New modes of humoral recognition have been identified by studies of antibodies that neutralize human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and influenza A viruses. Understanding how such modes of antibody-antigen recognition can occur in the context of sophisticated mechanisms of humoral evasion has implications for the development of effective vaccines. Here we describe eight modes of antibody recognition first observed with human immunodeficiency virus type 1. Similarities to four of these modes have been identified with antibodies to a conserved 'stem' epitope on influenza A viruses. We outline how each of these different modes of antibody recognition is particularly suited to overcoming a specific viral evasion tactic and assess potential routes of re-elicitation in vaccine settings.