Far from spelling the end of high-octane dressing, the year brought us a variety of spectacular style moments
The past 12 months have been a rollercoaster for fashion, as stars sought to amplify their at-home looks for virtual red carpets, then brought out the big guns when in-person events finally returned.
And while some predicted lockdown would mark the end of high-octane dressing, 2021 brought us a variety of spectacular style moments.
Here, we break down the 21 most memorable outfits of the year.
1. Best what would have been: Anne Hathaway in Versace on Instagram
In the dark days of January, Hathaway took to Instagram to reveal what she had planned for the promotional tour of her pandemic drama Locked Down. The film may have been a flop, but her trio of metallic gowns were a triumph, none more so than the rose gold Versace number with sexy keyhole detailing.
2. Best supermodel moment: Bella Hadid in Schiaparelli at Cannes film festival
Online critics often snipe about why models attend the Cannes Film Festival. This here is the answer: to produce the kind of breathtaking fashion moments only industry professionals can pull off.
3. Best power dressing: Michelle Obama in Sergio Hudson at the inauguration
From Lady Gaga’s dove brooch to Amanda Gorman’s hairband, the US presidential inauguration gave us more fashion to talk about than we’d had in months. The standout, however, was the former First Lady’s head-to-toe plum ensemble by Sergio Hudson. From the immaculate blowout to the gold belt buckle to the wide-leg trousers, this was post-pandemic power dressing at its finest.
4. Best megawatt glamour: Regina King in Louis Vuitton at the Oscars
Hollywood’s biggest night heralded the return of glitz, glam and gowns, and the actress and Oscar winner opened the show in a jaw-dropping ice-blue duchess satin Louis Vuitton gown with all-over crystal embellishment, ruffled shoulders and scalloped hemline.
5. Best menswear moment: Lakeith Stanfield in Saint Laurent at the Oscars
The men of La La Land were no slouches either this year, but the most exciting turn came from the Atlanta actor. Rather than putting a spin on the classic tuxedo, he opted for a plunging jumpsuit by Saint Laurent, delivering a fresh, subtle and sexy take on gender-fluid style.
6. Best Zoom look: Nicola Coughlan in Molly Goddard at the Golden Globes
The early part of awards season was a stay-at-home affair, and while some kept it casual, the Galway actress opted for major volume with a modern nod to Bridgerton in masses of yellow tulle by Molly Goddard.
7. Best stagewear: Maneskin in Etro at Eurovision
Not since Abba has Eurovision produced a global sensation like Italy’s Maneskin, who worked with Etro on their coordinated, customised outfits. Less Milan Fashion Week than glam rock revival, the laminated leather lace-up flares, vests and bustiers brought a flash of Eurovision fun to high fashion.
8. Best suit: Tilda Swinton in Haider Ackermann at Cannes Film Festival
Swinton’s collaborations with Haider Ackermann almost always have dazzling results, and this was no exception. She’s the perfect fit for his deconstructed tailoring, and the short sleeves and vibrant blue brought new life to the trousersuit craze.
9. Best newcomer: Olivia Rodrigo in Chanel at The White House
The year’s breakout star had a string of great fashion moments, but our highlight was the tweed Chanel two-piece and platform Mary Janes she wore to promote vaccines — professional yet playful, it paid simultaneous homage to First Lady fashion and Clueless’s Cher Horowitz.
10. Best risk-taker: Lil Nas X in Versace at the Met Gala
With each fantastically daring and flamboyant red carpet appearance, the rapper has established himself as the sartorial successor to Elton John — never more effectively than when he donned three layers of Versace-branded armour for the Met Gala.
11. Best showstopper: Lady Gaga in Gucci at the House of Gucci London premiere
After mostly playing it safe for A Star Is Born, the Oscar winner went full Gaga when promoting her next awards contender. The rock star make-up, gloves, fishnet hold-ups and signature Pleaser boots made the gorgeous Gucci gown her own, but it was her ultra-dramatic strut that really sold it.
12. Best bridal: Lily Collins in Ralph Lauren
Where some brides went low-key — such as Carrie Symonds in her boho rental gown — Collins opted for full fairytale fantasy in an intricate lace Ralph Lauren dress that took over 200 hours to create. The elegant long sleeves, high neck and unique hooded cape made it unforgettable.
13. Best viral moment: Kim Kardashian in Balenciaga at the Met Gala
Was it a comment on social distancing? Fame? The end of Keeping Up With The Kardashians? Or just another cry for attention? Whatever the intention, her Balenciaga look sparked countless memes, reactions and Halloween costumes.
14. Best vintage: Ruth Negga in Arnold Scaasi at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opening gala
The red carpet is gradually turning green as stars rewear old favourites — like Gwyneth Paltrow in her 1996 velvet suit at Gucci’s recent show — or seek out vintage gowns. The best of the latter was the Limerick native’s mesmerising Arnold Scaasi gown, impeccably tailored and covered in glittering floral embroidered sequins.
15. Best royal: Kate Middleton in Jenny Packham at the No Time To Die premiere
She’s done red carpets before, but Middleton really rose to the occasion in this stunning gold cape gown by Jenny Packham. She’s never looked so glamorous and — with the exception of her wedding day — she’s never looked better.
16. Best jewellery: Angelina Jolie in Nina Berenato at the Eternals LA premiere
Jolie stuck to her familiar playbook when promoting her Marvel debut, but she elevated her go-to gowns with ancient goddess-style jewellery. This Nina Berenato chin cuff takes the prize for the hardest-working accessory of the year.
17. Best comeback: Adele in Schiaparelli for Adele: One Night Only
Following her six-year absence, the singer delivered nothing short of diva perfection in an exquisite draped Schiaparelli gown and Saturn earrings — a nod to her Saturn return, which she has credited with forcing her to re-evaluate her life.
18. Best maternity: Jennifer Lawrence in Dior at the Don’t Look Up premiere
Lawrence’s collaboration with Dior hasn’t always served her well, but the fashion house did right by her with this custom creation. The cascading cape sleeves and delicate embroidery add an ethereal touch, while the golden make-up and Tiffany earrings finish it beautifully.
19. Best throwback: Anya Taylor-Joy in Oscar de la Renta at the CFDA Awards
From her green gown and evening coat at the Globes to her Barbie pink dress and beret in Venice, the actress cleverly plays with different eras, knowing just how to lean into her doll looks. This vivid purple moire and leopard-print ensemble put her retro appeal to utterly charming effect.
20. Best makeover: Elle Fanning in Balmain at the InStyle Awards
Best known for her princess dresses, Fanning signalled she was moving on to
more grown-up fare with this major style swerve. The bejewelled Balmain chain link top let us know the actress is ready to switch things up, and we can’t wait to see her next chapter.
21. Best double act: Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet in Rick Owens and Alexander McQueen at the Dune London premiere
When these style stars paired up for sci-fi epic Dune, we knew their wardrobes would be even more compelling than the film itself. Each stop on the promo tour offered new thrills, as the duo turned genre cues into high fashion moments and looked absolutely sensational while doing it. The bar is set sky-high for the sequel.