Fashion Trends Popularized By Madonna

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Madonna, known as the "Queen of Pop," burst onto the scene in 1984. Over her almost 40-year career as an entertainer, she's pushed societal boundaries with her fashion statements. She has regularly reinvented herself through her knack of discovering fringe fads and harnessing them as her own — establishing the looks as quintessentially Madonna. Her stylist, Arianne Phillips, told Billboard, "Mostly what Madonna wears is an evolution of what is relevant at the time." 

Madonna helped break barriers during a time of convention, along with other fearless artists before and beside her, opening the doors for younger generations. Before the internet, she used her platform to bolster alternative fashion and culture on the mainstream stage. The effect she's had can be described as a "phenomenon," according to academic Douglas Kellner in his book "Media Culture." Kellner also wrote that "Madonna's constant change of image and identity promoted experimentation and the creation of one's own fashion and style."

In 2016, Madonna was honored with the woman of the year award at Billboard's Women in Music event. Her realistic, yet cynical, acceptance speech recounted her difficulties as she carved a path in the industry. "Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant misogyny, sexism, constant bullying, and relentless abuse," she said.

The iconic cone bra

Madonna's "Blond Ambition" tour in 1990 rocketed her status from pop star to fashion icon. The show-stopping pink cone bra she revealed on the tour is now synonymous with Madonna and a key part of pop-culture history. Renowned designer Jean Paul Gaultier created the bra as part of a personal request from Madonna for tour looks (via Vogue). The garment helped spread the trend of underwear as outerwear, which is "the look for fall 2022," according to InStyle.

Gaultier's version coupled with Madonna's persona made the cone bra a defiant statement piece, with hard spikes in place of soft curves. After many centuries of body-morphing corsets defining the shape of a woman, the cone bra aggressively defied this silhouette. In 1991, the pair created another fashion moment at the Cannes Film Festival, with a silk conical bra and corset bloomers (pictured above). This was not an entirely new design, but Gaultier's intricate details and Madonna's idea of wearing undergarments with only a pink satin coat was a fresh take.

The look is reminiscent of various lingerie designs of the 1930s-1960s — specifically the bullet bra, which was first created to "protect" women working in factories during wartime (via NPR). An exaggerated bullet bra came about in 1941, purely for fashion, made popular by pinups like Marilyn Monroe. Later reimagined by Gaultier, the look was unveiled on the runway in 1984, and was later popularized by Gaultier and Madonna in the early '90s. 

The pantsuit phenomenon

Pants have long been associated with men and positions of power (via HuffPost). In the early 1800s, women didn't really wear pants; clothing was primarily designed for accentuating curves (via The Saturday Evening Post). In 1863, a law was passed criminalizing being in "a dress not belonging to his or her sex" as part of an anti-indecency campaign (via Arresting Dress). However, throughout history, women defied the rules and stepped into trousers, including film star Marlene Dietrich, to whom Madonna paid homage with her look at her 2013 "MDNA" tour documentary premiere

Fast forward to the 1970s, when Bianca Jagger's suits were her signature style. Clothing began shifting back to past ideas of gender in the '80s, but Madonna shook things up in "Express Yourself by donning a black-tailed, double-breasted suit with a monocle, which also revealed her bra — combining the ideas of masculine and feminine sexuality. 

Madonna has continued to turn heads in fashion-forward suits. She wore a white suit bedazzled with "Mrs. Ritchie" across the back to the 2001 premiere of then-husband Guy Ritchie's movie "Snatch," which became another iconic moment. For the 2014 Grammy Awards, Madonna twinned with 8-year-old son David in perfectly fitted Ralph Lauren suits and matching black hats.  For the 2016 Billboard Women in Music Awards, she made an impact in a multicolored two-piece satin suit, with a dazzling pattern of embroidered gold tigers running down the front. We can't wait to see how she'll elevate her suit look next!

Vintage and eclectic patterns

The early 1980s ushered in a "more is more" aesthetic: excessive jewelry, layering, clashing patterns, neon, and vintage. Madonna embraced the look, inspiring the fashion-forward youth of the day. She has never been embarrassed to share that she loves thrifted pieces, telling Jane Pauley on the "Today Show" in 1987 that she found her 1950s blue floral dress at a thrift store for only $5.00. The vintage fashion trend minimized the cost barriers usually associated with fashion. The '80s were ripe with experimentation in fashion, such as the underground drag queen and club-kid scenes.

