Fashion trends of 2017 all about female empowerment

From politically charged pink knit hats, to statement-making slogans, ruffled shapes and bold floral prints, it's been a powerful time for expression through fashion choices.

From pink politics to flouncy ruffles, style moments highlighted changing gender ideals

The 2017 fashion year was all about bold colours, bright prints and flouncy ruffles, reflecting a swell of female empowerment that was part of the zeitgeist in North American culture. (Catwalking/Giuseppe Cacace/Pascal LeSegretain/Getty Images)

The year 2017 will go down in the fashion books as the moment women reclaimed their power. From the Women's March in January to the swell of the #metoo movement in the fall, the call of voices demanding gender equality has been emboldened.

Naturally, the expression extended to fashion choices and it showed up in both obvious and subtle ways. 

The power of pink

A sea of people wearing pussy hats gathers for the Women's March in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2017. The hats, a protest against comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump, became a symbol of female empowerment. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

During the Women's March in Washington on Jan. 21, as far as the eye could see, heads were topped with handmade pink knitwear. In addition to the main march in Washington the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration, more than 600 "sister marches" happened worldwide.

What began as a viral response to Trump's infamous reference to the female body part turned into a global pro-woman movement. The must-have march accessory was dubbed the "pussy hat" and served as a metaphorical peace sign. Or was it more of a raised fist?

The pussy hat became such a significant fashion symbol that London's Victoria and Albert Museum made the hat part of its Rapid Response collection. 

And more pink … of the millennial variety

Actor Terry Crews attends the 2017 GQ Men Of The Year Party at Chateau Marmont in December 2017 in Los Angeles. Crews, a former football player, was among the men who last year challenged the idea that pink is for girls and women. ( Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic via Getty)

With "millennial pink" becoming the colour-related catch phrase of the year, Instagrammers flocked to the streets to document the trend with the popular hashtag #millenialpink.

The term does not refer to a specific shade of pink, but rather a range of tones ranging from blush to bubble gum. After Pantone named Rose Quartz the co-colour of the year in 2016, along with a gentle shade of lavender, pink took on a life of its own and was seen this year in fashion, school supplies, interiors, flowers, and even tech products.

Reflecting changing ideas about gender fluidity, the shade once reserved for women earned widespread cred among men, who went way beyond the pink statement shirt by rocking rose-tinted shoes, pants, jackets, and workout wear. 

Bold ruffles, colours and flowers 

The red carpet at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival showcased the prevailing trends of the year: bright colours and floral patterns. Seen from left to right, Hollywood celebs Daniela Vega, Dee Rees and Bella Heathcote, all wearing floral-themed garb at various movie premieres. (Getty Images)

In this year of women speaking out loudly, designer clothing seemed to do the same. The catwalks and red carpets were bursting with bright hues, floral patterns and romantic ruffles.

One standout example: London Fashion Week, which looked like a festival of florabunda as designers from Christopher Kane to Alice Temperley of Temperley London let flowers bloom on an variety of silhouettes, from puffer jackets to delicate tulle dresses.

A sober moment

The Handmaid's Tale TV adaptation stars Elisabeth Moss in the role of Offred. The wide-brimmed hat and red cloak became a fashion image synonymous with female oppression. (Hulu)

At the other end of the spectrum, style on the screen reflected a sombre, serious look.

The television adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale, starring Elisabeth Moss, re-focused attention on women's reproductive rights at a time when those rights were being questioned in the U.S.

The wide-brimmed white bonnet and red cloak associated with the series became a hallmark fashion moment of 2017. 

Curiously, the striking costumes inspired an actual fashion show, funded by the Hulu streaming service. Hulu chose the upstart New York label Vaquera to participate in a set of provocative art projects to promote the show and it sure got the fashion world talking. 

First lady blues

Michelle Obama poses with Melania Trump, wife of then President-elect Donald Trump. at the White House before the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Trump's fashion choices were a source of controversy throughout the year. (Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

This welcome-to-the-Whitehouse appearance became one of many looks that would raise eyebrows and questions about Melania Trump's outfits.

In providing her with the powder blue ensemble, American designer Ralph Lauren came under fire for simply agreeing to dress the new first lady. Many started seeing the #BoycottRalphLauren hashtag in their Twitter feeds, followed closely  by the #BoycottDolce&Gabbana hashtag for the same reason.

Only, in the case of the latter, the Italian fashion house created its own backlash. In an irreverent move aimed at critics, they launched a new campaign with apparel sloganeering a boycott of their own company.

