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12 Unexpected Fashion Trends That Defined the Year of 2020

By now, it is well established by that 2020 was not the year or start to a new decade that everyone thought it would be a year ago.

The unfurling of the pandemic from China to the rest of the world (including fashion weeks in Milan and Paris) in late February and early March led to the initial lockdowns that would prove to have an impact not only on how the fashion industry would function — but what everyone would be wearing for the rest of the year.

As the year began, trends like pantsuits, statement boots and full-look leather ensembles were pointing towards a decidedly dressed-up, put-together aesthetic for 2020. Fall ’20 fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris had attendees in It heels like Bottega Veneta’s mesh and quilted leather square toe sandals and Amina Muaddi’s martini shapes, paired with luxe leather trenches and other textured statement coats and bold double breasted, tailored jackets worn with strapless pouch bags and oversized earrings.

But amidst lockdowns, those looks were quick to fizzle out as people searched for the fastest route to a tangible comfort that might also help them to feel even slightly more at ease during an uncertain time. After a casual summer that leaned into both the ethereal (hello, nap dress) and the outdoor sporty (for all the new hikers out there), most people are finding themselves back in their sweats as winter weather rolls in and the year comes to a close.

Here are the top 10 fashion and footwear trends that came to define the pandemic year of 2020.

1. Ugly sandals and slippers

As people stayed at home during the lockdown, the tolerance for high heels took a quick and steep nosedive. When restrictions were gradually lifted across Europe and the U.S., the usual strappy heels for weddings and other summertime events were replaced with the “ugly” sandal, which had already posited itself in the fashion vernacular in summer 2019. Sandal wearers reprised the look in 2020 with plenty of Birkenstock Arizonas but also Tevas, Suicokes and even shower sandals. For some, the slide slipper morphed into a summer version with a little less fluff.

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A Copenhagen Fashion Week attendee, wearing Birkenstock Arizona sandals with a coordinated denim look and face mask.
CREDIT: WWD
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CREDIT: Courtesy of Zappos

To buy: Birkenstock Arizona sandal, $125

ugly sandals, 2020 fashion trends, suicoke
CREDIT: Courtesy of Farfetch

To buy: Suicoke Moto Mab sandal, $151 (was $232).

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Opening Ceremony

To buy: Opening Ceremony X Teva platform sandal, $50 (was $100)

2. Sweatpants and sweat sets

What people chose to wear on their feet matched exactly what they wore on the rest of their bodies. With the newly indoctrinated Zoom lifestyle came the idea of the Zoom shirt: business on top, sweatpants on the bottom. Plenty also began to opt for the full-look sweat set as a method to make sweats look more put together in a monochrome palette.

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A Paris Fashion Week attendee wearing a sweat set and matching face mask.
CREDIT: WWD
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CREDIT: Courtesy of Alo Yoga

To buy: Alo Yoga Accolade hoodie and sweatpant set, $225

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Bandier

To buy: Bandier WSLY tie dye sweat kit, $249

 

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom

To buy: PJ Salvage thermal neck pullover (shown with matching pant), $42

3. Tie dye

The DIY print was already making a resurgence alongside the “ugly” sandal in the summer of 2019, but tie-dye’s crafty origins made it the perfect summer activity for the house- and yard-bound. It could be seen on everything from cropped tees and athletic leggings to, yes, ugly sandals and especially sweat sets.

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A Milan Fashion Week model in a tie-dye sweatshirt.
CREDIT: WWD
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CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom

To buy: Sala tie dye hoodie, $68

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Bombas

To buy: Bombas tie dye performance ski and snowboard socks, $24

emu slippers, emu australia, slippers, tie dye, tie dye slippers
CREDIT: Courtesy of EMU Australia

To buy: EMU Australia Mayberry tie dye sheepskin slippers, $70

4. Hiking chic

Another socially-distanced activity had a profound impact on fashion in 2020. As more people ventured into the great outdoors over the summer, taking road trips to national parks and day excursions to nearby trails, items like Teva sandals, bike shorts, rugged socks and bucket hats suddenly seemed a little less crunchy. Most recently, 2020 FNAA Designer of the Year Salehe Bembury’s collaboration with outdoor brand Anta has raised the bar on making hiking boots as desirable as any sneaker around.

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The hiking/outdoor trend continued to permeate fashion, especially menswear. Here, a Paris Fashion Week attendee in September.
CREDIT: WWD
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CREDIT: Courtesy of Merrell

To buy: Merrell X Outdoor Voices Moab 2 Mid Eco Waterproof boot, $130

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CREDIT: Courtesy of The North Face

To buy: The North Face ’95 Retro Denali jacket, $200.

patagonia, patagonia fleece, hiking, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of Dicks Sporting Goods

To buy: Patagonia Classic Retro-X fleece jacket, $200

5. Apocalyptic boots

Maybe Miuccia Prada knew what was coming. After all, the designer’s clompy, stompy post-apocalyptic combat boots  from the fall ’19 collection (you know, the ones with the nylon logo pouch on the ankle) were already a huge hit last fall. After selling out, a year ago, the brand has extended the commercial offering of the boot with a few different ankle heights. Other styles like the Dr. Martens Jadon platform combat boot, Versace’s hazmat-style rubbers and Bottega Veneta’s clownishly-large puddle boots all extoll the same ominous vibe that’s equal parts personal protective equipment and survival gear.

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Bottega Veneta’s Puddle boots at Milan Fashion Week in September.
CREDIT: WWD
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CREDIT: Courtesy of Steve Madden
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CREDIT: Courtesy of Journeys

To buy: Dr. Martens Jadon boot, $180.