Madonna wore her quintessentially '80s ensemble shown above during her "Virgin Tour" in 1985, featuring a cropped shirt, purple lace leggings, a belted miniskirt, and a patterned bomber jacket, topped off with a bow. The underground fashion trends were also celebrated by singer Cyndi Lauper, who wore the look shown above while performing at the opening of San Francisco's first Hard Rock Cafe in '84. Lauper's free-spirited energy came through in her eclectic style.

Lauper was the most-nominated artist at the very first VMAs, winning the best female video for "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." That was the same awards show where Madonna made history by wearing a virginal-white wedding dress, while pushing the limits with an overtly sexual performance. Madonna told Jimmy Fallon that after the performance, her manager told her that her "career was over with." But as we now know, it was quite the opposite.

Tomboy style

Throughout the 20th century, women who wore menswear fashion bucked trends with their rebellious tomboy style. "This gripping style combats convention and deliberately declares independence from the norm," Lizzie Garrett Mettler explained in the book, "Tomboy Style: Beyond the Boundaries of Fashion." She goes on to say, "the rebel wears more than clothing, she wears a statement."

Madonna debuted an understated tomboy look in 1986's "Papa Don't Preach." The video shows the singer wearing cropped short hair, a black leather jacket, dialed-down T-shirts, and trousers. This new look showed a side of Madonna with a punk edge. One of her most controversial songs, the video tells the story of an unwed pregnant girl who decides to keep her baby.

One artist featured in Mettler's "Tomboy Style" book is Debbie Harry (pictured above), the iconic bleach-blonde front woman of the new wave punk band Blondie. "She oozed sex appeal in a T-shirt and wore platinum blonde hair with the toughness of a punk rocker," Mettler wrote. As Madonna rose to the top, Harry was pushed aside for a time, but remains a cult icon. "I came right up against the Madonna thing. Maybe it's my paranoia, but she had a lot of my looks," Harry said to Express. "If you look closely, sometimes there's pictures of her and me that completely overlap." In an interview, Madonna spoke of being inspired by the Blondie front woman, so maybe Harry was onto something.

Corsets, bustiers, and lingerie as fashion

Celebrities have been using lingerie to make bold fashion statements for years, Madonna being a key proponent of the look. In her 1987 "Open Your Heart" video, she wears a provocative bustier with gold nipple caps and tassels. The look is reminiscent of burlesque dancers from the 1920s (via Allure).

Jean Paul Gaultier created the show-stopping corset (pictured above) for Madonna's MDNA Tour in 2012. "We played with the ideas of a suit and a corset. But the corset is now like a cage," Gaultier told Women's Wear Daily. "What I have done this time is a nod to the conical bra corset of the Blond Ambition tour, but reinterpreted in 3-D, in patent leather on the outside with metallic leather on the inside."

Superstar Grace Jones often showcased underwear as a fashion look in the 1970s. According to i-D, her avant-garde, androgynous style influenced the culture of the '70s and '80s. Jones has often worn iconic bustiers, including the caged corset dress from 1989 shown above. 

Jones spoke about Madonna "copying" her style in an interview with Dazed. "You know Madonna used to come around and watch me. I know because kids would always say, 'You know who was there? Madonna was there.'" She went on to offer advice for future artists: "If I was having a class of upcoming artists, I would simply say, whatever it is you feel to do, do it before you go looking outside of yourself."

The Material Girl's Monroe years

Over the years, Madonna has showcased her love of fashion icons from bygone eras. In her 1984 music video for "Material Girl," she pays homage to Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" performance in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." In the video, Madonna wears an almost identical pink strapless dress, pink gloves, Monroe's signature hair and makeup, and — of course — diamonds. 

Many other celebrities have taken a page from Monroe's style book. Caroline Young, author of "Classic Hollywood Style," told Time that "her image has been entwined with these on-screen moments where she's wearing amazing costumes that stand out." Many of Monroe's on-screen looks were crafted by costume designer William Travilla, who created the original pink strapless dress.

Madonna showcased another tribute look to Monroe during her performance of "Sooner or Later" at the 1991 Oscars. She wore a Monroe-inspired Bob Mackie gown accessorized with Harry Winston diamonds on her neck and wrists — estimated to be worth an astounding $20 million.

