The Who What Wear take on autumn/winter 2021’s top fashion trends has been curated just like any other season: it is, has been and always will be entirely grounded in what you’re going to want to wear. You can consider this is your
ultimate edit and a checklist to keep referencing, rather than a vast, overwhelming, never-ending stream of runway pictures and examples of unrealistic looks that won’t/don’t translate into the majority of wardrobes up and down the country. It’s a gargantuan task, but someone’s got to do it, and who better than a team of editors known for their ability to not only decode trends but predict them too?
Traditionally, the darker, colder months are a time for cocooning, but I think we can agree that we’ve all had our fill of that. The short days and chilly temperatures provide us with an opportunity to get cosy in front of the fire, layer into outfits that work for a brisk walk and snuggle up to one’s favourite cashmere jumper, and whilst those indulgent seasonal moments aren’t off the cards entirely (let’s remember, this is still Britain, not the Bahamas), autumn/winter 2021’s fashion trends are looking a lot more vibrant than any other autumn/winter season I’ve seen before. The collections will be arriving straight off the back of what has felt like a never-ending period of wintry lockdown and the mood is visibly more convivial than that of last year.
Designers and consumers are ready once more for fashion—proper fashion—and what’s being provided to us in this period of emergence, celebration and joy is a clever mix of elevated casual staples our revised closets have come to rely upon and more outré items that provide plenty of peacocking mileage.
As the Libby Page, senior market editor at Net-a-Porter told me, designers were early to tune into the “the colour, eclecticism and optimism through fashion that our customers have been craving. From sequins, feathers and ruffles, to artisanal knitwear, statement outerwear and glamour. This mash-up of joyful clothing is an antidote to the comfort we’ve been wrapped in over the past year. Fashion is back, and we welcome its energetic and vibrant return.” The mood? Switched onto maximum, my friends, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
This A/W 21 Gucci look pays homage to Tom Ford’s iconic red velvet suit and ticks a lot of this season’s major trends.
On an industry level, this particular autumn/winter season has been a complicated one to unpick. You don’t need me to tell you the world has been upside down, and in response, the fashion industry has experienced peaks (like the fact e-commerce is up) and troughs (some brands and stores have struggled and had to shutter).
History tells us that difficult times foster innovation, and there have been breakthroughs and developments aplenty to appreciate: important conversations around sustainability and diversity have come to the fore, whizzy new tech via gaming or NFTs (google that later) is being seriously considered as the future, and we’ve even seen the somewhat outmoded clothing calendars and ways of working be blown apart.
If Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons can band together under one chic roof, if creators and consumers can say no to the fast-paced cycle of constant drops and if major labels can be more transparent in not only their status around their supply chains and ethical practices but also their commitment to inclusivity, then things are actually looking more positive in many ways than 12 months ago. The inner workings of the fashion industry may not feel of relevance, but there’s a renewed energy coming from those who choose to step up to the plate and harness the potential of now and what’s next.
Keep scrolling to get the lowdown on the most important and influential autumn/winter 2021 fashion trends, decoded by our fashion team, our network of experts from data analysts through to buying directors, and yours truly.
Highlighter orange from Roksanda. “Winter brights will inject a much-needed sense of energy and optimism,” WGSN’s Collection Review reads, continuing to explain that a surprising hue—purple—is in fact “one of the fastest-growing colours, increasing its small share +16% YoY.” Going forward the trend forecasting company foresees “uplifting juxtapositions between core colours and energetic brights,” which is a very translatable tactic for our own wardrobes. Basically, if head-to-toe turquoise, cerise or orange feels too much, simply temper it with easy neutrals.
Blue, pink, yellow and purple combined at Loewe. “Blues, greens and pinks are currently the top-stocked brights, seeing increased investment YoY. Zara has 150% more blue apparel in stock today vs. last year,” says Aoife Byrne, retail analyst at retail market intelligence company, Edited, proving that this look is already accessible at every price point and worth investing in.
