Madonna Style Evolution
“She is a whirl of bright color, her gilded tapestry jacket glinting under the lights and opening to reveal a glimpse of lace veiling her skin. A collection of bangles and bracelets slides on her arms, and her legs are encased in the narrowest stirrup pants. Who is she?” wrote Kathleen Beckett in the September 1985 issue of Vogue. She was Madonna, who today turns 60. Of course it’s impossible to celebrate the Queen of Pop without also raising a glass to her iconic wardrobe.
Madonna came to New York City from Detroit in the late ’70s. She started as a dancer but but later segued into singing. She burst onto the scene with her self-titled album Madonna in 1983. Her garb at the time? Good girl gone bad. In the video for “Like a Virgin,” Madonna gyrates in a sweet-as-cake sheer wedding dress that was sassily trimmed to the thigh, along with gloves, handfuls of necklaces, and of course, a rosary. (Madonna was raised in a Catholic household—a strict upbringing that she often grappled with and was reflected in her music.) Her look was copied by thousands of fans who attended her concerts in crop tops and hulking cross necklaces. When asked in a 1984 interview on MTV whether she designed her own clothing, Madonna simply replied: “Do you think someone else could come up with this?”
While Madonna was the mastermind of her image, she eventually worked with costume designer Marlene Stewart, who is credited with creating the dishabille slip dress in the “Like a Prayer” music video that enraged the Vatican (and resulted in a Pepsi ad being pulled from MTV). Of course, there was Madonna’s foray into high fashion, too. In 1990, on her Blonde Ambition world tour in China, Madonna debuted a Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra. In 2012, that piece sold for $52,000 at a Christie’s auction in London.
Her red carpet looks were nothing short of shocking, either. At the 1991 Oscars, to perform the song “Sooner or Later” from Dick Tracy (1990), Madonna wore an Old Hollywood–style glittering Bob Mackie gown. Her date? The King of Pop, Michael Jackson. More red carpet standouts? In 1995, she opted for a sleek and sexy Tom Ford–era Gucci look to accept her MTV Video Music Award for Female Video. (The outfit lives on in many different ways: After the ceremony, Courtney Love interrupted a silk-shirt-wearing Madonna during her interview with Kurt Loder.) Another memorable moment came with Madonna’s Evita (1996) period. While she was filming, she became pregnant with her first child Lourdes Leon. The Material Girl went on to embrace her buxom, new-mother shape and accepted a Golden Globe for her performance in Evita in 1997 while wearing a curve-hugging Dolce & Gabbana dress only a few months after she gave birth.
During her Ray of Light (1998) years, Madonna’s look underwent a calming makeover as she began to learn about kabbalah—remember that red string bracelet?—and studied yoga. The result was a hair-down, belly-baring namaste wardrobe that leaned towards Eastern cultures. In 1998, she wore a sari to the VH1 Fashion Awards. For the Grammy Awards in 1999, she donned a striking Jean Paul Gaultier kimono—the same piece she wore in her video for “Nothing Really Matters.”
More recently, we’ve seen Madonna go the glammed-up retro-meets-Western route during her Music (2002) period. And of course, being Madonna, she still pays homage to Jean Paul Gaultier. For the 2018 Met Gala, she wore a costume by the designer to perform “Like a Prayer.”
Here, to celebrate the icon’s 60th birthday, take a look back at some of her most memorable looks.
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