In 2010, the name “Tavi Gevinson” appeared at the very top of Cathy Horyn’s rundown of key fashion moments for The New York Times. She was recounting the moment at Dior‘s January couture collection show when old guard attendees realized one of the coveted front row seats was, in fact, occupied by a 13-year-old girl wearing an enormous bow-shaped hat (“the stares were openly hostile“). In hindsight, this incident could assume the role of harbinger for the seismic change that swept the fashion industry over the course of the decade that followed–an encapsulation of the friction that would crackle between the power of incumbency and the power of captivating attention. The sway of the latter is, perhaps, a clue to solving the question that has loomed large in my mind as the new year approaches: What does the 2010s’ style legacy look like?

 

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The answer is somewhat murky by default because we’re still inside the age in question (close enough to smell the red pepper flakes on our avocado toast!), but also because of how varied the decade’s most notable aesthetic movements have been. The indistinguishable jeans and Patagonia fleeces of normcore. The unflinching, “photograph me!” maximalism of fashion week street style. The Ugg boots and infinity scarves of “basic bitch” mania. The bodycon dresses and spandex bike shorts of Kardashian imitators and Fashion Nova shoppers. The tie-dye sweats and pool slides of the scumbro set. The coveted sneakers and Supreme T-shirts of hypebeasts. The designer leggings of athleisure.

It’s a hodgepodge that seems random at first glance, but look closer and you’ll find a common thread–a phrase that is as equally emblematic of the past decade as “LOL” and “mood”: good content. In other words, each and every memorable fashion phenomenon from the 2010s has accrued and maintained cultural significance because of its easy translation into headlines, Instagram posts, tweets, and think pieces.

 

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Lauren Sherman, whose career writing about fashion has quite literally spanned the decade (she started as an editor at Fashionista in 2010 and is now the chief New York correspondent at Business of Fashion), remarked that this ability to captivate the internet has proved to be a distinguishing factor for success among designers, too: “[Fashion] is further away from art and creation than ever before: The most genius ‘designers’ today are the most genius marketers.”

Their impact is such that it doesn’t really matter what they’re creating, it just matters what stories they are telling about it.

To her point, when I think about the designers who have stamped this decade of fashion with the most “2010s” kind of influence, I think of Alessandro Michele, Virgil Abloh, and James Jebbia–people who don’t just design clothes, but who also engender cult followings. Their impact is such that it doesn’t really matter what they’re creating, it just matters what stories they are telling about it.

“Designers who just make nice clothes don’t succeed,” Sherman added. “It has to be about more than that, now.”

This development–this necessity for “more”–has changed the way we metabolize fashion in the zeitgeist. “This is the decade that fashion—and beauty, actually—became like music to the ‘youths,'” Sherman said. “Because most forms of expression are now digital, not physical, it is no longer about acquiring record albums or CDs or DVDS and showing off your collection. Instead of waiting in line outside Tower Records for the latest Dave Matthews Band album to come out (yes, I did that in 2002), high school and college kids are waiting in line for Off-White and Supreme and Yeezys and Kylie’s Lip Kit and Glossier.”

 

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Genius marketing has certainly helped propel these brands to fame, but over the course of the decade, online algorithms have become simultaneously responsible for meting out recognition and therefore success, whether for a brand or a trend or an individual. As a result, while defining 2010s style is difficult, defining my own personal style is perhaps even more so. Both are inextricably tied to the whims of the algorithm–Instagram’s in particular–which has been powerful enough to popularize absurdities such as wedge sneakers and prairie dresses (eagerly coopted at various points by yours truly). On the cusp of a new decade, I’m having a uniquely hard time getting dressed, grappling with whether I like something because I genuinely, authentically like it or because my social media feeds decided I probably would.

Fashion and costume historian Shelby Ivey Christie found this fine line similarly inscrutable the more she turned to Instagram for fashion inspiration, so she made a decision to look elsewhere with greater intention: “I have made a conscious effort to consume more art, design, architecture and literature as a way of building up a visual database,” she told me. “I personally want my style to express who I am individually, so I try to only wear things I like because I truly like them, not because the algorithm forced an image on me repeatedly.”

Fashion icons like Rihanna, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Chloë Sevigny are heralded for their unique style while visual evidence of it is proliferated across the internet at a rapid pace.

She pointed out that while the 2010s have seemingly prized individuality, they have also made it nearly impossible to maintain. Fashion icons like Rihanna, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Chloë Sevigny are heralded for their unique style while visual evidence of it is proliferated across the internet at a rapid pace. Likewise, a trend that might seem distinctive at its outset can become homogenous within the course of a month if enough influencers share photos of themselves wearing it, or enough fast fashion retailers reproduce it en masse.

 

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There’s a major upside to this unprecedented reach, though: It has provided a platform where style is much more accessible than it was in decades past, allowing it to connect with and amplify a range of voices and perspectives. When reflecting on her experience covering and commenting on fashion over the last decade, Christie remarked on how much Black culture has contributed to what its legacy will look like: “We saw #BlackLivesMatter printed across millions of tees and hoodies. We saw more and more Black women embracing their natural hair and openly embracing our Black features and Black bodies,” she said. “We led conversations around naturally curly hair and the lack of products catered to darker complexions and tightly-coiled texture, which coincided with all sorts of ‘melanin’ stamped wear, from Rihanna’s Fenty line at LVMH to the fashion in Pose to Christopher John Roger’s CFDA win.”

Indeed, another reason the crux of 2010s fashion is hard to articulate is because fashion is more expansive than ever before, stretching to include everything from activism to new forms of technology to meat dresses. The decade’s aesthetic footprint doesn’t look as linear as it might have historically, with ideas trickling down from runway to wardrobe in uniform alignment; instead, it looks like a gigantic, sprawling web, with inspiration and feedback coming from every imaginable direction. I can’t tell where or even if it all coalesces–not yet, at least. But I can say without a hint of hyperbole that it has irrevocably changed the way we use style to spin the narrative of who we are.

Feature photos via Getty Images.

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