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A lot of people think they can be Pamela Anderson, and no one knows this better than her stylist, Rebecca Ramsey. Reached in Los Angeles via phone to discuss Anderson’s recent looks, Ramsey suddenly shrieks with excitement. “Someone is walking by me right now in this huge fluffy hat. It is so Pam!”
She saw an even more literal homage to Anderson’s famed 1999 VMAs look at the New York premiere of Anderson’s documentary, Pamela, A Love Story. “An older woman was wearing a big pink hat, and she carried a hat box around! It was amazing,” Ramsey says. Maybe you’ve seen the tributes, too, like the ones on TikTok, where a Pamela Anderson filter with more than 345 million views will give you her signature smoky eye and skinny brow. “Everyone keeps saying the skinny brow is coming back, but, you know, she has always had them,” Ramsey points out.
Some of the desire among young people to look like they were hand-plucked from the ’90s can be traced back to Anderson. Sure, dressing like you’re from the decade that preceded your birth has always been appealing; it feels almost paranormal, a way to time-travel and become a version of yourself that could never exist now. But there’s a very specific kind of ’90s throwback dressing—halfway between the serious elegance of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and the eccentric playful kitschness of the Spice Girls—that feels pioneered by Anderson herself. It’s a look that can encompass a white crop top with light-wash cutoff denim shorts or a slinky neutral slipdress with sharp kitten heels. And there’s no one who has ever pulled it off quite like Anderson, whose megawatt smile radiates the kind of confidence everyone wants.
Her style is sexy without being over-the-top, and put-together without feeling complicated. It also tends to generate the mistaken impression that being this sexy is easy: Just wear something simple that shows some cleavage and you’re done. Unfortunately, that attitude is what made people think they were entitled to Anderson for decades. As her son Brandon Thomas Lee says in Pamela, A Love Story, “I don’t think people consider her the owner of her own image. It’s Pamela Anderson: public property.”
Ten minutes into our conversation, Ramsey and I are already raving about Anderson’s ’90s looks. Of course, there’s the pink feathered hat she wore with sequined pants and a white corset in 1999. But there’s also her black leather bustier and mesh opera gloves from the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, and her gigantic wide-brim hat and sheer dress from the 1997 American Music Awards. What she was doing in the ’90s—creating saucy looks that were seductive and incredibly individualized without being unnecessarily serious—is what so many people think they’re doing now with fast-fashion dupes inspired by her ’90s wardrobe.
“We owe her so much,” Ramsey says to me. “The sad thing that’s come out of documentaries of women in the ’90s, though, is that it just shows how they were treated. The ’90s were an amazing time in fashion, but they were terrible in how the media treated women.”
Anderson was born in Ladysmith, Canada, and was discovered on the Jumbotron at a BC Lions Canadian football game, wearing a Labatt's beer T-shirt. She briefly became the spokesmodel for the brewery before catching the attention of Playboy, which flew her out to Los Angeles to shoot the cover of its October 1989 issue. She went on to model for the magazine and became a Playmate, eventually shooting more covers than anyone in the brand’s history. In her documentary, she explains that the magazine essentially worked as her agent—they were the ones who received the call asking if she would be interested in auditioning for Baywatch, a weekly series about a group of lifeguards on a California beach. After turning down an audition 11 times, Anderson eventually gave in. Once she was cast as lifeguard CJ Parker, the show shot her to international fame.
Everyone wanted to know Anderson at the time, but no one more than Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, who flew out to Cancun in February of 1995, after she mentioned to him she would be there for a photo shoot. They met up at a club, a night she described as a “big happy blur” where they “felt invincible,” and a few days later, they were married on the beach. Anderson famously wore a white string swimsuit.
Later that year, a homemade sex tape was stolen from the couple’s home and widely distributed. Anderson said it caused the end of her career as she knew it. She became a punch line on talk shows, where male hosts felt more entitled than ever to ask questions about her body. Nearly two decades later, in 2022, she would have to relive the pain of people profiting off her stolen intimacy with the release of Hulu’s miniseries Pam and Tommy, a show she has refused to watch and that was made against her wishes.
So how exactly does it feel to style one of the most famous sex symbols of all time for the press tour of her documentary and book—projects she’s using to finally take control of the narrative everyone else has tried to write for her? “The stakes were really, really, really high,” Ramsey says.
Ramsey met Anderson on a shoot just a couple months ago. “They wanted me to meet her, and I think she’s so special. I know it is such a loosely used word, but she is an icon. She’s a pop culture and fashion icon.” She said yes because it would be unimaginable to say no— “Of course, I wanted to meet her!”—but also because “I just felt like this was a really special opportunity to be there for someone and their most real self, but also to support the glamor of the red carpet.”
What many people don’t realize about Anderson is that she loves fashion, not just clothes. That’s why her most famous looks are burned into the brains of anyone who’s seen them—because she is clearly having fun with everything she wears. Her outfits have always had an energy to them, a vibe you can’t DIY.
