6 Fashion and Music Experts Speak on Aaliyah’s Trendsetting Style
When it comes to style, Aaliyah was that chick.
Even as a
teenager, the R&B siren strutted onto the scene with her 1994 debut album, 'Age Ain't Nothing But a Number,' dipped in threads that women in R&B were only flirting with at the time. She took every possible element of cool -- baggy jeans, midriffs, slick shades and bandanas -- and threw them all together to represent the lady she wanted to be, which was apparently one who didn't want to be defined by her gender yet still celebrated her body.
That style would evolve just as her music did. Baby Girl adopted a sexy yet chic take on tomboy fashion moving into her 1996 sophomore album, 'One in a Million.' She often dressed like a hot extra from 'The Matrix.' Leather jumpsuits, cut-up raincoats, you name it; Aaliyah took typical styles and deconstructed them to fit her own aesthetic. The result was successful, to say the very least.
1998 was a pivotal year for Aaliyah's style journey. Prior to that time, she shunned the idea of wearing dresses, as if to impress upon the masses that she could still be feminine without the signature garb. However, at the 70th Annual Oscars that year, she wore a dress as she sang her award-winning song 'Journey to the Past' from Disney's 'Anastasia' soundtrack. She would also rock a skirt that same year in her video for 'Are You That Somebody,' a song off the 'Dr. Doolittle' soundtrack.
Slowly, the clothing she chose to step out in was entering more mature territory, and by the time she released her third (and final) self-titled album in 2001, the songstress had fully integrated skirts and dresses into her previous pants-only mandate. Even then, it was on her terms, with her own influence heavily exercised.
You'd be hard-pressed to find any female artist in 2014 who hasn't at least once tried to replicate something from Aaliyah's wardrobe: sunglasses with a dressy outfit, ombre hair. Something. Anything. The lauded chanteuse may no longer be with us, but she remains fashionably ours. As her debut album turns 20 this year and the Lifetime Original Movie, 'Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B,' premieres Sat., Nov. 15, at 8/7c, the Boombox taps various experts in fashion and music to get their take on Aaliyah's style. There's a lot to be said.
"The best thing about Aaliyah was her mysterious element. It always seemed to translate through her fashion. I think she really had her finger on the pulse to what girls were wearing at the time of her debut. It was the height of tomboy fashions, where bigger and baggier were key elements. As she got older you saw her hang onto some of her authentic tomboy vibes and add elements of sexy, as she herself evolved into womanhood.
"Her mystery intrigued us. It was her confidence and poise that made us want to follow her every move. Nothing felt forced, every look she wore very much felt authentic to her fashion DNA.
"Every time I see a girl with baggy jeans paired with a bra top, Aaliyah comes to mind. There's a bit of power in an outfit that balances sexy and tomboy. It's a 'yes you can look; but don't even think of touching.' Singers like Rihanna, who bring the confidence and mystery, and Tinashe who keep the sexy tomboy look up to date are all influenced by Aaliyah's style."
"Early on in her career, Aaliyah was definitely dressing more Tom Boy-esque, heavily graphic, branded, with oversized fits. As she matured, her style became more sophisticated, more feminine, just like most of us women!
"However, I definitely do think she's always owned a real unique signature Aaliyah look throughout the seven years. Her style evolution was slight and she always remained true to her signature look. She was no chameleon like Madonna, for example, in seven years her hairstyle didn't change once! Her most iconic look of course is a Sports Bra, oversized Hilfiger Jeans and Timbs! That look is unforgettable and truly unique to Aaliyah. She invented that look. I think it resonated because it was a bit rebellious, very authentic and new/fresh for the time. No one else was really pulling that off in an authentic way.
"Is Aaliyah's style still reflected today? Of course. In Ciara, Rihanna, Teyana Taylor and Chris Brown. Ha!"
"Aaliyah’s continued influence musically and stylistically can’t be overstated. Emerging as a shy-rude-girl-next-door, her dungarees, wife-beater, boxers, bandanna, Timbs and shades made an immediate impact. The 14-year-old tomboy offered an alternative take on the more mature mid-90’s R&B image, that at the time was populated by Mariah, Boyz II Men and Toni Braxton.
