As this year winds down we’ve recapped its highlights to bring you the best of 2016 in fashion, sneakers, music, movies and more.
It’s that time of year again. The intersection of streetwear, fashion and sneakers — the Highsnobiety “sweet spot” — has evolved in a million different ways this year, just like it always does. 2015 was a big year for men’s style, as guys discovered the joys of grungy, rock ‘n’ roll looks, and this year was mainly a continuation of that vibe.
Of course, 2016 was still full of surprises. The best thing about this mix of streetwear, high fashion and sneakers is that it’s constantly mutating, evolving and changing direction. These days it feels like we’re seeing tastes, aesthetics and trends change every day.
Let’s take a look at the biggest fads and crazes of the year, and gaze into the Highsnobiety crystal ball to see which ones will be sticking around, and which ones we’ll be pouring one out for this time next year.
Here are the 10 biggest fashion trends of 2016:
Post-Soviet Designers Killed It
The USA, Europe and Japan are generally considered to be the world’s fashion capitals, but 2016’s biggest power moves came from somewhere else entirely: the former Soviet Union. Demna Gvasalia and Gosha Rubchinskiy — from Georgia and Moscow respectively — have had outrageously good years, and they’re now two of the most talked-about names in the business.
The duo work in different fields — high fashion and streetwear — but they share a distinct aesthetic that the fashion press likes to call the “Post-Soviet” look. Looking back to the cultural chaos that erupted in the former USSR after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the aesthetic mixes Western subcultures with Soviet-era quirks to create a style that’s pretty far removed from what’s normally considered “good taste.” It’s all the rage these days.
Demna’s work at Vetements is all about tongue-in-cheek irony and outrageous silhouettes (and equally outrageous price points), and it’s sent the fashion world crazy, inspiring countless think-pieces, rip offs and online comment wars. Not bad for a brand that’s only six seasons old. Gvasalia’s new vision of 97-year-old couture house Balenciaga, meanwhile, has embraced awkward fabrics like spandex and tacky, Soviet-era florals. His aesthetic is ugly chic, basically, and the world can’t get enough of it right now.
Gosha Rubchinskiy has been doing his thing for years — we first wrote about him back in 2012, just saying — but he’s had an equally strong 2016. His streetwear brand is one of the most coveted in the game: he hosted a stunning SS17 show at Pitti Uomo, started a label with Russian skater Tolia Titaev and even launched his own fragrance. Gosha’s aesthetic is Russian through and through, with Cyrillic lettering emblazoned all over his pieces, and he’s particularly fond of rough-and-ready fake fur and shearling.
His photography is just as patriotic, shining light on a new, young, beautiful side to his country, and featuring an ever-expanding crew of youthful Russians. Just like Demna, Gosha doesn’t cater to conventional tastes, and just like Demna, fashion can’t get enough of him at the minute.
Demna and Gosha’s work has knocked on to the rest of the fashion world, with mega-oversized hoodies, shoestring belts and the socks-over-trousers combo resonating with streetwear kids all over the globe. Vladivostok-born stylist Lotta Volkova has also had a great year, and her distinctive clash of high- and low-end references is v influential, too.
The “Post-Soviet” tag is something Russians feel a bit uneasy about — “it’s a cliché invented by the media,” Gosha told 032c — but regardless of names and labels, it’s hard to deny that creatives from the old Soviet bloc are some of the most influential and inspiring out there right now.
Crystal Ball Says: It’s hard to say. Nothing stays cool forever — remember Street Goth? — but while trends and tastes come and go, that won’t change the fact that places like Russia, Georgia and Ukraine are hotbeds of talented and open-minded young creatives. People might move on from the whole “Post-Soviet” look, but the future’s still bright for the former USSR.
Vintage Band Tees Were Huge
Streetwear is having a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll phase these days. We called the trend grungewave a while back, and one side effect of the genre’s newfound love of guitar music is that vintage band tees have become a must-have for fashion, rap and streetwear types.
All sorts of mega-celebs were spotted in throwback rock tees from legendary bands like Metallica, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Nirvana and even Slayer (SLAYERRRR! m/ m/). Whether Travis Scott or Kendall “I don’t know how people can listen to heavy metal” Jenner actually care about music with guitars in is beyond the point, millions of people followed in their footsteps and copped tees from bands that they may or may not have ever listened to.