“She is a real person, and she loves fashion,” Ramsey says. “She has excellent taste! She loves The Row and she loves Brunello Cucinelli. She likes nice things. She likes to be cozy. She loves luxury!” Anderson was, after all, close personal friends with Vivienne Westwood, having walked in her shows and starred in a handful of campaigns. On the brand’s page on YouTube, you can find a video of the duo six years ago in Hydra, Greece, sitting on some steps discussing what it means to be an activist in between fits of laughter.
For the first look of the tour at the film’s Los Angeles premiere, Ramsey and Anderson decided on a red Naeem Khan dress that referenced her famous Baywatch one-piece. “I love a nod, and it doesn’t feel like too much. It’s all about her owning her story and owning her image in a fabulous dress. It was minimal and not going to overpower her; we all know she looks good in red and a subtle sparkle. When she put it on, it was just like,‘Wow!’” On social media, people responded with a wave of joy. Here was Pamela Anderson, as we’ve all come to know and love her, dressed for an entirely new chapter. Even Ramsey Instagrammed a red-carpet photo with the caption, “She invented red.”
As the tour went on, Ramsey and Anderson decided to use vintage to continue referencing the past without being too on the nose. “Pamela was so open to vintage, which I thought was so cool. And it wasn’t the vintage ’90s pieces you remember Pam wearing but more grown-up, sophisticated looks from that era.”
For her appearance on the TODAY show, she wore a sleek and polished navy suit that Tom Ford designed for Gucci in 1995. She went even more classic for Jimmy Kimmel Live! in another piece from the same collection: a feminine little black pleated tea dress with a sweet neckline and black pumps.
I think the best photos of that look aren’t of her on air, but of her walking off set, wearing cat-eye sunglasses, with a beige trench coat folded in the crook of her arm. She resembles Audrey Hepburn, but not in the way people who dress up as Pamela Anderson resemble Pamela Anderson. It’s not a costume—she is simply embodying the grace of a woman who insists on dressing for herself even when she knows everyone’s looking at her.
On The Howard Stern Show, Anderson wore a “sweet vintage Alaïa dress,” as Ramsey puts it, in a similar silhouette— “I was like, ‘Yeah! We’re wearing FASHION to Howard Stern!’” Then there was the houndstooth Yohji Yamamoto skirt suit for the New York press leg, styled with a 2009 Alexander McQueen blouse and little leather gloves. Anderson looked bookish and Edwardian, but also a bit punk. The looks weren’t as skin-baring as those from the ’90s, but they still felt sexy, if not sexier, letting Anderson’s ladylike poise shine through. (After all, that composed coolness is what made her look untouchably hot in the first place.)
Ramsey loved how unexpected the vintage houndstooth Yohji Yamamoto skirt suit, worn with a McQueen blouse and gloves, looked. “In the beginning, I don’t think Pam really liked it, but I said, ‘No, this is going to be good.’ And then, she finally put it on and we all said, ‘Oh yeah, this is good.’ I think it was maybe my favorite look!”
That same kind of electric elegance was visible in her not-entirely-vintage looks, like an all-beige layered Magda Butrym outfit consisting of a tie-neck blouse worn with tapered cream pants and a trench coat thrown over the shoulders. Or a slinky white archival Alexander McQueen cowl-neck slipdress worn with a striped Sergio Hudson coat that mimicked the marquee of New York’s Paris Theater.
Some of the people who wrote off Anderson because of her stolen sex tape are probably seeing the Pamissance (the name her comeback has earned online) as an attempt to move away from her sexy image. But as she’s said in her documentary and in countless interviews, “I’m not a damsel in distress.” She doesn’t need your redemption, and she isn’t trying to alter people’s perceptions of her. Last month, she even told The New York Times, “I guess the sex symbol-y thing is part of what people think of me and it’s not like I’m trying to change it.”
If anything, the celebrity persona she and Ramsey are using fashion to create is that of a woman who doesn’t necessarily desire change as much as she wants control. Anderson’s looks, after all, have always had panache.
It’s why Simon Porte Jacquemus cast her to be the star of Jacquemus’s Christmas campaign this past winter, Donatella Versace wanted her to sit front row in a sequined feather cape at her fall 2023 show in Los Angeles two weeks ago, and Marco Falcioni had her open the Hugo Boss show in Miami the other week. Anderson is a muse for designers because despite everything she’s been through, she epitomizes the confidence clothing is supposed to give you. She has that aplomb everyone tries to sew into hemlines.
“I always hoped … I would do something which would be more interesting to people than my body,” Anderson says in Pamela, A Love Story. Maybe she doesn’t realize it yet, but it’s finally happened. Everyone is talking about Pamela Anderson again, not because of the tape or her figure or her pretty blonde hair, but because she has proven time and time again to have a style entirely her own. Her 55 years’ worth of big hats, tiny baby tees, and, now, excellent archival dresses that prove nothing is sexier than a woman who knows who she is, and who has never tried to be anything but herself.
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