When viewing the spring summer 2021 collections you need to first acknowledge the context in which these looks were created—designers around the world were all working during lockdown, many away from their studios and usual resources, divided from their teams and facing huge logistical challenges. Their work was then presented to the world largely via livestreams, videos and fashion shows with limited audiences. With the usual circus and excess around fashion week removed, the focus really was back on the craftsmanship and message of the clothes. But what clothes do you create when— to put it plainly— you just don't know what people will be dressing for in 2021.
How we get dressed can have a huge impact on how we feel, while also reflecting wider shifts in mood, and so it's not surprising given the current climate that for this season designers examined its purpose and what we really need from fashion. There were two approaches here—some created fabulous, infectious clothes to put the joy back into getting dressed, and others brought us classic pieces that act as an extension of the past year's comfortable uniform. That's why below you'll find a section for ball gowns and a section for slippers.
Six months after these collections were designed, there are still question marks over what we will be doing in 2021, however below we have outlined the pieces and styling tweaks which are set to have a place in our wardrobes this spring and beyond. Keep scrolling for our guide to the most creative, beautiful and important looks we saw for SS21—and the ones that we believe will impact how we actually get dressed.
There was a feeling of optimism across all four cities, with clothes designed for a post lockdown world and as an antidote to all that loungewear—think OTT dresses, vibrant colours and feel-good prints. Many designers anticipate that in 2021 we will want to have more fun with our outfits and project a sunny outlook, whether that's via a rainbow print or wearing the most fabulous dress imaginable. London Fashion Week designer Halpern is a perfect example of this sentiment, as he created infectious images with frontline workers wearing some of the happiest clothes you could imagine. “It’s about having fun—I didn’t want to do fantasy and ignore what’s happening in the world. Fashion should prop people up and give people a break, especially when they’ve been having such a terrible time," he said to Vogue at the time.
Photo:Molly Goddard, Cecilie Bahnsen, Halpern, Jacquemus, Simone Rocha
Occasionwear had no place in our wardrobes in 2020, however optimistically designers imagined the most fantastical dresses ready for whenever rescheduled weddings and evening plans can take place again. Full skirts! Embellishment! Layers of tulle! Dresses were flamboyant, extravagant and incredibly beautiful. Net-a-Porter has seriously invested into this category, buying over 3,000 joyful dresses for SS21, and has over 10,000 dress options for the season. Two dresses that went viral almost instantly were the Molly Goddard gigantic tulle butter yellow dress and the white Jacquemus gown.
Photo:Altuzarra; Dior; Versace
'Escapism' was a theme that many designers explored for SS21. No-one did this as literally as Versace, which had bejewelled starfish emblazoned on dresses and high fashion Hawaiian shirts. According to Moda Operandi's trunkshow data there has been an uptick in poolside attire for SS21—"at least one resort-style piece appeared in the top five bestsellers for each major SS21 category." Think literal beach prints, high-end beach bags and platform espadrilles.
Photo:Gabriela Hearst; Jacquemus; Khaite; Rosetta Getty; Victoria Beckham
Across the collections we saw designers playing with the idea of a 'naked dress', using slinky silhouettes, body-con and racy cut-outs, however it was the black dresses that really stood out to us—and to buyers. According to Moda Operandi Jacquemus's black slip dress was its top-selling piece from the pre-orders. Designers such as Khaite and Victoria Beckham created dresses that played with cut-outs on the neckline, strap detailing and a mix of knits and light fabrication. This is a post-lockdown dress to have in your wardrobe on standby for your first drinks party when you want to wear something truly fabulous.
Shop our edit of the best slinky black dresses
Photo:Custommade; Molly Goddard; Halpern; Christopher John Rogers; Roksanda
"Many of our designers embraced an optimistic point of view for Spring," Net-a-Porter explained in its SS21 presentation. "We saw a sea of bold, bright colours in a multitude of fabrics and textures." The stand-out colour here was pink, as we saw an explosion of watermelons, fuchsias and hot pinks. Expect to see all of the most sought-after dresses next summer in this punchy shade. Roksanda's flowing maxi dress and the strapless Molly Goddard dress with a ruffled skirt were two of the most memorable looks from London Fashion Week.