Waist ties at Johnathan Simkhai. While many of us may have reservations around going knickerless on the bus, there’s something to be said for a subtle keyhole neckline looking pretty fabulous over Zoom and feeling quite approachable. In fact, cut-out tops have filtered onto the high street over the past few months (Stories is a good go-to), while black dresses are particularly prevalent within this trend. In my humble opinion, a tweaked LBD offers one of the most classic, long-lasting options to buy into: Self Portrait offer a reserved take, while Dion Lee went full Dynasty with crystal-encrusted portholes—both will guarantee a head turning entrance to any event.
Peekaboo shoulders at Cecilie Bahnsen. “Dresses are currently the most-invested category for the detail, however, we’re seeing the bottoms category boast strong sell-outs—namely trousers and skirts with hip cut-out detailing,” explains Aoife Byrne. “Come autumn, peekaboo dressing will be a major trend for partywear, particularly mini dresses, but will also be equally important within casual and homewear ranges, adding subtle sex appeal to knitted tops and sweaters.” And therein lies the strength of this key trend–it ranges from buttoned-up to totally wanton.
Leather puffer at Dodo Bar Or. The message is clear for AW21: this practical piece is set to continue its trajectory into the realm of fashion staple. “The puffer was a key shape for outerwear this season—you’ll see it everywhere, in every iteration from oversized and cropped to full length. Highlights for me were a protective layer à la Rick Owens and a leather crop version from Khaite—I love summer but I must say I’m excited to be able to wear one of these for winter,” says Heather Gramston, head of womenswear buying at Browns.
Oversized quilted coats at Raf Simons. Meanwhile, our resident quilted coat enthusiast, assistant editor Elinor Block is welcoming them back with open arms. “Look, I don’t want to be all ‘I liked them before they were cool’ but I liked puffer coats before they were cool. Unsurprisingly, this particular piece of outerwear was big news in 2020 when we spent lots of time outside, but ever since Balenciaga’s A/W 2016 collection, I’ve been convinced of its high-fashion status,” she says. “This season is just set to be a more refined way of looking at the padded coat, with muted chocolate, mustard and eggplant colours taking centre stage. I’ve got my eye on the cropped versions over at Isabel Marant and the dreamy oversized quilted coats from Raf Simons.” The options are almost endless. If a brand hasn’t created a puffer, they’ve missed a potentially lucrative opportunity.
Ditsy florals and drapery at Y/Project. Designers have used flower motifs in myriad ways. You’ll find basques and posh dresses at Markarian as their schtick is evening wear, but I also like the offbeat drapery seen at Y/Project and Acne Studios, and the kitsch, super-cute mix-and-match tailoring, dresses and layers at one of my favourite up-and-coming brands, Yuhan Wang.
Florals and greenery at Yuhan Wang. Knowing just how popular this trend has been across the high street already, it’s highly likely the look will continue strongly into AW 21’s affordable line-up. But you’d be wise to consider searching around vintage stores (in person or online) to see if you can secure something that feels genuinely love-worn and special—chintzy florals have been popular at different points during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, so there’s heaps to uncover out there.
Big shoppers at Materiel. From Marni to Balenciaga, the call has been heard and gigantic leather-goods and fabric holdalls have been created to solve the problem. The silhouettes are fairly consistent across the board: supersize shoppers or big totes you can sling onto your shoulder are the two styles leading the pack. In general it’s all about classic colours that won’t compete for attention despite their proportions. It’s highly possible you already have a handbag like this, and you can buy great pre-loved versions, as this is a boomerang trend guaranteed to come back every year or so.
Chain-strapped bags at Maria Moscone. While cross-body bags are still a popular and easy choice for Brits, within the year’s lineup of most important designer bags thus far there are more XXL options than we’ve seen in some time. From Chloé’s Woody tote to the ongoing success Mulberry are seeing with their reissued Alexa bags, the trend has already started, with brands ensuring that they have key styles available in many different sizes and colourways to suit all tastes and needs.
