The 17 Items That Defined 2020

Numbers don’t always tell a complete story, but at the end of each year, we’re always curious to see which fashion items got the most clicks or highest spikes in search volume. Forget the runways; what did people actually buy and wear? More often than not, the must-haves can be explained by major headlines or moments in pop culture. But in 2020, a year marked by a global health crisis, staggering unemployment, and a contentious election, what we liked and bought arguably meant even more. If we purchased anything new, it was likely comfortable—loungewear remains the best-selling category on the market—or sent a message about our beliefs.

Below, we’ve narrowed down 17 of the year’s most-wanted accessories, shoes, sweatshirts, and more. In some cases, we looked to data—see: Harry Styles’s TikTok sweater—while others came from our own observations, like Bottega Veneta’s oddly uplifting rain boots. Scroll through them all below, and shop the ones you’ve yet to pick up.

Photo: Getty Images

Telfar’s Shopping Bag

The Bushwick Birkin, as it’s come to be known, isn’t new. Telfar Clemens started making his vegan Shopping Bag totes in 2014, and while they’ve always been hard to get, the obsession reached a fever pitch in 2020. A surprise restock in July reportedly sold out in seconds, and the resulting frenzy became almost as newsworthy as the bags themselves. The tote got another boost when Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore it on Capitol Hill; according to Lyst, searches for Telfar spiked 163% the following week. GQ called it “fashion diplomacy done right” and pointed out how Telfar’s slogan, “not for you—for everyone,” jibes nicely with AOC’s own beliefs.

Telfar handbag $269 VESTIAIRE COLLECTIVE Shop Now

Photo: DNCC

ByChari’s Vote necklace

We’ve learned to expect great fashion choices from former first lady Michelle Obama, and this year was no different. At the virtual Democratic National Convention, she paired a chocolate brown top by Nanushka (a Gen Z favorite) with a delicate gold necklace spelling out a single word: vote. It was designed by Chari Cuthbert, a Jamaican designer based in Los Angeles, and it retails on her site for $295. The election is (finally!) over, but women are still ordering it. We won’t have to show up to vote again for a while, but wearing the necklace is a big endorsement for Cuthbert’s small, woman-owned business.

By Chari vote necklace $295 BY CHARI Shop Now

Photo: Courtesy of Hill House Home

Hill House Home’s Nap Dress

The term viral is used too loosely these days, but it’s an apt description for Hill House Home’s Nap Dress. Nell Diamond, the brand’s founder, added the cheekily named frock to her assortment of bed linens and towels last year. But when the pandemic forced us inside, the concept—a dress you wear to take a nap or just to hang around the house—felt prescient. They became Instagram trophy pieces, partly thanks to their friendly prices—the dress starts at $125—and partly because of their influencer fans. When Diamond restocked her Nap Dress (which now comes in a range of prints, colors, and silhouettes) in late October, she sold $1 million within hours.

Hill House Home the Ellie nap dress $125 HILL HOUSE HOME Shop Now

Photo: Courtesy of Entireworld

Entireworld Sweats

Nine months into the pandemic, a girl still can’t get her hands on a pink Entireworld sweatshirt. Scott Sternberg’s sweatsuit label has become the industry’s de facto 2020 success story since April, when his website saw its highest-grossing day ever while other brands struggled to make any sales at all. He’s described his candy-colored joggers and crewnecks as “clothes to live in,” and as we continue to #WFH, that rings true now more than ever. As we reemerge for outdoor dining, we’re even seeing women style their sweats with non-loungewear pieces, from oversized blazers to loafers. “Sweatpants forever,” indeed.

Photo: Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment / Disney+

Marine Serre’s Crescent-Moon Prints

Following the debut of Beyoncé’s Black Is King film, many of the designers she and her backup dancers wore saw triple-digit spikes in search traffic. Marine Serre’s crescent-moon body stocking saw a particular surge: According to Lyst, it became the most popular design of the year, with searches spiking 426% in the 48 hours after the film’s release. Like a few other items on this list—the Telfar tote, the Nap Dress, Birkenstocks—it isn’t exorbitantly expensive. Serre’s long-sleeve beige top is $290, and considering you can layer it under dresses, sweaters, blazers, and just about anything else in your closet, the cost per wear could end up being pennies.