For more on bright pinks, here's where to shop it now
Photo:Gabriella Hearst; Christopher John Rogers; Acne; Versace
Rainbow stripes became the unofficial motif for 2020, and a symbol of hope and optimism, and so it's not surprising that this was a reference for designers for SS21. Tie-dye isn't just a lockdown hobby, as proved by the swirly prints at Gabriella Hearst, while Versace and Christopher John Rogers played with mood-boosting stripes.
Tulle ballgowns aside, this season also continued the shift we have been seeing towards classic, easy-to-wear staples. Over recent years there has been a collective drive to slow down the relentless trend cycle and make more considered and conscious purchases, buying pieces that you will treasure forever. Plus with more time spent at home, designers continue to explore comfort dressing, balanced with our desire to get dressed properly and get out of the jogging bottoms. This translated into lots of simple styling ideas and slouchy silhouettes, that make getting dressed just a little easier.
Photo:Burberry; Celine; Jacquemus; Louis Vuitton; Valentino
This year has seen a focus on wearable classic pieces and versatile basics, and the SS21 collections made a case for a concise capsule. Wardrobe foundations were at the heart of most collections, including button-downs, trench coats and heritage blazers, however they were given slight twists to make them feel a little different and prove classics don't have to be boring. At Valentino an oversized shirt became a viral moment thanks to its vibrant bubblegum pink and Louis Vuitton and Burberry exaggerated the proportions of its trench coats, so they almost skimmed the floor.
Photo:Chloe; Balenciaga; Balenciaga; Paco Rabanne; Victoria Beckham
Denim is a category that has been rising in demand this year, and Matchesfashion saw a 50% growth in jeans sales in 2020. Denim was used across all categories, as Gabriella Hearst had an amazing indigo dress and Wales Bonner created denim button-down dresses, however the key shift we saw was a move from slimmer silhouettes to a more relaxed, slouchy fit. It's the shape and comfort of your jogging bottoms, but using classic wash denim. Victoria Beckham added denim to her main collection for the first time and said to The Guardian, “I lived in vintage jeans all the way through lockdown. Although I will have you know that I never once turned to an elasticated waist, except for in the gym."
Shop the best baggy jeans
Photo:MaxMara; Chanel; Chanel; Rosetta Getty; Prada
When it came to a colour palette for SS21 there were two extremes—some designers played with joyful paintbox hues, and others stuck to a classic monochrome scheme. Natalie Kingham, Buying Director at Matchesfashion notes that this is the perfect backdrop to highlight accessories: 'Monochrome always works – anything black or white is a good investment and you will always wear it. Right now, it feels appropriate – it’s also great for showing off all the hardware we are seeing everywhere, and works very well with statement jewellery.’ One of the coolest interpretations we saw was at Prada where the white trousers and logo tank top were punctuated with a pair of black loafers.
Photo:Jil Sander; Michael Kors; Michael Kors; Prada; Wales Bonner
Over the past few seasons we have seen a move towards 90s minimalism, with clean lines and a muted colour palette, and for SS21 this was seen in effortless, but impactful layering. At Jil Sander and Wales Bonner white tunics were layered over black trousers—an outfit destined to be replicated by the fashion crowd on Instagram come Spring.
One of the most anticipated collections was Raf Simons' debut as co-creative director at Prada, where we saw a relaxed take on tailoring with anoraks and tunics artfully layered over trousers. The running theme was how coats were worn slouched slightly off the shoulder, and with the models cinching them together with their hands resting on their chests. “It is an innately human gesture that can be transformative, translated into the architecture of pieces, to cut and form language,” Prada explained in the show notes. But this is also a nod towards Miuccia Prada, as it is one of her own habits.