A coat and matching trousers at 3.1 Phillip Lim. The vibe? Relaxed, slouchy and loose-fitting in general, which makes the whole idea a great deal more applicable to our newfound adoration of stretchy waistbands and extreme comfort. On the whole you’ll find that tones are relatively soft and safe—albeit not boring—creating pieces that whisper luxury and last season after season. So Rejina Pyo’s hazy cornflower blue or Nina Ricci’s vintage-look red herringbone may not be your average go-with-everything navy, greige or camel, but they also aren’t so daring as to not be a useful pillar in one’s closet.
Tied-up blazer and wide-leg trousers at Palmer//Harding. What’s interesting is that there’s no single cut or era that dominates, and you’ll find flares and nipped-in jackets for that ’70s look, oversized grey checked suits for an ’80s mood and pared-back pieces for a more refined ’90s aesthetic. What does strike me is that a lot of designers—Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney included—decided to pair these tailored pieces with knitted roll-necks. It’s a look I’ll certainly be copying and pasting.
An embellished suit from Area Couture. So there are subtle ways to sparkle, like a Dries Van Noten pearlescent sequin skirt worn with a plain white shirt. But the looks that I couldn’t help bookmarking instantly were more look-at-me than that. Area Couture really stood out: this American brand has been owning the space for high-shine and crystals for many seasons now, with multiple brands following their lead, allowing sparkle to drip from every possible surface and seam. This season was no different, but the idea was pushed to the limit with shimmering ribbons, jumbo crystals and chainmail all in one outfit. It’s love.
A golden knit and matching jacket at Valentino. “Metallic shades are becoming a cult favourite,” fashion shopping platform Lyst tells me, noting that “Pageviews for ‘gold’, ‘silver’ and ‘metallic’ pieces grew 37% since March [this year] and we expect to see the trend take off even further in the next season.” A desire to go out-out and dress for the occasion is undeniably wrapped up in these molten and sparkly items—even a pair of bejewelled earrings will separate you from your lockdown life.
Draped and wrapped knitwear at Richard Malone. “We saw knitted dresses come through strongly in super-feminine modern silhouettes from brands such as Joos Tricot, Khaite, Valentino, Bottega Veneta, Gabriela Hearst and Chloé. We loved the range in colour palette too from soft tonal shades to bright colour pop,” says Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear at Matchesfashion, confirming that there is a covetable knitwear piece to suit every kind of personal style this coming autumn.
Jumbo cable knits at Khaite. “Knitwear has been a beloved part of our wardrobes over the last year but for autumn we have switched neutral hues in wardrobe classics for artisanal designers in fashion forward silhouettes. From Chloé’s striped knitted dresses, to Gabriela Hearst’s beautiful appliqué—luxury brands brought us hand-crafted pieces that felt like wearable pieces of art.” says Page, highlighting a trend we cover a few slides down that centers around craftwork and homespun techniques. So if you find a knit that feels a little bit bohemian in its finish, you know you’re onto an AW21 winner.
A faux fur-lined bomber coat from Prada. “Comfort remains key, even post-lockdown,” says Lyst. So it would make sense that your cosy coat options extend beyond puffers and padded styles. Fuzzy fabrics offer something different, for those who are perhaps not as into streetwear. Although, the clever juxtaposition of Prada’s extended bomber with a fuzzy interior might just keep both camps happy.
Cow-print furry coat and hat from Anna Sui. “Searches for “furry boots” are up 13% year-on-year and we expect them to continue increasing throughout 2021,” says Lyst, although I have a prediction of my own: Fuzzy hats (as seen at Burberry, Acne Studios, Stand, Anna Sui and many more brands) will actually be the lead accessory when the temperatures plunge. We already know that bucket hats continue to hold their own in the trend stakes, so it’s a natural progression.
Beaded dress from Bottega Veneta. While the techniques may seem old-fashioned the final looks aren’t old hat. Yes, this Bottega Veneta macrame and beaded-trim dress has hints of eras gone by and maybe even those beaded door curtains, but the simplistic tank top and shift shape makes it entirely modern—pair it with simple sandals, a giant bag, It shades and you have yourself a very new and slick take on bohemia.