I’m not gonna lie, I hated this trend (and so did anyone who grew up listening to metal), but it’s pretty hard to deny the appeal of rock ‘n’ roll graphics. They’re just as exhilarating as the music itself — they just look sick — which probably explains why the band tee was one of the biggest trends of the year.
Crystal Ball Says: As we reported a while back, H&M has started selling Metallica tees, so this one’s pretty much dead already. Thank god.
Tour Merch Got Serious
Speaking of merch, it wasn’t just old-school rock tees that killed it this year. Some of the biggest names in the rap and pop business leveraged their ~personal brands~ to create concert merchandise that were more like fully fledged labels than one-off souvenirs.
The Biebs, with the help of Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo, riffed on Vetements and Thrasher with his Purpose tour merch, Rihanna dropped an on-trend combo of orange and goth fonts via Anti, and Travis Scott did a Supreme and plastered his name over every novelty accessory you can think of (including an action figure). This being 2016, there was plenty of trendy metal iconography going on, most nauseating of which was teen heartthrob Zayn Malik’s appropriation of the Slayer logo (urghhh please stop).
Kanye’s The Life of Pablo merch, meanwhile, took on a life of its own. TLOP pop-up stores appeared all over the globe, from South Africa to Singapore, and Yeezy fans threw their entire bank accounts at mountains of low-quality, high-price Gildan basics.
All of these merch projects looked pretty much the same, and that was kinda the point. Mega-celebrity star power and trendy motifs are a pretty unstoppable combo: Kanye boasted he made $1 million in just a day of his NYC pop-up.
Crystal Ball Says: 2016 was the year that rap and pop artists raised the bar with their merch games. There’s stupid amounts of money to be made from on-trend, low-cost tour merch, so we’re probably just getting started with this one.
The adidas NMD Was a Smash Hit
Remember the Roshe Run? With an entirely mesh upper and a one-piece sole unit, the Nike shoe started off as a pretty unusual silhouette, but soon became a mass-market hit, selling in the thousands at mall retailers all over the world. Once the Roshe entered the mainstream, it didn’t take long for the streetwear community to disown it, and nowadays the shoe is the victim of sneakerhead jokes and memes.
Jokes aside, it’s that sort of forward-thinking product design that makes Nike the top of the sportswear game. They design a silhouette that seems strange at first, but quickly catches on with early adopters and evolves into a mainstream smash hit at retail. adidas was always lagging behind Nike in that respect: it relied on re-releasing old shoes like the Stan Smith and the Gazelle, but never managed to produce any exciting new silhouettes of its own.
That all changed this year though. adidas has got its very own version of the Roshe Run: the NMD. The shoe has all the hallmarks of a mainstream hit: it’s catered to modern tastes, with a clean silhouette that’s easy as hell to wear, and it’s available from tons of retailers.
adidas started off sending sneakerheads crazy with limited edition drops of the NMD, before it hit the big-name footwear chains and sold in the thousands to regular guys and streetwear heads alike. The NMD was, far and away, the biggest sneaker of the year — or, at least, the biggest one that you could actually get your hands on without selling your kidneys.
The NMD is a sign of just how far adidas has come in the past few years. It seems like the Three Stripes is more popular than the Swoosh among sneakerheads and streetwear fiends these days, a state of affairs that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago.
Crystal Ball Says: If the Roshe Run is anything to go by, the NMD won’t last long among tastemakers and hardcore sneakerheads. You’ll still see plenty of them on the streets next year, just not on the feet of anyone with half a million Instagram followers.
Orange Was the New Black
The tedious all-black-everything street goth craze is now well behind us (thank god), and that means color has once again returned to the streetwear landscape (thank god). Pink was the vibe in 2015, but this time around it was orange — bright, neon, hi-vis orange — that was the urban peacock’s color of choice.
The A$AP-affiliated VLONE project plastered bright orange lettering over anything and everything, Rihanna and Justin Bieber’s tour merch had plenty of hi-vis statement pieces, and the FW16 installment of Supreme’s always-hyped The North Face collab contrasted the color against leafy hunting camo. London’s abstract high fashion whizkid, Craig Green, played with orange in his SS16 show (which technically happened in 2015, but the collection hit stores this year).
