The headlines out of 2019 were, in a word, wild. They’re the kind that you remember and can recall exactly where you were when you heard them first, they’re stories you’ll probably tell your grandchildren one day. And though there’s no comparing impeachment proceedings and climate strikes to runway shows, within fashion there’s been a number of moments that have earned worldwide attention this year and possibly, for better or worse, shifted the industry.
The one conclusion you can be sure of: The biggest fashion news of this past year is an indication of what to look out for 2020. For example, while Chanel continues to transition to a new era following the loss of Karl Lagerfeld, Rihanna (also known as the World’s Richest Female Musician) is less than a year into building her own fashion empire. Plus, the most glamorous style moments of 2019 proved that the red carpet is a place to challenge norms. And occasionally, the strongest political power flex doesn’t happen while wear a tailored suit, but rather a traditional thobe or moccasins. In the upcoming election year, expect plenty more examples of fashion-as-communication to emerge.
Ahead revisit 10 of the most memorable fashion headlines of 2019.
Rihanna officially makes fashion her business.
Despite much speculation, Rihanna didn't put out a new album this year but 2019 was the year she poured herself into the fashion industry, building a new legacy beyond being a style icon for the ages. In May, the multi-hyphenate artist became the first black woman at the helm of an LVMH brand with the launch of Fenty, a luxury label in which Rihanna leads the creative and business vision. (LVMH, the fashion conglomerate that owns Louis Vuitton and Dior, is Fenty’s parent company.) In September she also closed New York Fashion Week with a lingerie-clad celebration of all bodies with her Savage x Fenty fashion show. In December, Fenty was recognized formally, winning the Urban Luxe award at the British Fashion Awards in London.
The Victoria’s Secret fashion show gets the boot.
As both individuals and media no longer accept conventional portrayals of beauty as the only standard, Victoria’s Secret had its share of bad press—although some 2019 headlines seemed to move in a more positive and inclusive direction. The lingerie brand announced it would be working with a trans model for the first time in August, and soon after shared the news that it had split with its former CMO Ed Razek who came under fire for making remarks about trans and plus-size models. Also, in September during an investor meeting, the brand shared a new direction for VS Pink that cast models of varying shapes and sizes. Ultimately, the biggest news of the year was the cancelation of its annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, an angel-wing-clad, push-up-bra-filled, often problematic spectacular. This signaled another shift for the brand that may continue to play out in 2020 as it navigates its future.
Billy Porter has one of the best red-carpet looks of all time.
As a whole, red carpet style in 2019 was impressive and imaginative, but it was actor Billy Porter that challenged the status quo when he arrived at the Academy Awards last February wearing a custom Christian Siriano tuxedo gown. “I believe men on the red carpet would love to play more,” he told Vogue of the look that stunningly questioned the societal norms of so-called masculine and feminine dressing. Siriano was the perfect partner to bring this full-skirted, tuxedo-jacketed creation to life because of his always inclusive approach to fashion and, as Porter explained, “he was the first person who understood that everybody wears clothes—not just size zeros.” While Porter is not the only celebrity to debunk dressing norms in 2019 — Ezra Miller, Billie Eilish, and Jonathan Van Ness each have their own approach to non-conforming personal style — his choice to wear a tuxedo gown to the most anticipated red carpet of all Award Season sent an especially powerful message about the freedom of expression.
Meghan Markle becomes a fashion editor.
The Duchess of Sussex assumed a position of style authority when she guest edited the September issue of British Vogue. In true Markle fashion, her role alongside the publication’s editor-in-chief Edward Enninful served as a vehicle to shine light on other women she admires. She selected 15 individuals who are “Forces of Change” for the issue’s cover and within its pages she announced the launch of her first fashion collection since gaining her royal title: a curated collection of pieces from U.K. designers, hand-selected by Markel. All the profits went to benefit Smart Works, an organization that helps with job placements for unemployed women.
Congressional swearing-in style sends a powerful message.
Fashion has historically played a supporting role in politics, whether intentionally or inadvertently. See: Melania Trump’s "I really don’t care, do u?" jacket or Nancy Pelosi’s red Max Mara coat memes. However, the scene at the 116th U.S. Congress inauguration was collectively a celebration of culture and representation, told through fashion. Among the record-breaking number of women sworn in, several of them incorporated clothing and accessories that not only honored their respective cultures but sent a visual message of more diverse representation among U.S. elected leaders. Some examples included Representative Rashida Tlaib who whore a traditional Palestinian thobe. One of two of the first Native American Congresswomen inaugurated, Representative Deb Haaland, wore a Pueblo dress and moccasins. Meanwhile Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez arrived in a white pants suit and gold hoop earrings. “Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they’re dressing like a Congresswoman,” she tweeted.
J.Lo honors her most iconic dress.
In many ways, 2019 might as well have been the Year of J.Lo. She was honored with the CFDA Fashion Icon award in June. She earned critical acclaim (and Oscar buzz) for her role in Hustlers that premiered in September. And yet the moment that sent the fashion industry into a panic was when Lopez closed the Spring/Summer 2020 Versace runway show in a dress that was nearly identical to the green, cut-to-the-navel design she wore to the Grammys in 2000. Her powerful sashay down the runway placed the cherry on top of her don’t-call-it-a-comeback year.
Chanel begins a new chapter with the death of Karl Lagerfeld.
In 2019, fashion lost iconic yet controversial designer Karl Lagerfeld. During the last year, the industry continued to eulogize and honor his vision and contributions at his runway shows, the CFDA Awards, and the British Fashion Awards. Lagerfeld’s passing was followed by a new start at the house of Chanel with the appointment of Virginie Viard as creative director.
Renting clothes becomes a billion-dollar business.
In March, Rent the Runway officially became a billion-dollar brand, and the rest of your favorite shopping destinations wanted in, too. In May, Loft introduced its own clothing rental service offering its range of size-inclusive styles. In August, Urban Outfitters started it’s own service with Nuuly. Even H&M announced in October that it would begin to test a rental service for its Conscious Exclusive collections. These services have obvious benefits: they provide tons of style options, save shoppers money, and promote less consumption. And while other forms of retail are suffering, the boom of rental options provides a peek into how shopping may be changing as we know it. At the very least, in 2020.
Tiny-bag energy took over.
At the start of last year, one would have guessed that the impossibly tiny handbag trend had run its course, as seemingly impractical trends wont to do. Au contraire. This year, Rihanna raised many questions as she walked through the airport with a teeny Delvaux’s bag in tote. Then at last month’s AMA’s Lizzo launched a viral meme while carrying a Valentino purse that was only “big enough for my fucks to give,” she shared. In short, in 2019 the micro bag has become the ironic accessory of choice for women who are thriving.
Customers Say Goodbye
Be it fast fashion brands that dressed our young adulthoods or one of the most iconic luxury department stores in New York, beloved retailers took a major blow in 2019. Forever 21 announced its bankruptcy and plans to close up to 178 of its stores in the U.S. Soon after, Barneys New York announced the sale of its business due to bankruptcy, too. On the designer front, news came by way of Zac Posen closing his eponymous business, which has been responsible for nearly 20 years of exquisite gowns and countless red-carpet hits.