Floral knits at Gabriela Hearst. The designer leading this creative pack is Gabriela Hearst, whose eponymous line and debut at Chloé was ram-jam-packed with the kind of special, artisans pieces you’ll want to wear forever and then be sure to hand down to someone you love. The movement towards this kind of slow fashion isn’t purely an aesthetic one. There is an increasing interaction between consumers and made-to-order brands offering homespun fashion goods, with Instagram-born labels taking off, indie designers finding success on Depop and Etsy, and limited edition pre-order drops becoming the norm for many start-ups. So I expect this trend to amplify even further within this conscious realm, and it’s a way you can be sure to own something unique with a story—wonderful.
Suiting, shirting and an overcoat at Wales Bonner. When it comes to layering like a pro this season the #1 rule is: there are no rules! So with that in mind I’d personally suggest keeping the colour palette strict in order for this to feel easy and not time-consuming of a morning. Wearing a suit under a coat is definitely becoming a “thing” and along with Lemaire it was this chic Wales Bonner look that really stood out within this microtrend.
A bright polo neck under a shirt at Isabel Marant. However, layered looks don’t have to be tonal and grey. “More is more this season, with exaggerated sleeves, playful collar detailing and new romantic frills. This trend offers inspiration to re-imagine our wardrobes and elevate our outfits to as we re-emerge into the world and adapt to our new social lives. Whether it be a cute collar detail on a zoom call or cleverly combined layers to get through a night of outdoor dining, the layering trend is becoming ever more relevant,” says Adams.
The perfect LDB from Coperni. “Short hemlines are having a moment in 2021, searches for mini skirts and mini dresses jumped 43% over the past 6 months,” says Lyst. When Saint Laurent hosted a virtual FROW only a few days ago, almost all of the celebrities “in attendance” opted in for the micro-micro minis available as part of the autumn collection. Zoe Kravitz and Hailey Bieber caused our jaws to drop and persuaded us that perhaps now is the time to put the midis on hold…every so often, at least.
A layered skirt suit ensemble at Chanel. The Saint Laurent girl may be rock ‘n’ roll through-and-through, but there are more grown-up iterations set to hit stores too—take Chanel’s creative director Virginie Viard’s many riffs on the classic little skirt suit. “Perhaps I should have been born in the sixties but there’s something about a mini skirt that I’ve always been drawn to,” says Anatasiou. Although I have a feeling that even those of us who have previously been averse to baring our legs may be persuaded this season… even if I do opt in for the trend avec tights.
Bomber jackets and bell skirts at Celine. So the concept works easily if you remember the golden formula of simply selecting one OTT item and pairing it with entirely low-key, grungy, sporty or otherwise minimal pieces. Celine’s anarchic ballgown-ready skirt with chunky, track-soled boots, flight jacket, hoodie and baseball cap looks so fun (and strangely comfortable) to wear.
A detail of a Simone Rocha look. On the other hand, you can offset the full-blown prettiness of a tulle dress and pearl jewellery with something as austere and business-like as a white shirt. This unexpected layering twist creates quite the talking point. I’m stating these looks as being pub-ready, but I realise that might seem a little daunting for some, so you could save these for a dinner or house party and stick to a nice-top-and-jeans combo instead—if Tom Ford’s doing it, you know it’s glam enough.
A print clash tartan look at Molly Goddard. A classic tartan kilt styled in the most eccentric and brilliant way by Molly Goddard has inspired many of the Who What Wear team to go vintage shopping ahead of the new season. You can often find old checked skirts in secondhand stores and I have a vintage school version that I dig out every winter as it’s essentially quite a basic item despite the fact it’s louder than, say, a pair of jeans.
Checked coat from R13. When analysing the data and forecasting for autumn, Lyst told me to “expect to see fashion lovers wearing more “tartan”, “plaid” and “checked” pieces later in the year.” And although tartan was the most spotted weave when I scoured through the collections, there were some cool plaid looks to note like this very Kurt Cobain-ish coat from R13. And there you have it—the full lowdown on autumn/winter 2021’s fashion trends. Hope you enjoyed it! Next up, the sandals trends we’re wearing this summer.