Yes, the fashion industry is still one that glorifies those who are white, thin, young and cisgender. Yes, 2015 was a year in which many notable advancements were made in racial, body and age diversity, as well as in transgender visibility — and yes, certainly, there's still a very long way to go across the board — but in many respects, 2016 was a banner year for diversity and inclusivity within the business.
Racially, the model lineup for New York Fashion Week's fall 2016 season in February was the most diverse it's been in recent years, with 3.5 percent improvement from the season before. (Though, we should note that it took a step backwards for spring 2017.) In body diversity, the year began with the long-overdue announcement that Barbie would expand its product line to include tall, curvy and petite body types. Mattel would then go on to honor Ashley Graham — a breakout star of 2016, who is mentioned exactly seven times in this list — by crafting a doll in her likeness 11 months later. Designers including H&M, J.Crew and Rachel Comey cast models of all ages in its runway shows (and magazines like W and Elle put women like Barbra Streisand, 74, Helen Mirren, 71, and Kathy Bates, 68, on its covers). In transgender visibility, models Hari Nef and Andreja Pejic raised the bar on the runway and magazine covers, as well as in campaigns. Meanwhile, Tommy Hilfiger launched the first-ever adaptive clothing line for children with disabilities.
This list only focuses on the strides that were made — and while there were plenty, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that were setbacks, too. Valentino's spring 2016 campaign starred white models wearing cornrows. Fashion houses "flatly refused" to dress Graham for her Vogue U.K. cover shoot. Marc Jacobs sent dreadlocks down his spring 2017 runway. Glamour Brasil posted an offensive image in celebration of a trip team members were taking to Japan. Dolce & Gabbana named a $2,395 shoe a "Slave Sandal." But here, we aimed to highlight the advancements that were made, the effects of which we hope will continue into 2017 and beyond.
Let's take a look back at 25 high points that moved the industry forward — in chronological order, below.
Plus-size fashion got its own exhibit organized by NYU's costume studies program
"Beyond Measure: Fashion and the Plus-Size* Woman," which opened on Jan. 13 and remained on view until Feb. 3, spanned the mid-18th century to present day with physical garments, photographs and video clips that show the plus-size body in many different roles throughout fashion history.
Barbie added tall, curvy and petite body types to its doll line
Mattel announced in late January that it would roll out the newly updated physiques over time through 2016, and that the new body types would live alongside Barbie's diverse skin tones and hair textures, which were introduced last year.
New York Fashion Week's fall 2016 season was the most diverse in recent years
After scoring 120 shows from NYFW, The Fashion Spot found that 31.9 percent of models who walked were nonwhite, a 3.5 percent improvement from spring 2016's 28.4 percent. Case in point? Zac Posen cast models of color almost exclusively in his runway show, while Chromat designer Becca McCharen celebrated ethnicity, size and gender expression.
Ashley Graham covered the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue
For the first time in its 52-year history, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue enlisted three separate cover stars for its 2016 edition: Hailey Clauson, Ronda Rousey and Ashley Graham. Of the cover, Graham said: "This is for all the women who didn't think they were beautiful because of their size. This is for them."
Muslim designer Hana Tajima's "Modest" Uniqlo collection was introduced in the U.S.
The U.K.-based Muslim fashion designer and blogger partnered with Uniqlo on a collection of modestwear last year, and on Feb. 26, the spring collection became available to U.S. customers online and at Uniqlo's Fifth Avenue flagship in New York City.
Andreja Pejic landed her first fashion magazine cover since her transition
Following her sexual reassignment surgery in 2014, the transgender model and LGBTQ advocate — who was also the first transgender model to ever receive a profile in American Vogue — was announced as the March 2016 cover star of Marie Claire Spain.
Tommy Hilfiger launched first-ever adaptive clothing line for children with disabilities
In a collaboration with Runway of Dreams, a nonprofit organization that develops adaptive versions of existing apparel, the American fashion brand offered the first designer-name adaptive collection for children, which launched on Feb. 23 and was available for purchase on Tommy.com.
H&M won the casting diversity game for fall 2016
Now showing its Studio Collection seasonally during Paris Fashion Week, H&M's fall 2016 runway show featured diversity in spades in terms of racial diversity, as well as in age, shape and beyond. Models included Amber Valletta and Pat Cleveland (42 and 65, respectively), who walked alongside Pat's daughter Anna, as well as Hari Nef and Andreja Pejic.
Glamour launched a plus-size fashion special edition with Lane Bryant
Geared to cater to women sizes 12 and up, the debut issue — fronted by Ashley Graham — marked the start of a long-term partnership with Lane Bryant. But when a cover line listed Amy Schumer as one of its "Women Who Inspire Us," Schumer wasn't so pleased. "I go between a size 6 and an 8. @glamourmag put me in their plus size only issue without asking or letting me know and it doesn't feel right to me," she wrote on Instagram.
Candice Huffine signed with IMG Models
After teetering on the edge of supermodel-dom for years, plus-size model Candice Huffine’s career reached a major milestone on April 5 when IMG Models announced that it had signed Huffine to its "Curve" division. She joined from her previous agency, Muse Management.
A new report proved that diversity in model casting is slowly (barely) improving
In early May, The Fashion Spot released its seasonal diversity report for spring 2016, which covered 236 different campaigns starring 422 models. Models of color comprised less than a quarter of those castings, clocking in at 21.8 percent, though that was a slight 6.5 percent lift as compared to the previous season's campaigns.
