Pointless handbags and portentous brooches: the year in fashion

The Celine Dion award for unexpected fashion icon: Katie Holmes

For many, Holmes, now 40, will remain the awkward but erudite teen she played on Dawson’s Creek 20 years ago. For others, she is the woman once married to that famous Scientologist who declared his love for her by jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofa. But for followers of fashion, Holmes has become 2019’s answer to Celine Dion – with Monica from Friends a close second.

But while Dion whooped and clapped her way to style icon status from the front row of couture shows in 2017, wearing flashy Balenciaga and Off-White outfits, Holmes’s ascent has been all together more low-key. Exhibit A: casually stepping out in a cashmere cardigan worn so louchely that the matching cashmere bra underneath, available from Khaite for $520, sold out in minutes – no small feat for a bra that costs more than the average monthly food shop for a family of four. Exhibit B: a chunky knit cardigan over a denim shirt with black leather trousers worn to a New York fashion show; a high-fashion version of what her Dawson’s Creek character might have worn for a date with Pacey.

The ‘most fashion’ flower: lavender

Enough to put you to sleep … the Jacquemus show.
Enough to put you to sleep … the Jacquemus show Photograph: Arnold Jerocki/WireImage

Gypsophila might have had an autumn/winter moment, but it was the floral setting of the 10th anniversary show of French designer Jacquemus – labelled the kind of show “that Instagram was made for” – that had the hearts of the botanically inclined beating the fastest. Hosted in a field in Provence, the soporific fleur de choix was the perfect backdrop for the designer’s oversized blazers, bucket hats and bumbags.

Most impractical accessory: the nano bag

At Paris fashion week in March, the year’s least useful accessory was carried between thumb and forefinger down the Jacquemus catwalk, bright red yet barely visible. The Mini Le Chiquito, as it is known, became the patron saint of the nano bags trend – utterly useless, they couldn’t even fit your keys, and yet they became highly desirable, representing the ultimate power move. Who needs a massive tote when you have an assistant or car waiting?

Nano bags are the younger sibling of this year’s trend for extremely specific bags. There was Balenciaga’s £600 water bottle bag, bags made to fit lipsticks and others perfectly tailored to fit phones. And the most stylish was part of Paco Rabanne’s retro chainmail collection.

The nano bag’s place in 2019 fashion history was recently cemented when Lizzo pincered a Valentino version on the red carpet at the AMAs. As she put it on Instagram: “bag big enough for my fucks to give”.

Most potent accessory: Lady Hale’s spider brooch

Catching Johnson in her web.
Catching Johnson in her web … Brenda Hale. Photograph: Supreme Court/PA

When the judge wore this arachnid accessory to announce that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament was unlawful, people were quick to try to decode what message she might have been hoping to send. Was it that she had caught the democracy-dodging prime minister in a judicial web? Whatever was intended, the spider brooch, described by Vogue as “maximalist perfection”, became a breakout star.

But Lady Hale wasn’t alone in sparking chatter with her brooch. The speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wore a pin representing the Mace of the United States House of Representatives as she opened the debate about Trump’s impeachment. It was quickly dubbed her “power pin”.

An honourable mention must also go to headbands. They might have less political heft than the brooch, but have almost as much historical weight as a Mantel novel, and made Anne Boleyn one of the year’s unlikely style inspirations.

Men’s style inspiration: Timothée Chalamet

Timothée Chalamet (middle) in a Haider Ackermann suit at the Venice film festival
Call me by my dress sense … Timothée Chalamet (centre) in a Haider Ackermann suit at the Venice film festival. Photograph: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

A sequinned Louis Vuitton hoodie on the carpet one day, an elephant-grey ensemble by Colombian-French designer Haider Ackermann the next; the Call Me By Your Name actor is unafraid of the bold, conceptual and sartorially tricky. But that adventurousness has not put people off. His style has won him the moniker “the most influential man in fashion”, according to Lyst’s 2019 report, which analyses the behaviour of more than 104 million shoppers. He was pipped to the post of the “World’s Most Powerful Dresser” only by HRH the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle herself. Proof that the unorthodox can be enviable in the sometimes identikit world of men’s fashion. He even managed to make the world’s trickiest hairstyle, the bowl cut, an unlikely hit.

Most ubiquitous item: the spotty Zara dress

It cost £40, was hailed as being as comfortable as a nightie and was as ubiquitous on the UK’s streets throughout the summer as chewing gum or pigeons. One article in the New York Times even claimed that the Zara dress had “conquered Britain”, so widespread was it. Plus, like the green Urban Outfitters puffer jacket and Réalisation Par leopard-print skirt before it, it had that most modern of popularity yardsticks: its own Instagram account complete with more than 20,000 followers.

Best red carpet look: Billy Porter at the Oscars

‘“People are going to be really uncomfortable with my black ass in a ball gown’ … Billy Porter.
‘“People are going to be really uncomfortable with my black ass in a ball gown’ … Billy Porter. Photograph: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Porter’s own take on the Christian Siriano gown he wore to the Oscars in February rang true: “That dress changed the world,” he said. It was a two fingers up to the rigid gender diktats controlling red-carpet outfits – as Porter told Vogue at the time: “When you’re black and you’re gay, one’s masculinity is in question. I dealt with a lot of homophobia in relation to my clothing choices.” This dress, he said, made him feel free. “People are going to be really uncomfortable with my black ass in a ball gown – but it’s not anybody’s business but mine.”