Peak Orange™, though, came when NBA megastar Russell Westbrook was spotted in one of Vetements’ statement long-sleeves (you know, the one with the goth lettering down the sleeves that everyone ripped off this year). Westbrook is widely regarded as one of the most stylish players in the NBA, which isn’t saying much – but he is very, very famous, so it’s safe to say that orange has well and truly hit the mainstream now.
Crystal Ball Says: Fashion is always changing its favored colors, so don’t expect this one to stick around for long. It is great to see people experiment with new and unusual hues, though, so let’s hope the multi-colored streetwear wave continues.
Half-and-Half Tees Became a Thing
One curious micro-trend that emerged this year was the half-and-half T-shirt. The concept is pretty simple: cut two tees in half and stitch one side of each one together. It’s not entirely clear who was the first to do this sort of thing, but Edward Chiu, Highsnobiety‘s Creative Director and endless fountain of fashion knowledge, assures me that Margiela and COMME des GARCONS have been doing it for years — he’s got a mismatched CdG number from back in 2011 in his *archive* (yep, he’s such a fashion nerd that he actually has – not a closet – but an archive).
We saw lots of Frankenstein-style tees this year, and they were often stitched together from different sizes to create jagged, uneven silhouettes. The real fun, though, came when designers clashed two completely different ideas together. In April, Las Vegas store FRUITION put arch-rivals Nike and adidas side-by-side in their “Synergy” collection, and Off-White and MIDNIGHT STUDIOS’ collaborated by dissecting vintage college tees, printing their own graphics on them and piecing them back together.
The wittiest variation of the half-and-half trend, though, came from Kostas Seremetis (who also designed the graphics for the Nike x ACRONYM campaign, btw). Kostas threw everything from Star Wars to Metallica into the mix, often dividing T-shirts not two but four ways, and using the side-by-side format to create some hilarious juxtapositions. Joy Division, Minor Threat and Darth Vader collided in one tee, Ghostbusters met The Grateful Dead and, best of all, Drake’s profile was placed next to a design by hardcore punk band The Exploited. Genius.
The Crystal Ball Says: Seeing as Urban Outfitters jumped on the mismatched T-shirt trend a few months ago, its days are probably numbered. Sorry Kostas.
Souvenir Jackets Came Back
Menswear is forever looking back in time; we don’t really design new garments these days, just new versions of the same old classics. This year, one particular piece of style history was brought back from the dead: the souvenir jacket.
The souvenir jacket’s roots can be traced back to the end of World War II, as American soldiers stationed in the Pacific Theater got traditional Oriental motifs — dragons, geishas, cranes, etc. — embroidered onto the backs of satin varsity jackets to take home as a souvenir (get it?).
The souvenir jacket became en vogue once again this year, and tons of brands did their own spin on it, producing plush satin and silk versions in wild colorways, decorated with all sorts of Oriental designs.
Gucci, being the house of opulence that it is, took the souvenir jacket next level and splashed Oriental designs all over a silk bomber, while Supreme linked with ’30s cartoon character Betty Boop for an all-American take on the trend and Stussy, being Stussy, came through with some highly accessible options.
There were countless other versions, and it’s not hard to see why the souvenir jacket started trending again. With striking visuals, luxe fabrics and a classic silhouette, it’s a no-brainer of a statement piece.
Crystal Ball Says: There weren’t any defining ~style moments~ to catapult the souvenir jacket into the mainstream, and it’s a classic piece of menswear history, so it’s safe to say you’ll be seeing it for a while yet. Besides, a timeless silhouette executed with lush fabrics and dope graphics is gonna be a banger no matter what year it is.
Things Got Furry
Last year, the streetwear scene played with heavily washed fabrics and muddy, muted hues (you can thank Kanye for that one). This time around, though, we had lots of shaggy textures, from faux fur to wooly fleece and luxe sheepskin.
Rihanna, being the style queen that she is, dropped some outrageously baller furry pool slides as part of her PUMA collaboration. RiRi’s FENTY PUMA project also included shaggy backpacks, waistbags and, best of all, a glorious quarter-zip hoodie that was pretty much a fashion version of the Tauntaun scene in Star Wars. Gosha Rubchinskiy is pretty into faux fur coats (he’s Russian, remember), but for his FW16 “Save and Protect” collection, he moved onto some fake sheepskin instead.