"Here was a singer that was palpably touchable to teenage girls everywhere; you could go to the mall and recreate this look effortlessly and without breaking the bank. Want to rock Tommy Hilfiger boxers but don’t have the cash for designer pants? I headed straight to my local market for the knock-off Tommmy Hilfiger version. NBD. Who remembers the name belt (inscribed with ‘Baby Girl,' natch). I remember being on New York's Canal Street at that time and buying myself the LED version. Cool. She was a tangible pop-star who offered a defined and therefore easily replicable look. It also made her iconic.
"Even as her look changed over later years, you could still immediately recall the vision of Aaliyah in an instant. She was the girl on the block that was talented and beautiful, but not unattainably so. Aaliyah was so damn cool. It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing a return to this look on the high street now; during economically challenging times, we’re putting away the flash and reaching for unisex streetwear and workman boots of old. You can’t walk five seconds down the streets of Shoreditch, Silverlake or Park Slope and not see a fly girl rocking a crop top, baggy pants and Timbs. You can see Aaliyah’s look replicated both on the street, in pop videos and on the catwalk (see: Y3); Rita Ora, Ciara, Rihanna and Cassie all continue to channel the low-slung homegirl look. Credit: Aaliyah Dana Haughton.
"Aaliyah’s look went through many iterations, and it was in her late teens, early twenties when she met new mentors Missy Elliott and Timbaland that Baby Girl became More Than A Woman. The sophisticated look matched the newly stripped back sound of 'One in a Million.' The shades were still there, but the baggy jeans were gone. Her third and final album, 'Aaliyah,' the shades were finally nowhere to be seen and the hair had curls. There were bras and sheer, see-through shirts; this was a woman confident in her sexuality. She managed the transformation from teen ingenue to R&B superstar effortlessly.
"Aaliyah managed to define a generation during her short time in this cold, cold world. She managed mysterious with an approachability that was enviable. She wasn’t crazy, but she was sexy and cool. It’s impossible to predict what Aaliyah would look like as a 35-year-old, but it’s safe to assume, we’d all be trying to look like her too."
"Right before our eyes, Aaliyah grew up from the precocious, baggy jeans-wearing teenager in 'Back and Forth' to the toned young woman dressed in all white we remember from her turn-of-the-millennium videos.
"But what separated her from, say, the Britneys and the Christinas of the music world, was the absolute grace she brought to the sex symbol side of her public image. There was a measure of sophistication to all the midriff-baring -- and let's not forget that Aaliyah was baring her midriff years before Britney Spears was a household name.
"When 'Back and Forth' put Aaliyah in the public consciousness, visually, it was easy to pick out her style influences: one part Da Brat's confidence in a male-dominated R&B/hip-hop field, a heavy helping of TLC's oversized wardrobe sense and a whole lot of Janet Jackson's denim a la 'Poetic Justice.'
"By the time the decade changed and she returned to music with 'Try Again' and, subsequently, her third album, there were no more comparisons to be made; Aaliyah, now a young woman who knew who she was, was setting style trends rather than following them."
"When Aaliyah first hit the scene, she made it cool to wear baggy pants, bandanas, jerseys and still was able to maintain a sexy feminine feel to her look. Then she moved onto a lot of leather, crop tops, smokey eyes and combat boots. Very biker chick. Now, when the 'We Need a Resolution' video dropped, we all saw Aaliyah's look mature when she rocked a strappy deep v-neck dress for the first time and that's what solidified her versatility in fashion.
"She definitely mastered the balance between a street style and couture. I'll never forget the yellow [Roberto] Cavalli dress she wore to the 2000 MTV VMAs when she won Female Video of the Year for 'Try Again.' From combat boots to that super sexy dress, she could do it all. I see Aaliyah's influence in Ciara, Teyana Taylor, Cassie and even new artists like Tinashe. Aaliyah passed away 13 years ago yet you still see her style influence even the regular everyday girl's fashion to this day."
"When we think of Aaliyah as a fashion icon, it's hard to really put into words what she was trying to achieve because, to be frank, she's always been effortlessly laid-back.
"There are plenty of female artists out right now that look up to her or have been inspired both musically, and aesthetically, but there's an effort that can't be ignored, whereas Aaliyah just was that cool.
"When you look at younger artists like a Tinashe, or someone like Rihanna, it spans generations of women right now -- hell, even Drake is inspired, obviously.
"But it always seemed so effortless with Aaliyah, both with music and fashion, that no matter how much she inspired younger artists today, there will never be another her."