Photo:Altuzarra; Bevza; Chloe; Dior; Louis Vuitton
With many still working over Zoom, it's perhaps surprising that workwear was something so many designers explored for SS21. We were introduced to a functional, but more relaxed and comfortable uniform of slouchy tailoring and easy to mix and match separates. One of the hero pieces here is loose-fitting trousers and Moda Operandi notes in its Trunkshow report that "each of our top 10 bestselling pants for SS21 matched the casual, comfortable, wide-leg style, reminding us once again that comfort and style are not mutually exclusive."
Photo:Burberry; Burberry; Givenchy; Nanushka; Prada
This is the most adventurous styling move you'll find in this story, however many designers played with netting and hole detailing. At Prada jumpers and second-skin tops had two inch holes all over them, while at Burberry trenches were adorned with a netted overlay.
Photo:Acne; Hermes; Gabriela Hearst; Nanushka; Victoria Beckham
This was a silhouette we saw countless times, with designers like Victoria Beckham and Nanushka creating dresses with wide open backs. It works for beach dresses and more formal eveningwear, such as with the above beaded dress at Gabriela Hearst.
Photo:Roksanda; Cecilie Bahnsen; Loewe; Loewe; Altuzarra
Exaggerated, puff sleeves is a silhouette that has dominated in recent years, and it is set to continue and become even more prominent in 2021. From dresses with huge ballooned shoulders at Loewe to trench coats with gathered sleeves at Altuzarra, get ready for even more shoulder action in 2021.
Photo:Louis Vuitton; Chloe; Jacquemus; Miu Miu; Jacquemus
Over the past few years it has been all about the midi dress, however there has been an increasing focus on the female form, with a return to bodycon, cut-outs and rising hemlines. Designers such as Jacquemus, Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton all had several mini skirts in their collections, with 60s-style micro skirts and mini slip dresses.
Photo:Sportmax; Jil Sander; Sportmax; Miu Miu; Prada
Second-skin tops went viral this year when Adele and Beyonce both wore Marine Serre's cult moon-print fitted top. These body-skimming jersey and knitted tops were seen at the likes of Miu Miu and Jil Sander, and were either worn tucked into high-waistlines or used as a base layering piece. This was a key element in Raf Simons' Prada collection, as tight hole-strewn rollnecks were layered under cropped cardigans.
Photo:Acne; Sportmax; Sportmax; Acne; Dior
There was also a feeling of fluidity in many of the collections, with light, sheer fabrics that floated off the body. At Acne and Jil Sander these sheer pieces were layered beautifully, and all came in a soft and romantic colour palette.
Photo:Acne; Emilia Wickstead; Jacquemus; Simone Rocha; Victoria Beckham
Visible bras might not sound like something that is set to be a mainstream trend, however Moda Operandi saw a 3x increase in popularity of bras for SS21 and found they were featured in 10% of all Trunkshows, compared to 3% in the previous season. The easiest way to wear the trend is with the straps and the top of a bra visible under a dress, as seen at Victoria Beckham. For those who are more experimental, try layering a statement bra over a shirt or shirt dress as seen at Simone Rocha.
Shop the bra top trend here
Photo:Bevza; Jil Sander; Chloe; Dior; Victoria Beckham
For SS21 many designers introduced big, statement pendants on longer chains. For a more bohemian, laidback feel layer up necklaces as seen at Dior and Chloe.
Shop our guide to the best pendant necklaces
Photo:Celine; Dior; Nanushka; Altuzarra; Altuzarra
Every retailer and buyer I have spoken to this year has said they have been surprised by the spike in interest for classic investment handbags, in a time when many of us aren't actually using our handbags. For SS21 we saw many interpretations of a practical, chuck-everything-into-it bag, from the logo-emblazoned totes at Celine, to luxury beach bags at Altuzarra to the camel leather bowling bags at Nanushka.
Photo:Roksanda; Rosetta Getty; Rosetta Getty; Balenciaga; Coach
Most office workers will continue to work remotely into 2021, and so the demand for home comforts will continue well into spring. House slippers are already proving popular, as Net-a-Porter notes they are seeing versatile options in velvet or shearling, that are both cosy and chic enough to be worn both indoors and outdoors, resonating with its customer. The Row has created leather-texture slippers, and Balenciaga, Roksanda and Coach also included them in its SS21 collections.