x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Fashion: the decade in retrospect

In the first of a week-long series looking back at the last 10 years in culture, The National's fashion editor remembers the trends that defined the decade.

The end of the last decade was wild. We partied because it really was 1999, we sincerely believed the world's technology would crash thanks to Y2K and we looked forward to being happier, wiser and more enlightened during the 21st century. Ten years on, in less apocalyptic mood, most of the world's endeavours haven't quite worked out like that, and as we reflect on its events, this decade's turn will, for many, be marked sotto voce.

Fashion, though, lives entirely in the moment. Ask a fashionista to look back at the previous decade and ahead to the forecasted trends and she will be certain that the exact combination of shoulder-width, skirt-length and heel-height that she is wearing right now represents the Platonic ideal of style. In fact, she can't think what she was doing all those months ago when she emulated Gwyneth Paltrow's platform booties with bare legs. She knows better now, of course and there's no way she'll be buying those frumpy kitten heels: those are for fashion victims.

Delusional? Perhaps, but excellent news for fashion anthropologists who look to costume to reflect wider trends in society. So what did the last decade's clothing trends tell us about the world? Oh so much. Thanks to fast fashion, retail has become responsive to every mood and necessity, from dealing with an unseasonably warm winter (climate change, anyone?) to anti-war sentiment (keffiyehs on student campuses and in H&M stores the world over).

From the heights of conspicuous consumption to the depths of recessionista austerity, in the developed world fashion in the Noughties has consistently held up a mirror to society's movements. Let's take Boho as an example. In its many incarnations, boho can be seen as the prevailing style of the Noughties. When it first started to filter through, back in 2000, it was as a reaction to the futuristic fabrics, linear cuts, icy colours and glittering ostentation of millennial fashion, the apotheosis of Nineties minimalism. This was the peak of Hussein Chalayan's conceptual clothing engineering, and spiritual puritanism was vying with a slightly reckless search for excess, courtesy Versace. But the catwalks of Dolce & Gabbana saw long, hippyish lines and bright colours, while the king of Boho, Matthew Williamson, was at the height of his powers.

Fashion has a symbiotic relationship with music and art, and these movements went hand in hand with trends in those areas: the synthetic sounds of Britney Spears, Steps and Robbie Williams slowly being superseded by the lo-fi likes of Strokes and the Dandy Warhols, and the marketing-heavy contemporary art scene being challenged by graffiti artists such as Banksy and Blek Le Rat. Socially, the (false, as it turns out) promise of the Y2K millennial meltdown had kicked off a certain back-to-basics nostalgia to counter the optimistic futurism of 1999. Survivalists in the US took to the hills, armed with guns, ready to defend their belongings against the expected looters, while even in the suburbs of the West people stocked up on water, tinned food and petrol. Sure everyone felt a bit foolish the next day, when the technological infrastructure remained intact, but it had its effect: people began to cocoon, to seek comfort and creative fulfilment in their lives - and, of course, in their clothes.

All of this grew together over the next few years into an explosion of Bohemian style that manifested itself in one iconic (and subsequently derided) figure: Sienna Miller. The paparazzi was on to the actress simply because she was the then girlfriend of the actor Jude Law. But her big, floppy hats, droopy dresses under shearling gilets, Ugg or secondhand cowboy boots and mismatched jewellery caught the attention of fashion editors and she began to be photographed more than Law himself.

The look of Miller and her friends - the Primrose Hill set of young British actors, models and publicists such as Kate Moss and Meg Mathews - was reflected by the Rachel Zoe crowd in LA and their counterparts around the world (think giant sunglasses, chiffon tunics and flowing curls) and was quickly put into production by the fast-fashion likes of Topshop, H&M and New Look, making Boho the defining look of the high street.

Consequently, it was dropped like a hot coal by the fickle fashion set after just a couple of seasons, but its influence has continued to reverberate through the decade, and not just because the public continued to hold onto its easy-to-wear style in defiance of the edicts of Vogue. It has been reinvented again and again and has now, in the form of the music-festival uniform of skinny jeans or tiny shorts, wellies and straw trilbies, transformed into more of a state of mind than a style. It is alternative, shambolic, fun, young, wacky and, most of all, eclectic. It is, to apply one of the decade's favourite internet memes, pirate rather than ninja.

That free-spirited style was of the driving factors for the other huge obsession of the decade: vintage fashion. Previously the reserve of students scouring charity shops for cheap togs and fashion historians collecting fine textiles, vintage was suddenly the watchword for all right-thinking fashionistas, whether their style was boho, retro, classic or super-chic. Actresses and designers interviewed in magazines professed their longstanding love of flea markets and Didier Ludot, simultaneously emphasising both their high-fashion credentials and their individualistic, creative outlooks. John Galliano was regularly spotted with his entourage in Camden market, fashion museums and archives were rifled for inspiration and, for the rest of us, those cowboy boots only worked if they were 20-year-old handmade eelskin JB Hill ones sourced from Texas.

Of course, vintage fashion was not new - think the thrift-store grunge of the previous decade for example - but this time it was different: vintage, not secondhand. The popularity of Dita Von Teese and the burlesque movement reminded us of the wonderful glamour and quality of curvy frocks and feminine accessories from the Forties and Fifties. When actresses such as Renée Zellweger, Reese Witherspoon and Julia Roberts took to wearing va-va-voom vintage pieces by Dior, Dessés or Valentino to film premieres, it prompted another defining feature of the Noughties: red-carpet fabulosity.

Arguably Jennifer Lopez laid the ground for this with the incredible jungle-print Versace dress she wore to the Grammys in 2000, while Halle Berry's burgundy Elie Saab number, worn to accept her Oscar for Monster's Ball, captured the public imagination more than any of the boring classic black sheaths so popular in the safe Nineties. In fact, Saab and his younger compatriot Zuhair Murad would become two of the the top choices for those looking to cut a dash on the the red carpet, with the voluptuous likes of Beyoncé making the most of their supreme cutting skills.

Year by year over the last decade, the red carpets have played host to more and more sparkle, with Drew Barrymore and Anne Hathaway emerging as two of the most consistently interesting and stylish dressers. The other big story with the red carpets, of course, has been the jewellery: the return of bling, with ever-increasing piles of ice being loaned to actresses for premieres dominating the urban music scene of the Noughties.

With bling, diamonds have become the favoured indicator of extreme wealth, being applied to every spare body space, from ears and teeth to shoes. Taste simply does not come into it. The "get rich or die tryin'" mantra of the New York rapper 50 Cent could be the battle cry for the brand-mania that took over so much of the retail scene in the Noughties. With hindsight from the shell-shocked gloom of a recession, we can be certain this was not purely about fashion: the Hermès-upholstered helicoptors and supercars were the boys' toys. Logomania and the frenetic name-checking of brands - Jimmy Choo, Vuitton, Dior, Burberry - boosted an immense counterfeiting industry catering to the hordes of high-street shoppers wanting to be seen with exclusive monogram-style bags the likes of which only 40 million other people own. More to the point, it gave rise to a mountain of debt as we put our lives in hock for a Dh70,000 Balenciaga frock because we felt, to paraphrase Jennifer Aniston, that we were worth it.

Indeed, over the last few seasons the huge shoulders and bandage dresses of the original conspicuous consumption have made a comeback, but it seems that this incipient trend may become a victim of the recession too: for 2010 things are much gentler and lighter. Such was the madness of women's fashion. Men, as ever, fared better. Save for the occasional dip into the waters of faddishness - pink polo shirts, mohawks and mullets, bow ties, winklepicker shoes - men's fashion could be divided into four basic styles: retro tailoring, urban sportswear, indie-rocker grungy and nerd chic. The slick and the stylish adopted the Savile Row-style suit, and rediscovered a fascination with wool gauge, shoe shine and lapel width. The hip hop and R&B crowd went for boxfresh sneakers, engineered jeans and crisp white jackets or faux-, à la Justin Timberlake and Kanye West. Skinny black jeans and vintage band T-shirts were the uniform for fans of music ranging all the way from the Strokes to Busted. And for those who aspired to the geek-chic look of Seth Cohen from The O.C., a T-shirt with a facetious logo and a pair of heavy-rimmed glasses were crucial ingredients.

In fact, if you had one of the following items in any combination, you could be dubbed a stylish Noughties man: Vans, Converse, rare Nikes or Adidas Stan Smiths, crispy or skinny jeans, Japanese limited-edition tee, Panama, fedora, flat or trilby hat, Richard James jacket or blazer, Ray-Bans. And, as is inevitably the case in the slower-moving arena of menswear, all of these pieces will take you very comfortably into the next decade.

Some of those who were pulled into the shopping vortex during the good times may be old enough to remember the last time the luxury bubble burst, almost exactly 20 years ago. The wild excesses of the Eighties (remember the yuppies and Gordon Gecko?) were smashed by a world recession and the post-party clean-up made room for minimalism, disaffected grungy youths and hedonistic teens. As the clock strikes 2010 and the social pendulum starts to swing back, it takes no great leap of imagination to predict fashion's next direction.