Veneta’s specific pair earn It status but it also literally sparked an entire trend. Even if you couldn’t get your hands on the designer pair, millions of similar styles flooded the sites of more affordable retailers. “I think this was the most widely seen trend stemming from one specific item,” one of our readers explained. “Practical, fashionable, elevated.” And sure, these stompers bring a lot of look, if you know what we mean, but as with many of the items on this list, they also happen to be wildly practical. Between the grippy lug sole, high shaft, and easy-to-pull-on elasticated sides, I couldn’t dream up a better winter boot to trudge through the snow in than these. Even in a global pandemic, shoppers proved that there’s very much still an appetite for luxury, so long as it’s a useful buy, and these are about as useful as they come.
Twenty-twenty may have been the year that over-the-top fashion took a backseat, but a new approach to style prevailed and the Trend of the Year is proof of this. “In the year of lockdowns and distancing,” one reader described, “knit sets made us feel put together on some level.” Indeed, comfort soared to the top of the priority list when getting dressed, and Collings put it best: “They're pulled together, cozy, and effortless. Three things everyone's aspiring to be this year.” Seeing as these knit sets were offered in a range of combinations from a cardigan-and-pants set to the Instagram favorite tank-and–hot-pants duo and at both high and low price points, it's a trend that's proved to be as democratic as they come—and everyone wanted in.
Song is also very on board with the knit set trend. “I’ve been wearing a lot of Song of Style knit sets like our super popular Aurrera top and Rooney pants that keep selling out,” she told us. Song’s brand has made some of our favorite knit designs but it’s hardly the only label to see a surge in sales. One of our readers hit on exactly why that is, insisting that “a matching set makes you feel slightly more elevated than just throwing on some old mismatched sweats.” The era of sacrificing comfort for style has officially come to an end. Given the sheer diversity in style, color, and price point of the options available, there’s now no excuse not to look as good as you feel.
Because what even are real shoes anymore? Thanks to the current pandemic and continued stay-at-home orders, we have tragically put away our heels and restricting boots to create space for a shoe category we never expected to care so much about: house shoes. “This year more than ever,” says Maguire, “we all need a cozy chic pair of house slippers. Whether they’re easy slides or comfy pull-on boots for winter, there’s a style for every form of lounging around the house. I love pairing mine with cozy knit socks so they’re chic enough to wear out to run essential errands.” As it was with sweats this year, retailers hopped on this footwear trend at the speed of light and were able to provide shoppers with exactly what they were looking for.
One of the best parts of this trend is the overwhelming style variety that lies within it. You’ve got sporty sandals, shearling slides, and satin slippers galore gracing the scene ensuring everyone—no matter what their style type—has the opportunity to find a house shoe that is right for them. “House shoes are the shoe of 2020. They are all everyone’s been wearing,” said a voter. “They are entirely fitting for the pandemic, and during those first few lockdown months, it seemed like my Instagram feed was filled with trendy new house shoes,” said another.
The fact that Ganni won this category comes as no surprise to me. I mean, between the eye-catching prints and photo-worthy silhouettes, it’s almost as if this brand was destined for Instagram fame since its inception. Even our readers are fully aware of the social presence of this brand with one of them proclaiming that “Ganni popularized so many major trends this year” to which I ask, Where is the lie? This contemporary Scandinavian brand has truly only gotten better over time, and although this year looked very different for a lot of fashion brands, Ganni managed to hold its own while staying true to its playful and trend-setting roots.
“Shopbop customers (along with myself!) are loving Ganni,” says Maguire. “The bold shapes, prints, and colors add an element of fun and excitement to every outfit—perfect for standing out during virtual get-togethers this holiday season!” While the bold one-off garments that make for the perfect statement piece in your wardrobe are what you most often associate with the brand, Ganni is also about the overall Scandi-girl aesthetic. I think that ultimately, trying to achieve that look of funky layering, mixed prints, and unconventional shoes to match is what keeps customers coming back. Once they have the organza party dress, they need the chunky boots to go with it, and so on and so forth.
One of our voters explained the success of this color better than I ever could: “I am so glad brown is finally getting the love it deserves. It’s warmer than black but is still as versatile, complements all skin tones, and, also, chocolate in all forms has gotten us through 2020.” This neutral yet extremely rich hue feels right for the times and according to me, forever. This year, in particular, fashion has taken a major shift away from gimmicky trends and obnoxious color palettes, and the success of chocolate brown is proof. Don’t get it twisted—people are still shopping for statement pieces and garments that are there simply to make them smile, but overall, if this year has taught us anything it’s that we need to learn to make do with what we have, and sartorially speaking, investing in neutral colors is a great way to make the most of your wardrobe.
Aimee Song, influencer and designer of her very own clothing line, Song of Style, said “Chocolate brown has been the go-to neutral for me. Basically, it’s the new camel. For fall and winter, we did a lot of chocolate brown pieces like the Ursa Top with matching bottoms or Marney Midi Dress.” If you have yet to dive into this chocolatey color, it’s not too late. Once you have a couple of key pieces in your closet, I promise you will be surprised by how much use you will get out of them so keep scrolling and add the below to your cart.
If Tove doesn’t immediately ring a bell, the stunning gathered dresses that are officially all over Instagram (and above) will. Tove is an up-and-coming London-based brand founded by Camille Perry and Holly Wright. The brand’s mission is to bring you timeless, luxurious, and long-lasting garments that you will keep in your closet for years to come. “Tove is a brand to watch,” says Collings. “Their dresses, in particular, are achingly beautiful, yet utterly timeless too.” There’s that word again: timeless. Yet again we are seeing people shopping smarter, not harder, and if you’ve been wanting to switch up your current state of consumer behavior, investing in this rising brand would be a step in the right direction.
Beyond the stunning dresses you are likely most familiar with, Tove designs everything from trousers to blouses that are comfortable, practical, versatile, and so much more. A voter commented on the rise of Tove saying, “I’ve seen so much of this brand and their designs are impeccable. They’re definitely going to be huge.” A wardrobe filled with Tove would be a wardrobe that just makes sense. Not only now, but hopefully forever, and if you ask me, that’s the goal when trying to build a wardrobe that will sustain you for the long haul. And that, my friends, is why we believe this brand is fully on the up.
Shop the matching Celeste Cotton and Silk-Blend Jacquard Maxi Skirt ($435).
Now that we've taken a look back at the past year, it's time to start looking ahead. Up next, discover the 11 spring fashion trends we're going to see everywhere in 2021.