Hair trend: lilac

This year, palma violets, hydrangeas and Googel the Muppet have been added to hairdresser moodboards across the land. In March, searches on Pinterest for “lilac hair” rocketed by 1077%. And then, in May, when Kylie Jenner stepped on to the Met Gala red carpet with hair the colour of Syringa vulgaris, she cemented a trend that would see Instagram awash with lilac tresses long into the summer months. For autumn/winter, the trend evolved into more season-appropriate chocolate lilac hair.

Best heels wearer: Harry Styles

In a year in which Asos sold more than 12,000 pairs of Cuban-heel boots for men, the man with the David Bowie legs takes the crown as most accomplished wearer of such heels, after he wore them with aplomb – and a pearl earring – to the Met Gala in May. Honourable mention must also go to Lil Nas X who wore a chunky fluoro heel to match his fluoro suit, the work of this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award winner, Christopher John-Rogers, to the American Music Awards last month.

Lil Nas X at the AMAs
Chunky citrus … Lil Nas X at the AMAs. Photograph: Rich Fury/Getty Images

Throwback hit: the Fendi baguette bag

The Fendi classic
The Fendi classic in action, with a mini-me purse … Photograph: Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

According to the 2019 Lyst report, there was a 164% rise in searches year on year for this 90s classic. For those who can afford it, it is the perfect accompaniment for all the spaghetti straps, slip dresses and balayage tresses that have made up this year’s retro resurgence. Available for new thanks to Fendi relaunching it, or via the more sustainable secondhand route thanks to resale sites such as Vestiaire Collective, 2019 was the year to channel Carrie Bradshaw via your handbag.

The saddest goodbye: Karl Lagerfeld

Lagerfeld in 2018
Stylish exit … Lagerfeld in 2018. Photograph: Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

His legacy in the wider world might be – to put it mildly – mixed, but the fashion industry this year has been hit hard by the loss of the Chanel designer, who died in February. Known for catwalk spectaculars, it is fascinating to speculate what he would of made of the now infamous YouTube comedian who crashed the catwalk at the first ready-to-wear collection produced entirely by his successor Virginie Viard.

His memory lived on throughout the year, via The White Shirt project, a stadium-sized Parisian memorial and a new coffee table book of pictures of his cat Choupette.

The happiest goodbye: the Victoria’s Secret show

Not Victoria’s Secret … the Savage X Fenty show in New York
Not Victoria’s Secret … the Savage X Fenty show in New York. Photograph: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Savage X Fenty Show Presented by Amazon Prime Video

It was the year in which unrealistic, prescriptive body standards, as championed by the Victoria’s Secret brand, were pitted against the inclusivity of Rihanna’s Fenty brand, which had its made-for-Amazon debut at New York fashion week in September. And, true to the unstoppability of the Barbadian star in the year in which she became luxury conglomerate LVMH’s first black female designer, Rihanna came out on top. Last month it was announced that the Victoria’s Secret show would be cancelled after months of speculation.

The most improved garment: the cardigan

Kurt Cobain On ‘MTV Unplugged’, 1993
Taking the cardigan to nirvana … Kurt Cobain On MTV Unplugged in 1993. Photograph: Frank Micelotta Archive/Getty Images

When Kurt Cobain’s stained, moth-eaten green cardigan reached £260,388 at auction in October it was symbolic of the value increasingly bestowed on this once overlooked garment. Where once cardigan wearers might fear being labelled “dowdy”, now they can stand proud thanks to the ascent of cardigans to catwalks from Alexander Wang and Chanel to Ashley Williams and Christopher Kane.

Fashion’s favourite author: Willa Cather

Putting the lit in literature … Willa Cather
Frill lit … Willa Cather Photograph: New York Times/Getty Images

Women from catwalks to pavements this year have been wearing frocks that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the prairie. It was the look that wouldn’t give up the Laura Ashley ghost, having kicked off in 2018 with Brooklyn designer Batsheva Hay as its poster girl. In 2019 it went mass, and wearing a dress with a jaw-high neckline, tibia-long hemline and plentiful valance-style dust-ruffle-frills was a quick way to look as if you knew your way around the pages of Vogue – and Willa Cather’s novel O Pioneers!

Most unlikely site of fashion buzz: the North Circular Road

Not usually mentioned in the same breath as fashion industry buzz but the outer London home of traffic jams and self-storage depots became a hotspot this year when a collection by Louis Vuitton menswear designer and Kanye West protoge Virgil Abloh landed at the Wembley branch of Ikea. People queued through the night and the spot gained instant fashion credibility. As one queuer put it: “We are buying Louis Vuitton stuff for the price of Ikea.”

Most literal literal dresser: Melania Trump

‘London, baby…’
‘London, baby’ … Melania Trump. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

When Melania Trump headed to the UK in June, she did so in an outfit that, in a cod Cockney accent, said: “London, baby”. The Gucci dress was decorated with images of Tower Bridge, Big Ben and a double-decker bus. For the year’s best example of “literal dressing” look no further than Rihanna at the cricket in Durham – all in white but not a V-neck knit in sight.