Christian Siriano debuted his collaboration with Lane Bryant
To kick off Lane Bryant's first-ever Empowering Women Summit, the designer presented a runway show for his collection with the plus-size retailer at the United Nations. The cast included such supermodels as Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine, as well as bloggers Gabi Fresh and Nicolette Mason.
A sexy Swimsuitsforall campaign tackled the Thigh Gap with an all-star cast
The self-proclaimed "leading online retailer for curvy swimwear" tapped 15 models — including Ashley Graham, Denise Bidot, Jordyn Woods and Iskra Lawrence — to wear swimwear for a sexy new campaign titled "Don't Mind the Gap."
Hari Nef was announced as the new face of Mansur Gavriel
The minimalist New York-based label enlisted the model, actress and activist as its first high-profile star, a departure from its previous advertisements which featured faceless models or exotic animals.
The CFDA and the Diversity Coalition released diversity guidelines
Ahead of New York Fashion Week's spring 2017 shows, the CFDA issued its seasonal health initiative letter with help from Bethann Hardison's Diversity Coalition. The note included racial diversity pointers "to encourage the industry to be inclusive of racial diversity when preparing casting of models for their company needs."
New York Fashion Week designers celebrated racial, body and age diversity
Throughout NYFW, a number of brands made celebrating diversity an explicit priority for its runway shows. Brandon Maxwell remained committed to racially diverse model casting, as was clear on his spring runway and in his very first ad campaign. J.Crew tapped staffers, family and friends — ranging in age from 13 to 70 and representing a variety of races and sizes — to serve as the models for its presentation. Ashley Graham's Addition Elle runway show featured plus-size superstars Sabina Karlsson, Marquita Pring, Candice Huffine, Barbie Ferreira and, in only her second runway appearance, Jordyn Woods. But it was Christian Siriano — who previously said that we should try "to make every woman feel great about herself" — who took the cake, building a cast that was the most diverse we saw all season.
"Strut," a reality show on transgender models, premiered on Oxygen
It was first reported in May that Whoopi Goldberg was set to serve as the executive producer for a new reality show on Oxygen that would follow five transgender models as they develop their careers. The show — which partnered with Slay Model Management, the first exclusively transgender modeling agency — premiered on Sept. 20.
CoverGirl signed James Charles, its first-ever CoverBoy
Seventeen-year-old "Beauty Boy" makeup artist James Charles — renowned for his tutorials on both YouTube and Instagram — scored a CoverGirl contract in early October, marking the first partnership of this scale. Charles went on to star in a campaign for the brand's BlastPRO Mascara later that month.
Khloe Kardashian's inclusive denim line, Good American, dropped
Following weeks of teasers on social media, the inclusive denim brand's first collection dropped online on Oct. 18. The label, which is offered in sizes 0 to 24, was built on the belief "that every body deserves to be shown off" and features "contour waistbands, stitching details and special fabrications [that] give each pair a precise fit designed to flatter every curve." It went on to make $1 million in just one day — the biggest denim launch in the history of apparel.
MAC x Caitlyn Jenner raised seven figures for transgender organizations in 2016
Funds from MAC's collaboration with Jenner — which, market-wise, took the form of a single nude lipstick called Finally Free — clocked in at $1.3 million in 2016 alone. Jenner and the MAC AIDS Fund's Transgender Initiative will divide those funds amongst 21 different transgender organizations nationwide to "serve the diverse needs and issues facing transgender communities."
Ashley Graham was honored as a Glamour Woman of the Year
The empowering American "It" model capped off a banner year by being named as one of Glamour's 2016 Women of the Year. To celebrate, Mattel crafted a Barbie doll in her likeness, which Graham helped to design; her only requirement was that its thighs touched. "If I had a Barbie that looked like this growing up, who knows what I would've thought about my thighs," she told Fashionista. "I may not have hated them as much."
Ashley Graham scored her first Vogue cover
Earlier this month, Vogue U.K. revealed that Graham was on the cover of its January 2017 issue, her first Vogue cover, shot by Patrick Demarchelier. This, unfortunately, was followed by news that certain unnamed fashion houses "flatly refused" to send non-sample size clothes to the magazine for the shoot. "It seems strange to me that while the rest of the world is desperate for fashion to embrace broader definitions of physical beauty, some of our most famous fashion brands appear to be traveling in the opposite — and, in my opinion, unwise — direction," editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman wrote on Instagram.
The beauty looks at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show celebrated individuality
Look, Victoria's Secret's annual lingerie extravaganza has a long way to go. But this year, its beauty teams did something right. "The whole inspiration was, 'let them be them,' which I think is quite new for Victoria's Secret," one stylist on Anthony Turner's hair team told Alyssa backstage. Standouts include Jourdana Phillips, Hereith Paul and Maria Borges, who walked the runway with their natural hair.
The Museum at FIT opened its "Black Fashion Designers" exhibit
This new display, which opened on Dec. 6, highlights the work of black fashion designers from the 1950s to present — the first exhibit ever to do so. The show includes eveningwear designers, streetwear designers, menswear designers and others that, per Dhani, "don't quite fit into any of those categories." "Black Fashion Designers" runs through May 16.
Diversity on magazine covers widely improved in 2016
We reviewed 147 covers from 10 leading U.S. fashion publications — Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, InStyle, Nylon, Teen Vogue, Vogue and W — and found that diversity on this year's issues featured sizable lifts as compared to last year. In 2016, 52 of 147 covers — or 35.3 percent — starred people of color*, as compared to 2015's 19.8 percent, or a 16.9 percent rise.