Janelle Monáe's 3-Year-Old Niece Is Her Style Inspiration: 'She's Confident and Free'

Janelle Monae Glass Onion Press Tour Looks
Janelle Monae Glass Onion Press Tour Looks

Pablo Cuadra/WireImage

Janelle Monáe has yet to strut a red carpet she didn't slay.

In the past few months alone, the singer and actress, 37, has worn show-stopping gowns from Robert Wun, Elie Saab and Christian Siriano, as well as playful ensembles by Thom Browne.

And though she regularly rocks world-famous designers, her fashion inspiration is not nearly as well-known. When it comes to dressing up, Monáe tells PEOPLE she takes cues from her three-year-old niece, Jorgie.

"She's confident and free," says the star of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. "She puts together clothes and they don't have to match. They don't have to be in the same genre. And she's so happy. That's what I think clothing is about. I don't need to be uncomfortable."

RELATED: Janelle Monáe's Killer Glass Onion Tour Style: See All the Photos

Fashion, continues Monáe, "should be an extension of how I'm feeling inside. Fashion allows us an opportunity to tell stories."

Though she incorporates color into her wardrobe now, when she was starting out in the industry more than a decade ago, Monáe stuck to a black-and-white scheme.

Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Janelle Monáe

"A lot of my fashion came from just not having enough money for things," she says. "As I was performing, I couldn't have a new look every performance. So I would just go to thrift stores and I would buy black, two dollar trousers or tuxedo pants and have them tailored to fit my body. And I would go to Banana Republic and get a white button down shirt."

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Continues Monáe, "I was like, 'This is a uniform.' I put my uniform on to perform and to work and it reminded me of my parents because they were working class and they wore uniforms all the time." (Monáe's mother was a custodian and her father worked as a trash collector.)

"There was so much about my life that my clothes told the story about," she says.

Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae

Emma McIntyre/Getty

Monáe has been a staple of awards show season, thanks to her performance in Glass Onion, which has netted her nominations and honors from the Critics Choice Association and the National Board of Review. "I'm swimming in gratitude," she tells PEOPLE. "I'm so grateful."

"It's such a comforting movie and a fun movie and a movie," she says of the comedic whodunit. "Even me, I've watched this movie probably like 10 times now and I'm still finding new things that I'm like, 'Oh, how didn't I see this coming?'"

For more on Janelle Monáe, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE.