Street style wasn’t born in the 2010s, but you could say it was the decade it really mattered. Nothing about the medium is the same as it was back in 2011, when Phil Oh shot his first fashion week for Vogue. And it certainly doesn’t look like street style in 2007, when Oh launched his blog, Mr. Street Peeper, alongside other OG photographers like Tommy Ton and Scott Schuman. “I don’t think any of us knew it was going to become a thing,” Oh says. By “a thing,” he means a career, a marketing platform, and a source of massive global interest.
How did street style go from hobby blogging to this, exactly? Looking back on the past decade (well, almost—nine years) of photos, you start to see the turning points crystallize. As digital media and Instagram evolved and surged in popularity, street style also got bolder and more graphic—eye-catching, photogenic stuff. You can also discern almost the exact moment everyone ditched stilettos for sneakers, and when Alessandro Michele’s debut at Gucci single-handedly changed the way we dress. Some years were marked by specific collections or designers, while others were about unique items, trends, or cultural shifts. Most recently, street style has been looking a lot more diverse, thanks to the rise of models like Adwoa Aboah, Adesuwa Aighewi, and Teddy Quinlivan. Below, we’ve distilled thousands and thousands of photos into groups that define each year—with a few ideas of what’s to come in 2020.
The first thing we noticed about Oh’s first round of Fashion Week photos is that his subjects aren’t staring at their phones. Shocking! This was years before Instagram really took off and became a marketing tool, and it was before everyone had an iPhone; several models and editors are holding BlackBerrys. What really dates these photos, though, is the heels—nearly everyone is wearing stilettos, and some are unthinkably high.
It was in 2012 that a new kind of “fashion person” started to appear in street style coverage: the blogger. Susie Lau, Gary Pepper Girl’s Nicole Warne, and Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine sat front row at the shows and became subjects of fascination for Oh and his comrades. These were women who were, for the most part, wearing their own clothing—just like all of the editors, buyers, and models. On that note, Hanne Gaby Odiele established herself early on as one of the most stylish models out there, and Cara Delevingne’s breakthrough was in 2012. As for editors, Taylor Tomasi Hill’s “flat” Comme des Garçons dress was street style catnip. (P.S., doesn’t Medine’s T-shirt feel pretty prophetic right now?) “My favorite people to photograph have always been the ones who really know how to put together an outfit, like Taylor Tomasi Hill, Ursina Gysi, Susie Lau…” Oh adds. “Rather than just someone with a lot of money who could buy all of the current season product.”
A quick scroll through 2013 is a striking reminder of which designers were moving the needle at the time: Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga and Phoebe Philo at Céline. Ghesquière’s neoprene “Join a Weird Trip” sweatshirts of Fall 2012 were instant must-haves, and while Philo’s handbags and color-blocked coats were still popular, it was her Fall 2013 collection—you know, the fuzzy, minimalist one—that inspired so many women to pare back their style. Marc Jacobs said goodbye to Louis Vuitton with his Spring 2014 show (Edie Campbell opened it in a “naked” Stephen Sprouse-scribbled bodysuit), and more bloggers entered the scene—including Chiara Ferragni and Aimee Song, who now have Instagram followings in the millions. The year also saw the emergence of flashy, Insta-friendly trends like souvenir jackets and mirrored sunglasses.
One big “trend” of 2014 ended up lingering for years and years: statement coats! Fluffy faux furs, pastel cocoons, and Prada’s highly-coveted “mural” coats were like fast passes to getting photographed. Also important: Women began to trade their heels for sneakers (see: Veronika Heilbrunner, who paired a Valentino skirt with Nike Air Force Ones), and we were introduced to the boundary-pushing celebrity who would come to define 2010s fashion: Rihanna. Her rise from pop star to bona fide style icon was an early example of A-list celebrities becoming part of this narrative. The Rih effect also spoke to the importance of personal branding: Five years later, she’s harnessed her mega-influence into a makeup line, lingerie collection, and, most recently, the LVMH ready-to-wear collection Fenty. The OG of personal branding, of course, is Karl Lagerfeld. Oh’s photo of him carrying a furry Fendi “bag bug”—collar and sunglasses included!—will go down as one of the best of all time.
