The top stories in fashion from 2016 include the return of the 1980s and diversity on men's runways.

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Fashion may never quite recover from 2016. The most memorable thread of the last 12 months had less to do with clothes than existential self-doubt. Much of what we thought we knew was in question, and all we actually knew was to expect the unexpected.

Here are highlights from the wild year that was for women’s and men’s high fashion.


Fashion shows had an identity crisis. After years of complaining that the twice-yearly, four-city, ready-to-wear circus made no sense — for brands or critics or consumers — some designers decided to do something about it.

Burberry, Tom Ford, Thakoon and Tommy Hilfiger declared that the problem was the time lag between shows and sales (usually about six months, after which everyone is bored with the old clothes and has moved on), so they switched to a see now/sell now system.

Brands in Italy and France said no to that idea, but not before putting forth a different one: Bottega Veneta, along with Gucci and Burberry, said separate men’s and women’s narratives made no sense, and announced they would combine both sexes into one show.

Designer turnover went into hyperdrive. The average term for the top job at a big brand now seems to be three years or less.

It began with Hedi Slimane leaving Saint Laurent after one three-year term; then Brendan Mullane and Stefano Pilati left their posts at Brioni and Ermenegildo Zegna after just over three years. Peter Copping was out at Oscar de la Renta after less than two years; ditto Peter Dundas at Roberto Cavalli and Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow at DKNY. It was Justin O’Shea, however, who set a record for turnover at Brioni, lasting a mere six months.

The 1980s returned. So did oversize everything. Short sheaths. Asymmetry. Giant sleeves. Oversize jackets and trousers. Maybe it was Donald Trump and his constant evocation of the Reagan years, what with his red ties and big, boxy suits; maybe it was the usual turning of the fashion wheel, after ’60s and ’70s revivals. Whatever the reason, on runways from YSL to Céline, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Rodarte, the 1980s were back, shoulders and all.

Rihanna took Paris (Fashion Week). Although fashion has had an ambivalent relationship with rock stars who try to design instead of inspire from afar (see: Kanye West, Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani), Rihanna proved to be an exception, vaulting from icon to power player by taking her second Fenty Puma show to Paris, the better to frame her “what Marie Antoinette would wear if she went to the gym” collection.

The end of plus sizes. Careful who you call “plus size.” The model Ashley Graham, erstwhile poster girl for the larger sector, entered the mainstream on the covers of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue and British Vogue, where, according to the Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, some designers refused to dress her, as it would have entailed making clothes tailored to her proportions. Shulman used her Editor’s Letter to call them out (though she didn’t name-and-shame).

Similarly, Amy Schumer took to Instagram to scold Glamour for putting her on the cover of its “Chic at Any Size” special issue, rejecting the idea that she was anything other than normal; and Leslie Jones posted on Twitter about her problems getting designers to help her with her red carpet looks for the “Ghostbusters” premiere. Christian Siriano came to her aid, catapulting his profile up to another level.

Getting on the right side of history, IMG Models christened its male bigger-bodied division — wait for it — Brawn.

Department stores struggled while specialty boutiques began to expand. Reports of retail’s death are probably exaggerated, but what is certain is that the department store’s pain may be the specialty store’s gain. What advantage do specialty stores have? They reflect an individual point of view, rather than trying to please all of the people all of the time.


Bomber jackets became the fashion hula hoop. The bomber was not only a ubiquitous menswear default in 2016, but also one of those magical Google trends. A 500 percent year-on-year increase in Google searches involving the term “bomber jacket” was probably goosed along by celebrities like David Beckham and Pharrell Williams, who wore them almost to the exclusion of any other form of outerwear.

Diversity on menswear runways and in editorial castings put the womenswear sector to shame. If menswear has traditionally followed more than led, there is one way in which that is clearly no longer the case: diversity. Despite decades of cultural breast-beating, panel discussions and industry initiatives, tokenism in women’s fashion remains. It is the uncommon womenswear runway whose racial composition bears much resemblance to that on the streets outside the shows.

Yet, quietly and steadily, menswear has opened up to a wider view of what constitutes the consumer base and, for that matter, humanity. A decade ago models like Hussein Abdulrahman, Adonis Bosso, Fernando Cabral, Abiah Hostvedt, Sang Woo Kim, or Michael Shockley may have been rare runway sightings. Now they are big-earning members of a gifted pack.

Arnold Palmer’s death proved old school did it best. The golf star’s obituaries tended to omit an important point. With his taut, muscular frame, his narrow waist, sturdy forearms and easy athletic grace, Palmer, who died at 87, was in certain ways as notable for nonchalant assurance of his personal style as for his game.

His clothes were known to be in constant harmony, perfectly well fit, classic and polished.

Patches stuck around. For a moment, the patches trend seemed to have peaked in 2016 and was headed for the style boneyard. But then Donatella Versace came along with a fine fall menswear collection that included, among the ice-blue winter woolens and space-themed suits, a jumpsuit that looked to have patch acne. Right then you knew embroidered madness was here to stay.