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Schutz

To buy: Schutz Xayane bootie, $158

6. Square toes

Most people ditched their heels in 2020 once lockdowns hit in March, but that didn’t stop brands from cleverly shifting the square-toe craze to flats, sensible mules and other lower heel styles. Bottega Veneta’s square-toe quilted plush leather heels were converted to flat slides and the aforementioned rubber shower slides even got the square treatment.

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Square-toed flats at Milan Fashion Week in September.
CREDIT: WWD
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CREDIT: Courtesy of & Other Stories

To buy: Other Stories square toe sandals, $130

 

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Ssense

To buy: Amina Muaddi Lupita slipper heels, $462 (was $650)

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Zara

To buy: Zara square toe sandals, $70

7. Knitwear everywhere

The elevated version of the sweat set was still all about comfort during uncertainty. Chunky knitted sweaters, a longtime wintertime staple, were completed with matching joggers and elastic flared knit bottoms, the latter a breakout item with matching bralette from Kim Kardashian West’s Skims line.

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A knitwear statement piece on the street at Paris Fashion Week in September.
CREDIT: WWD
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CREDIT: Courtesy of Hope Macaulay

To buy: Hope Macaulay Autumnal Colossal Knit Handmade Cardigan, $244

 

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Other Stories

To buy: & Other Stories Bee Button alpaca blend cardigan, $100

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Shopbop

To buy: Monse Inside Out Fair Isle sweater, $890

8. The “nap” dress

Summer may have eased restrictions, but that didn’t exactly get anyone into evening gowns and tuxedos. For anyone even venturing into traditional femininity with just a semblance of what used to be called glamour, the “nap” dress — a glorified nightgown with a relaxed silhouette, teetering on the edge of publicly decent depending on the material used — was the answer. It was often worn with Birkenstocks.

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An iteration of the “nap” dress at Copenhagen Fashion Week in June.
CREDIT: WWD
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CREDIT: Courtesy of Hill House Home

To buy: Hill House Home Nesli Nap dress, $125

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Sleeper

To buy: Sleeper loungewear dress, $250

doen, doen dress, netaporter, nap dress, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of Netaporter

To buy: Dôen Lauren floral print cotton blend midi dress, $188 (was $268)

9. More “dad” shoes

The men’s sneaker craze kicked off by the Balenciaga Triple S in 2018 looked like it would fade away as luxury brands like Balenciaga, Gucci and more pushed hard-soled footwear to revive the men’s dress shoe. But the pandemic made it easy to fall back into the dorky-but-comfy sneaker. This was especially true as New Balance — the ultimate and perhaps original “dad” shoe brand — had its fashion moment.

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Colorful “dad” sneakers at Paris Fashion Week.
CREDIT: WWD

 

balenciaga triple s, dad sneakers, dad shoes, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of Balenciaga

To buy: Balenciaga Triple S sneakers, $679 (was $975).

new balance, new balance dad shoes, new balance dad sneakers, dad shoes, dad sneakers, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of New Balance

To buy: New Balance Made In U.S. 990v5 sneaker, $175. 

 

asics gel lyte iii, dad shoes, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of Asics

To buy: Asics Gel Lyte III sneaker, $110

10. 2000s style

Following the theory of the 20-year fashion trend cycle, 2000s style was on track to make a timely comeback in 2020, and even a pandemic couldn’t stop it. From flared jeans to flatform slides, thong sandals, cropped tees and a distinctive color palette, remnants of the early aughts continue to pop up — and will no doubt continue in 2021. The best ambassador to the nostalgic look is perhaps model Bella Hadid, whose off-duty Instagram looks continue to look like a combination of a Delia’s catalogue and extras on MTV’s TRL.

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Bella Hadid in New York in December, wearing a look that showcases how the obsession with ’90s fashion is morphing into nostalgia for the early aughts.
CREDIT: Splash News
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CREDIT: Courtesy of Shopbop

To buy: Cami NYC Cosette Frost Cami, $215

2000s style, 2000s fashion, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of Verishop

To buy: Re/Done high-rise bootcut jeans, $315.

by far shoes, by far sandals, square toe sandals, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of Ssense

To buy: By Far Tanya lizard sandals, $119 (was $385).

11. Ugg all the way

The delicious comfort of a shearling Ugg shoe (boot, slipper) never went away from pop culture, but it had been dormant from public view since the days of Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan and the like parading them with denim minis in the early aughts. But in 2020, the sudden and urgent need for a good slipper (Ugg has cornered the market there) made it easy for the brand to re-enter public life. Now that it’s winter, Ugg season is officially here — and likely to stay through 2021.

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Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin in L.A. in December, both wearing Uggs.
CREDIT: MEGA

 

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom
ugg, ugg slippers, ugg boots, slippers, boots, ugg shoes, ugg, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of Zappos

To buy: Ugg Coquette slipper, $130.

ugg, ugg slippers, ugg boots, slippers, boots, ugg shoes, ugg, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of Ugg

To buy: Ugg Disco Checker slide, $110.

12. Anklets

Don’t forget the details. 2020’s ankle chains may seem insignificant at first glance, but this jewelry trend offered a glimmer of glamour in an otherwise very casual year. There was perhaps no better models for the trend than Amina Muaddi and Rihanna, whose ankle charms often accompanied their Fenty footwear.

rihanna, savage fenty, fenty, 2020 fashion trends, anklets
Rihanna at her Savage x Fenty show in September in L.A., wearing heels with a pearl anklet.
CREDIT: Getty Images for Savage X Fenty

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Blossom Box

To buy: Blossom Box Abeer Polki anklet set, $45

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CREDIT: Courtesy of Netaporter

To buy: Ancient Greek Sandals Mother-of-Pearl anklet, $32 (was $80)

adinas jewels, nordstrom, anklet chain, anklet trend, anklet bracelet, 2020 fashion trends
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom

To buy: Adina’s Jewels rope chain anklet, $68

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