2023: a year of controversial fashion

As 2023 draws to a close, we reflect on the year and its biggest fashion moments, which reveal one thing especially: this has been a year of controversial fashion. Riskiness seems to be a marker of popularity and discourse, with styles appearing on the runway that no one ever thought would come back in fashion, and debates spanning social media. Of course, controversial or bold fashion choices have always made an impact, but never in such a mainstream and yet divisive way as we have seen this year, especially in couture.  

Fashion from the 2000s has been on the rise for a couple of years now, but it’s their most controversial trends that have seen a particular renaissance in 2023. For instance, the styling of skirts over jeans or trousers has had a comeback. This trend has divided many, with some saying it should have stayed in the 2000s, and that jeans and skirts do not look good together, whereas others argue that, if styled correctly, they really do. People were having the same debates twenty years ago; the fact that they have resurged seems to indicate that this trend has made a real comeback in fashion, for better or for worse. Its resurgence was first indicated on the runway (see: Autumn/Winter 23) which always seem to give the first flavour of the upcoming trends of the year; however, the skirts-and-trousers combination has since been adopted in far more casual, everyday styles, incorporating a looser silhouette or 2023’s take on double denim.

Another element of Y2K fashion that has made a big impact in 2023 is low rise jeans, which have become almost as popular as high waisted jeans. Whilst they were perhaps the most hated 2000s trend even just a mere few years ago, they are now an increasingly common choice among young people. These jeans can be very flattering, accentuating certain body types and making an outfit more interesting. However, some don’t support the resurgence of these stomach-baring jeans, arguing the low rise displays too much of the body, and that people, as a result, don’t feel as body-confident in them compared to the comfort offered by their high-waisted alternative. Alexander McQueen said his use of low rise ‘bumster’ trousers on the catwalk in 1996 was to ‘elongate the body’, an effect that can be seen among the women wearing low rise today, particularly models who have made it their trademark look, such as Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski. This promotion of a certain body type wearing low rise trousers, meanwhile, puts off others that might have a curvier frame — low rise is evidently not as inclusive as high-waisted styles. But should this be a reason for everyone to boycott them? For some, it makes them feel more comfortable, more confident, and 2023 has definitely been a year for embracing personal style. However, fashion always operates in cycles; a return to the hatred of this polarising trend, such as was seen after its boom in the 2000s, might be in our future.

A unique trend to 2023 that has massively divided opinion is that of women wearing underwear outside. It sounds bizarre, and yes, you probably wouldn’t see it walking down Church Street, but the trend has certainly made its mark on couture. This is what makes 2023 fashion so unique — it sees the bold fashion patterns of the past few years, such as underwear-as-outerwear like corset tops and lingerie, and makes them even bolder. The catwalks are now full of briefs without trousers, following perhaps the most risqué trend seen this year, and it hasn’t stopped there: it has become a regular thing to spot celebrities casually sporting these briefs out and about, or in full glamour at red carpet events. This style is a new favourite of Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Hailey Bieber, Bella Hadid, Emma Chamberlain — some of the most influential people for fashion and beauty today. Kendall Jenner being seen out and about wearing Bottega black briefs at the end of last year arguably sparked an internet phenomenon that put this trend on the map. Even Mrs Prada has given her stamp of approval: ‘If I were younger, I would go out in panties!’

Other controversial trends enjoyed their moment this past summer, such as midi/maxi denim skirts and jorts. These fashion choices, like low rise jeans, evolve a well-established fabric, denim, into a style that is reminiscent of the 2000s but also has a sense of subversiveness and daring that marks a lot of 2023 fashion. Hemlines have dropped, and fits have become looser with an appearance of comfort and utilitarianism; maxi lengths also give denim a feminine detail. However, some would argue these are not as flattering as, for example, previous staples of the summertime like miniskirts and cut-offs or mom shorts.

The fashion landscape is evidently evolving into bolder, more daring territory, provoking debates and dividing opinions. It is this polarisation that seems to be the source of popularity for many trends of 2023; it seems like there’s never been as many controversial styles rising in mainstream fashion. All of this makes me very interested to see what next year has in store! If modern fashion culture tells us anything, it’s that trends come and go quickly — so the year ahead will no doubt bring with it a fresh batch of fashion controversy.


Featured image: MART PRODUCTION on Pexels

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