Time Change Edition! 5 Writers on the Best & Worst of 2010s Fashion

Did the 2010s end less than three months ago? Why does it feel like three years? For this edition of the After Party, we’re talking about the highs and lows of 2010s fashion. LOL, remember Tom’s Shoes and Mom Jeans? Wait, people still wear those? Oh. Just read this quick, before it’s 2030. (And if you want to hear about our hopes for 2020s fashion, check out episode 3 of our podcast)

Catherine Fung: ’90s Nostalgia and the Mom Jeans dilemma

SNL cast in Mom Jeans. 2010s fashion.

I once heard that if you were old enough to have participated in a fashion trend the first time around, then you’re too old to enjoy it when it comes back. For this reason, I’ve steered clear of the 1990s nostalgia fashion. However, I was recently made aware by a Gen Z kid that my low-rise skinny jeans are very 1990s, but not in a good way. I’m a high school teacher, and I have to say I am thoroughly puzzled by the high-waisted, straight leg, acid wash jeans that I see my students wearing. And I am pretty sure that if I were to try to wear them, they would just be MOM JEANS. So I feel like I’ve found myself in some weird jeans vortex in which I’m not sure when in time I’m supposed to be. 

Elise Chatelain: Better Bras

I’ve always hated bras. Not that I’m unique; the feminist bra-burning stereotype comes from somewhere, even if it’s inaccurate. But I’m one of those people who is particularly resistant to this supposed clothing necessity. As a teenager my mom regularly recommended that I put on a bra. It was always the first thing off of my body when I got home from school or work. And there have been large chunks of my life when I never wore one. (I fully acknowledge that during those times, I was on the smaller-chested side. For many, bras are not really a “choice”.)

By my mid-20s, professional courtesy got me to the point of being relatively consistent in wearing a bra, despite my continued discomfort. I spent over ten years going into classrooms bothered by that nagging sensation of bra straps digging into my shoulders and lacy fabric irritating my skin. And ugh — the thick pad-lined cups that characterized the bras of my teens and 20s always felt so bulky and weird. 

And then a few years ago I discovered soft, wireless bras. Basically these are the new sports-bra-like bras (or in many cases, sports bras themselves) without clunky straps and hard clasps, made with super-soft synthetic material and with no underwire. Even though the fabric is probably killing fish, it’s so much more enjoyable to wear than my rough Ross-sourced boob holders of the aughts.

Now when I get home, I don’t rip off my bra first thing, falling into the door gasping for freedom. I still like to hang around the house bra-less if I can, but I don’t mind putting on a little soft support while I’m working. It makes me feel presentable without actually being uncomfortable. Which is exactly my one criterion for work wear now that I’m 40. 

Jennifer Saxton: Climate Changes

The last decade brought me to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, so my wardrobe choices have been transformed over the last ten years by climate, both inside and outside the office. The Rio Grande Valley is paradise — if you like hot weather. Speaking generally, the temp ranges from hot and humid to please kill me now. When I first arrived, I tossed all my layers and ‘teacher’ jackets and tried to find a happy medium between slowly immolating myself (heat!) and keeping my upper arms covered (body issues!).   

Complicating matters is the wide temperature range in my building: the office can be quite hot but the costume shop for some reason grows mold if the room approaches ‘room temperature,’  so it’s frequently quite chilly. My colleague, a recent transplant from Phoenix, wears her winter coat while sewing and I compensate by layering and leaving caches of sweaters in my office if I’m planning to sew that day. 

I learned to knit in a Craft Magazine-inspired DIY frenzy at the beginning of the decade, and while I still love it, it’s possibly the least useful skill to possess in a semi-tropical climate. As a result, I can now make really cute scarves designed to not make you warm.

Sara Tatyana Bernstein: Life Beyond Size 12

2010s fashion for plus size women. Woman holds t-shirt covered in plastic jewels

I keep trying to think of outfits from the ’10s that I especially loved and every time I think of one it turns out I bought it in 2008 or 2009. So apparently the 2010s were the decade I studied fashion, but did not participate much. This is probably in part because I spent the decade working on a PhD and then joining the academic precariat, so like all those Zillow-obsessed millennials who will never be able to buy a house, I read and wrote and looked and studied while clothing myself in things that were…you know, fine? But the other reason my 2010s clothes were meh, is that sometime in the latter half of the decade I fully entered the category of “plus-sized” and my options radically changed. 