Madonna came under fire in 2021 for another "tribute" to her idol, which many found inappropriate and morbid. Madonna posed in a hotel room for a racy photo shoot with photographer Steven Klein. It was said to be inspired by Bert Stern's "The Last Sitting" photo shoot with Marilyn — which took place six weeks before her death — but many images looked more like the photos from her tragic deathbed scene, per the Mirror.

Punk rock fishnets, leather, and boots

In 1986, with the release of her album "True Blue," Madonna showcased a more low-key look, fluctuating between glamour and punk with fishnet stockings, boots, and leather. Although Madonna has changed styles over the years, she often comes back to this one. In 2005's "Hung Up," she added some early 2000s flare, changing to more subtle fishnets, a purple leather jacket, and matching boots. 

Women and men have been wearing fishnets, leather, and boots since the 1970s. Ari Up, frontwoman of the London post-punk band The Slits, (pictured above in a classic punk look) was a trailblazer who embodied the punk spirit, per The Guardian. '70s British punk bands like The Slits and the Sex Pistols inspired fashion trends for later artists like Madonna. Josh McConnell, founder of Straight to Hell apparel, told Rolling Stone that the Sex Pistols would owe their fashion style to designers Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.

Madonna continues to explore her punk side: At 2013's Met Ball, she wore ripped fishnet stockings; a studded, belted, tartan jacket; and leather gloves, with no bottom piece — incorporating her underwear as a fashion element. Speaking about the look, she said that she's a fan of Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. "I wanted to do my own thing, put my own twist on it," she said (via the Independent). Even in 2022, she's still rocking the leather and fishnets, often posting her looks on Instagram.

Vogue and its gender-bending fashion

For decades, designers have been creating designs that have challenged the traditional gendering of fashion. Madonna's inspiration for her 1990 music video "Vogue" stemmed from the Ballroom, or Ball, culture of the '80s, which dates back to the 1920s-1930s Balls in Harlem, where women wore men's clothes and vice versa.  

Rolling Stone explained Ball culture as a way for queer Blacks and Latinos to express themselves in a time when they were "devalued" and "erased." House Balls of the '80s evolved to include competitions like "Vogue" — an improv dance inspired by fashion-model poses (via History). José Gutiérrez and Luis Camacho then turned it into choreography for Madonna's "Vogue" video. Gutiérrez explained, "It's always been around, but it took somebody like Madonna to bring it mainstream, I think." They also choreographed Madonna's Blond Ambition tour, shown in her "Truth or Dare" documentary. 

Pop legend Annie Lennox from the Eurythmics (pictured above) also pushed the boundaries. Lennox has been an androgynous style icon since the 1980s, with her trademark cropped hair and masculine fashions. She experimented with masculine dominatrix style in the Eurythmics' 1986 music video for "Missionary Man." Then two years after "Vogue" in '92, Madonna released the album "Erotica," continuing her exploration of sexuality and gender through her art. In the music video for "Erotica," Madonna role-plays as masked Mistress Dita, who wears a gender-mixing outfit: a sheer black top with an attached suit shirt collar and black necktie, over a black corset. 

Sexy lace and silk

For her first awards show, Madonna made an impact wearing a sheer lace dress, gloves, and the now famous "Boy Toy" belt. Madonna had the help of a talented stylist to create that image — Maripol. The designer told Yahoo! that during "The Virgin Tour," she thought Madonna's stage costumes were too similar to Prince's "Purple Rain" looks. She said to her, "You're Madonna. Why don't you keep a bit of what you have?"

Prince and Madonna actually dated briefly in 1985, and had a duet on the track "Love Song" for her "Like a Prayer" album. After the breakup, Madonna and Prince had a decade-long beef that they finally squashed in 2011. Prince was a legendary style icon, breaking barriers with his androgynous fashion for over four decades. With the release of his film "Purple Rain," Prince perfected his iconic look of ruffled lace shirts and patterned silk fabrics. He worked closely with designers to create his looks, but kept creative control over all aspects of his visuals. Authentic sketches show annotations by Prince, and there are reports of him drawing some designs himself (via The Costume Society). 

Prince created looks for both himself and his protégés, helping other artists throughout his career. He actually designed a couple of jackets for Madonna, including the coat above that she wore for the Live Aid benefit concert in 1985. On Instagram, she recently posted a throwback picture of her wearing a jacket Prince gave her.