Marine Serre fitted moon print top $290 NORDSTROM Shop Now

Photo: Courtesy of Resistance by Design

Resistance by Design’s Vote Masks

According to Lyst, the top trending item of 2020 was a black-and-white logo mask from Off-White. But the ones we saw the most—at least here in New York City—were Resistance by Design’s Vote masks. Created by Alex Posen, formerly the creative director of her brother Zac’s ready-to-wear label, and her friend Dahna Goldstein, the Vote masks have been worn by influential women including Hillary Clinton, Jill Biden, and Stacey Abrams. They made a blunt statement IRL and on Instagram at a time when many of us couldn’t gather to discuss the issues. In the lead-up to the election, the brand reportedly sold “tens of thousands” of them; their success is even sweeter in light of how the election turned out.

Resistance by Design vote mask $20 $15 RESISTANCE BY DESIGN Shop Now

Photo: Getty Images

Birkenstock’s Arizona Sandals

It’s hard to recall when people weren’t wearing Birkenstock Arizonas. Influential women like Phoebe Philo and Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen gave them fashion cred in the early 2010s, but it was 2020 that made the ugly-chic shoe an actual must-have (particularly for those of us in walking cities like New York). Lyst put the chunky two-strap sandal at number two on its list of the top 10 most-wanted items of the year, with a nod to Proenza Schouler, Valentino, and Rick Owens, who have all collaborated with the German shoemaker. Still, you’re more likely to see people on the street wearing the brand’s classic two-strap sandals in black leather or ultralight EVA foam. The Arizonas on every Vogue editor’s list? Fluffy wool shearling in black or mink.

Birkenstock Arizona shearling sandal $150 ZAPPOS Shop Now

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Bala Bangles

If your jewelry didn’t get a lot of play this year, perhaps you picked up a new accessory: Bala Bangles. The hands-free wrist and ankle weights were sold out all summer long as at-home workouts replaced our trips to the gym. They’re particularly well-suited to Pilates, barre, or cardio-sculpt classes like the Tracy Anderson Method or the Sculpt Society. Function aside, something about the sleek bands and bold colors made women covet them like any designer bag or legging. Word to the wise: They’re back in stock now if you’re still stumped on a gift for your fitness-obsessed friend.

Bala bangles $49 DICK'S SPORTING GOODS Shop Now

Photo: Courtesy of Mugler

Mugler’s Sheer Bodysuit

Beyoncé, Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian West—those are just a few of the über-influential women who have worn Mugler’s sheer bodysuit. This isn’t your average shapewear: The brand’s creative director, Casey Cadwallader, told British Vogue he’s been developing the design since he joined the house back in 2017. Comprising 64 panels, it’s a couture piece most women couldn’t justify for daily use (ditto Lipa’s crystal-embellished version), but its popularity is likely to inspire more Mugler and Mugler-like bodysuits, base layers, and lingerie in 2021.

Mugler cut-out bodysuit $1,235 $556 FARFETCH Shop Now

Photo: Getty Images

Bottega Veneta’s Puddle Boots

Birks aside, the most-wanted designer shoes of the year were easily Bottega Veneta’s bulbous rubber Puddle Boots. They were a constant on our Instagram feeds, beloved by editors and Danish influencers alike, and came in a range of happy, impractical colors, from kiwi to lollipop pink. Daniel Lee showed them with fringed gowns on the runway in February, but they became newly relevant in light of the tumult we faced this year. Weatherproof and nearly indestructible, they’ll get you through anything.

Bottega Veneta chunky rubber rain booties $650 NEIMAN MARCUS Shop Now

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Christopher Kane’s “More Joy” Accessories and Underwear

Christopher Kane’s fall 2018 show included a few dresses printed with sketches from the book The Joy of Sex, plus a new slogan: “More Joy.” Two years later, Kane has developed a full line of subtly subversive iPhone cases, pins, blankets, face masks, sex accessories, and underwear stamped with “More Joy” (as well as “Sex” and “Special”), and we’ve been seeing them everywhere. In a pretty joyless year, the concept feels newly meaningful; each item serves as a tiny reminder. Also very 2020: Kane’s “More Joy” face mask was the first fashion mask made with an antiviral fabric.