In 2016 I wrote an article about the “spatial politics of selling plus-size clothes to women.” The good news is a lot has improved since I wrote that piece. Notably, I had mocked Nordstrom for making larger women travel all the way to the tippy top of the store and then find the hidden corner behind the winter jackets. Since then, they’ve completely changed their strategy. They’ve expanded their 16+ offerings. They put signs over each branded section listing what sizes are offered, so I don’t have to reach to the back of a rack only to discover that the largest size is a 10. They’ve also partnered with brands like Madewell, and actually stock sizes that those stores only carry online. In short, my hips feel, not just tolerated, but welcome there.

I’m also excited that Universal Standard, which comprises about 80 percent of my wardrobe, has opened several showrooms/community spaces, including one in Portland. I haven’t visited yet, but I’m totally going to.

The bad news is…everything else. It’s still very hard to find high quality, well-fitting clothes in something larger than a 12 or 14. Most stores might as well have signs on the door that say “No Fatties.” Being able to try things on remains especially frustrating in a world that designs clothes for efficient reproducibility instead of our inefficient bodies. Used clothes are even harder to find, unless you like rayon prints and cold-shoulder cutouts. If you also care about the environmental and labor impacts of fashion…good luck. 

Verena Hutter: The Worst and The Best of the 2010s

The Worst of the 2010s

  • TOM’S Shoes, or their “one-for-one” business model. Around 2014-15, every latte-drinking rich white lady seemed to own at least one pair of TOM’s. I did not understand the allure — they looked cheaply made (turns out they are), and they certainly wouldn’t give me the heel support I need. Then I learned that for every pair bought, one pair would be donated to kids in poor countries. What exactly did poor people do to have to be given these hideous shoes? Isn’t life hard enough for them? Oh, they are poor, and therefore rich American consumers get to tell them what they need. TOM’s certainly were not the only ones who did it, but they started the “caring capitalism” trend that is now so common. Buy this, and we donate a fraction of what you paid for, giving people stuff they never asked for, but you will feel so good! Caring capitalism, it turns out, cares mostly about itself, and how good it looks.  Now that the company is owned by creditors, I wonder how the solution of cutting poor countries’ debts sounds now?
  • Tiny Houses. I am not talking about tiny houses as a temporary solution for homelessness, or for college students who can’t afford housing. I’m talking about all those people giving us the sermon of “downsizing,” “thinking about what you need vs. what you want,” while being featured in Dwell Magazine. There is just so much unacknowledged privilege in all of these articles. And, it turns out, people do need space and stuff after all — apparently, the trend goes to moving back into normal-sized homes.

The Best of the 2010s: 

  • Mix-and Match Prints. My inner European was already delighted to see Leopard come back into fashion, but mixing it with flowers and a paisley? I’m here for it!
  • The Pantsuit. Hillary Clinton brought it back, but it was never really gone. If I need an outfit that makes me feel empowered, strong, and comfortable (because the right fit will do that for you), the pantsuit is my go-to. Moreover, the pantsuit was part of another trend that I loved: more fluidity and playfulness in gender-expression.  Lady Gaga’s meat dress! Billy Porter’s Gowns (every single one of them!)! Harry Stiles’ painted nails! Ezra Miller’s playboy photoshoot! Lizzo’s lil purse! Granted, there were amazing trailblazers who came before the 2010’s, but the growing visibility of this aesthetic confirms that we’re moving in the right direction. 
  • Marriage Equality in both Germany (2017) and the US (2015), two countries I call home. It took us long enough! Now, let’s try healthcare (including abortion rights) next, ok?
  • Sustainability. From destroying local markets in third world countries, to environmental damage, to a loss of creativity on the parts of fashion designers — fast fashion has been increasingly under fire, and rightly so. (Dismantle Editors Sara and Elise have a fantastic podcast episode on the rise and fall of Forever 21 by the way). But I think we’re getting better at re-wearing clothes, going to thrift stores and perhaps consuming less. 
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