Speaking of sheepskin, shearling was declared the fall season’s must-have outerwear piece by the menswear illuminati, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that it’s outrageously expensive and jackets made from the stuff cost thousands. Kanye’s YEEZY Season 3 collection was packed with really dope (and really expensive) shearlings in all shapes and sizes, and Supreme FW16 contained a retina-scarring neon green bomber made from the stuff.
Cash-strapped shoppers need not worry, though, because ZARA, Topman and the like were lightning-fast with their super-cheap shearling knock-offs, as always.
Crystal Ball Says: Faux fur, shearling and fleece enjoyed a bit of a buzz in 2016, but the trend was never catapulted into a full-blown craze. The good news is that you’ll probably be seeing shaggy fabrics around for a while — especially in the colder parts of 2017.
People Did It Themselves
Social media and online shopping have created a paradox where we have more choice than ever, but it’s getting harder and harder to find something that’s properly unique. The struggle for individuality probably explains why people — both shoppers and brands — altered their clothing en masse this year.
A$AP Rocky and his VLONE colleagues got metal-obsessed Australian artist Pauly Bonomelli, aka @himumimdead, to doodle all over their clothing and the interior of their LA popup, while Vetements scribbled on their Reebok collab and Tyler, The Creator customized his Vans as only Tyler could. Kanye even drew some tongue-in-cheek stripes, adidas style, down the side of the Vans he wore on Saturday Night Live.
At the same time, fashionistas got their scissors out to create their own raw-hemmed jeans, sometimes with stepped hems, Vetements style. We saw a lot of underground streetwear brands pulling similar stunts in their collections, too: Ejder, C2H4 and Necessity Sense all shredded the hems of jackets, jeans and hoodies, and – guess what! – ZARA copied them.
This was a ground-up, DIY trend that was all about people reworking their own garments rather than designers showing them on the catwalk. It’s a cheap and easy way to make a garment a bit more edgy, which probably explains why this move was favored by up-and-coming labels and individual shoppers rather than the streetwear big guys.
Again, you can trace this trend back to the gods of high fashion: COMME des GARCONS, Margiela and Yohji have been doing shredded seams for ages. Similarly, Marques Almeida made everyone in the womenswear world go nuts with its raw-hemmed denim pieces a few years back, and Raf Simons scribbled all over some lab coats in his FW15 collection, too.
Crystal Ball Says: Long live the DIY ethic. We may not see so much scribbling and shredded hems next year, but let’s hope that the wave for individuality continues.
Combat Boots Were a Hit
People seem to be growing out of sneakers these days — or just getting bored of them — and a lot of guys are turning their gaze to something a little more chic. While last year, the shoe of choice for many style-conscious guys was the always-sexy Chelsea boot, things got a little more rugged this year, courtesy of the combat boot.
As is so often the case with streetwear, you can trace this trend back to Kanye West (who also kick-started the Chelsea boot wave). He debuted the 950 duck boots in his YEEZY Season 1 presentation last year, then followed up with a softer, crepe-soled number in Season 2, while Season 3 upped the ante with a jagged sole unit and mixed suede-polyamide upper. The upcoming Season 4 version, meanwhile, looks hard as nails.
Kanye’s collections aren’t cheap, though, so many people turned to readily-available vintage and army surplus boots to channel a bit of Yeezy-esque military steez instead. You can cop sand-colored combat boots from all over the place — Rothco’s versions cost around $70 — so it was easy for guys to jump on the trend even when mainstream fashion brands weren’t producing them.
Crystal Ball Says: Unsure. We’re always down with military gear — it’s classic for a reason — but the combat boot feels a little too now to have any real longevity. Plus, any Kanye-endorsed product tends to get so over-hyped that everyone’s bored to death with it six months later.
BONUS: Bomber Jackets Went Mainstream
Old news to anyone who reads this site, but technically, the bomber was the biggest trend of 2016. Google reports that the bomber jacket was the most searched-for trend of the year, with a 612% increase in searches compared to 2015.
Obviously, in the Highsnobiety world, bombers have been dope since the dawn of time, but 2016 was officially the year the MA-1 went mainstream (that doesn’t mean you should stop wearing yours, though).
Crystal Ball Says: The bomber is an absolute classic, and it’s a cornerstone of the men’s (and women’s!) wardrobe. Just like a leather jacket and a good pair of jeans, the MA-1 isn’t going anywhere.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.