Christopher Kane more joy iPhone 11 case $44 CHRISTOPHER KANE Shop Now

Photo: Getty Images

JW Anderson’s Color-Block Patchwork Cardigan

Harry Styles was the man of the year, literally. Lyst named him the number one most influential celebrity on its report, up from number nine in 2019. But even before his December Vogue cover went viral, Styles was inspiring fashion purchases—and even some DIYs. When he wore a JW Anderson color-block cardigan during a Today Show rehearsal, the $1,479 sweater sparked an interesting TikTok trend: Crochet enthusiasts made their own versions of it, with some videos amassing hundreds of thousands of views. Anderson encouraged the fun by sharing the original pattern on his website, telling Vogue Business: “I quite like that we designed something that has taken on a new type of meaning, a new life. And I think that’s important for fashion today; to be about inclusion, not exclusion.”

JW Anderson colourblock patchwork cardigan $1,479 JW ANDERSON Shop Now

Photo: Courtesy of Dior

Dior Men’s Air Jordans

On the still-quiet streets of SoHo, the Dior Men shop is one of the very few with a line out the door. Young men and women are willing to wait hours for Kim Jones’s couture-meets-streetwear trophies, his Air Dior sneaker collaboration with Nike especially. Worn by the likes of Travis Scott, the gray Jordans with a logo’d swoosh are now fetching resale prices upward of $8,000. For those who couldn’t get their hands on a pair, classic Nike Air Jordans (which retail for closer to $150) were trending this year too; The RealReal chalked it up to the success and influence of The Last Dance.

Christian Dior x Nike Air Jordan sneaker $9,995 $7,995 FASHIONPHILE Shop Now

Photo: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton’s Face Shield

Our approach to PPE has changed dramatically since March, from wearing no masks at all to splurging on $1,000 face shields. Louis Vuitton’s monogrammed plastic shield is one of the more over-the-top items on our list, but you can’t say it isn’t functional. It may just be the thing that defines 2020 fashion the most. A face mask (or shield) has become the accessory we can’t leave home without, and it makes sense that luxury brands would create their own versions. As we prepare for a second wave here in New York, it’s fair to expect more clever mask and shield designs in 2021.

The 17 Most Popular Fashion Items of 2021

What did we buy and wear in 2021, and what does it say about where fashion is going next? Twelve months ago, our breakdown of 2020’s most-wanted items centered on themes of comfort and community, from sweats by Entireworld (RIP) to Telfar’s totes. We were still pre-vaccine, still #WFH, still uncertain when this pandemic would “end” (actually, that last part is still true). We could justify a cozy hoodie or some VOTE! merch before the election, but really, we had little reason to buy anything new at all. In uncertain times, why shop?

How things change in a year. The better question now might be: In uncertain times, why not shop? We still have no idea what the future holds (not like we ever did), and everyone’s adopting a YOLO attitude. Where 2020 was marked by a sense of restraint and caution, 2021 has been hedonistic by comparison. As Google’s year in data confirms, trends are all over the place, from cottage-core to ’90s grunge to raver platforms, and it might be the same person searching for all three. Gen Z-ers are trying out a range of aesthetics regardless of their actual hobbies or music tastes, all in the name of experimentation and expression.

This year’s 17 must-have items are similarly disparate. Sexy cardigans, utility boots, Barbie heels, foam slippers, sheer dresses, crochet totes—how to analyze it all? Maybe we shouldn’t. When the world doesn’t make sense, dressing freely and impulsively can actually create a sense of control, if only for a moment. Scroll through the year’s most curious and most wanted clothes and accessories below, and shop the ones you’ve yet to pick up.

The most common item of clothing in the world

Here is a silly, but fun question to ponder this afternoon: excluding underwear and socks, what is the most common item of clothing or footwear in the world today? And by “common”, I mean by quantity. If we collected all the items of clothing and footwear and put them in piles according to their category, which would be the pile with the most items?

At first I thought the answer was obvious. In this order:

T shirts Jeans Sneakers

Then I began to have second thoughts. With China and India having such large populations, where do the unique clothing items from those cultures fit into the list?

What do you think is the most common item of clothing?

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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