First there were models, then there were influencers, and then there were the Hadids and Jenners, who are essentially a cross between the two. The rise of the Insta-famous It girl was concurrent with the growing interest in street style; peep the photo of Karlie Kloss fully surrounded by street-style photographers and paparazzi. “There will always be a demand for street style photography. Now, everyone needs content, content, content,” Oh says. “Every department store, every hype beast, all of the influencers [with their own sites], all the magazines who run these photos in print.” As for those It girls, Gigi Hadid’s breakthrough was in 2015 (followed by a Vogue cover in 2016), when she and Bella were still figuring out their respective looks. Gigi’s studded jacket notwithstanding, these outfits are a far cry from the carefully-styled get-ups we see them in today. The other big news of 2015? Vetements and Gucci. Suddenly everyone was wearing Demna Gvasalia’s pieced-together jeans and flowery sack dresses, and not long after Alessandro Michele’s Gucci debut for Fall 2015, his painterly florals and romantic ruffles were everywhere.
By 2016, we’d edged into the era of extra. Following Demna Gvasalia’s first collection at Balenciaga, everyone wanted his multi-print handkerchief dresses and pumped-up parkas. The rest of the credit goes to Alessandro Michele. Plenty of influencers and editors wore actual Gucci runway looks, but the “Michele effect” inspired others to simply experiment with vintage, from Jenny Walton’s silk pajamas to Zoë Sidel’s epic medieval dress. That said, while Michele is a lover of history, his message for Gucci is thoroughly modern: He’s a proponent of diversity, gender fluidity, and inclusivity, all major talking points of the 2016 collections. That was reflected in Gucci’s casting, as well as in modeling in general: Adwoa Aboah, Adesuwa Aighewi, and Selena Forrest all had a big year, and they became fast favorites of Oh. He also snapped plenty of celebs in 2016, including Rihanna (again!) and Solange. “Celebrities know what’s up now,” he says. “They’ll get dropped off like a block or two away from the venue so they can walk the block. They don’t have to do that—they can easily get out right in front. But they know they need to be photographed, which I’m thankful for, obviously.”
As the years go on, it gets trickier to pinpoint the “most important” looks or moments in street style—arguably because fashion has gotten busier and more head-spinning by the season. In 2017, in the absence of trends, the focus increasingly shifted to personal style. For JJ Martin and her band of print-loving fans, that meant clashing prints; for FKA Twigs and Aleali May, it was something a little more hardcore; for Teddy Quinlivan, it was sleek tailoring. The biggest takeaway, though, was the surge of interest in menswear. After years of middle-of-the-road outfits and simple suits, the streets outside the men’s shows were looking good—really good! Russell Westbrook and Kyle MacLachlan lent a bit of star quality, but they also delivered in terms of capital-F fashion: Westbrook in a Dior Homme matching set, MacLachlan in an exceedingly sharp-shouldered Balenciaga suit.
The fascination with menswear reached a fever pitch in 2018 ahead of two major debuts: Kim Jones at Dior Men (the first thing he did was change the brand name) and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton. A$AP Rocky was there for both, and the year introduced us to stylish up-and-comers like Alton Mason, too. Women also became more interested in menswear, evidenced by the number of celebs, editors, and models in the crowd (many of whom borrowed the boys’ clothes). “Right now, I actually find men’s street style to be more interesting, because most of the guys are just putting together stuff they have,” Oh says. “With women’s fashion week, it’s gotten to the point where you don’t even have to know the schedule—you know what show happened on which day, because you see 10 girls wearing looks [borrowed or gifted] from a certain brand. I wish people would just wear their own shit again!” (Amen!)
We’re only halfway through the year, but so far 2019 has been “peak” everything: peak maximalism, peak influencer, peak celebrity, even peak minimalism as a reaction to all of that. As we enter the next decade, anything goes: Jared Leto in a floral tunic and sweatpants? Amazing! Kerwin Frost in a Hood by Air tent? Why not? NBA athlete Serge Ibaka in a pleated kilt? Possibly culture-shifting. The only real “trend” of 2019 is dressing for yourself and doing it with authenticity. That doesn’t mean you have to be extra, either: Consider Dilone’s sleek, slightly-oversized leather jacket and trousers, or Hanne Gaby Odiele’s experiments with sharp tailoring. The streets of 2019 are more varied and diverse than they’ve ever been; let’s hope 2020 can keep the good vibes going.