The biggest reaction against Melania Trump's fashion choices arose when she wore stiletto heels before getting onboard a flight to visit Hurricane Harvey victims. Many questioned why people were focusing on her footwear instead of the plight of those suffering.

A royal flush

Meghan Markle poses with Britain's Prince Harry in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace in London on Nov. 27, 2017. She chose to wear a Canadian coat by Line the Label.

Meghan Markle was another newly minted dignitary who got the fashion set talking, and in her case, buying. When the Suits actress announced her engagement to Prince Harry, she chose a white coat from the Canadian fashion brand The Line. The savvy, Toronto-based designers renamed it "The Meghan" and within minutes, the $800 wool wrap was sold out.

Buzz about the coat was only outdone by purring over her three-stone engagement ring, designed by Harry himself to be flanked by two diamonds that once belonged to his late mother, Princess Diana. It all points to the possibility of the internet breaking when she reveals her wedding dress in May of 2018.

And speaking of putting a ring on it …

Beyoncé​ gives Instagram a bump


​Beyoncé's  pregnancy photoshoot announcement on Instagram in February now has more than 11 million likes, making it the most-liked Instagram post ever, according to the social media company. On Twitter, the photo also attracted 500,000 tweets in just 45 minutes.

And to follow the oohs with some aahhs, the singer sent out another pic in July, introducing twins Sir Carter and Rumi.


Set against a backdrop of blooming flowers, the posts painted ​Beyoncé as an earth mother. After her adultery-themed visual album Lemonade in 2016, the posts were enough to create the impression that she's back on top, in all her feminine glory. 

Cultural pride through fashion

Fashion model and former refugee Halima Aden, who is breaking boundaries as the first hijab-wearing model gracing magazine covers and walking in high-profile runway shows, poses in New York City on Aug. 28, 2017. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

This year saw the passing of a controversial law that requires people in Quebec who give or receive any public service to uncover their faces. But the law was partially struck down in December. 

At the same time in the United States, fashion model and former refugee Halima Aden broke boundaries as the first hijab-wearing model featured on magazine covers and in high profile runway shows.

And Mattel introduced the first-ever hijab-wearing Barbie. It was inspired by the U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who won a bronze medal in the 2016 games and was the first athlete to wear a hijab while representing the United States.

Authentic Indigenous style

Designer Helen Oro, who is from the Pelican Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, showcases her collection at Startup Fashion Week 2017 in Toronto. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The year 2017 also saw a move toward the empowerment of Indigenous fashion designers, who have long faced incidents of cultural appropriation by prominent fashion labels.

For example, designer Helen Oro, of Pelican Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, showed her collection at Startup Fashion Week 2017 in Toronto. Her line of intricately beaded fashion accessories speaks to her cultural heritage. 

Another Indigenous designer, 26-year-old Tishynah Buffalo, who lives on the Alexander First Nation reserve, about 40 kilometres north of Edmonton, was invited to share her work during London Fashion Week in February.

Her clothing collection incorporates the brightly-coloured geometric patterns of the Chief Joseph Pendleton blanket and beadwork in traditional Cree floral arrangements.

Looking ahead to 2018

It's easy to see which trends are building and will hit big time next year based on 2017.

Luxe conscious consumerism


Based on the ever-increasing number of organic products, juice joints and yoga studios, it seems popular culture is careening toward a sense of wellness. Coupled with the rise of handmade and sustainable goods, it's safe to say the trend of conscious consumerism will continue to flourish. Whether the movement is sincere or just another status symbol, celebrities affirm the coolness of caring in their social media posts. 

Back to the future

Donatella Versace staged a reunion of '90s fashion models in 2017, drawing attention to the high-glamour style Versace is known for. (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

In September, designer Donatella Versace staged a '90s supermodel catwalk reunion. And come January, the hit series American Crime Story is set to focus on the murder of her brother, the fashion legend Gianni Versace. He was shot and killed in 1997 on the steps of his home in Miami Beach, Fla., and police still don't know why.

Expect to see even more old-school, body-conscious, sparkly dresses in your world. The Versace name is known for bright colours, flashy prints, and fiercely feminine silhouettes.

Consider it a fitting cap to a year that heightened appreciation of the female body — and mind. 

About the Author

Jelena Adzic


Jelena Adzic is a reporter, writer and radio columnist with the CBC Arts Unit. Her eyes light up at the mention of design, visual art and architecture.