The Evolution Of Mariah Carey's Wardrobe

Few singers have reached the iconic status of Mariah Carey. Although it's been a hot minute since she's dropped a new album, her presence within the cultural landscape is omnipresent, her impact unwavering. With the holiday season steadily approaching, Carey's pipes will soon be heard throughout shopping malls and office Christmas parties across the globe. Dubbed the "Queen of Christmas," her dulcet tones are enough to make even the Grinchiest party-poopers don a Santa hat and break out the eggnog.

For over 30 years, Carey has regaled us not only with her music but also with her unique wardrobe. Throughout the decades, she has undergone numerous style transformations, some of which are so disparate from her current M.O. that they're guaranteed to make us exclaim, "I don't know her." But when it comes to her personal style, Carey is willing to acknowledge her flops as much as her slays. "You get photographed everywhere," she told WWD. "You look at it one day, and it's gone the next, or they can dwell on it for a week. Within a couple of days, there is somebody else doing something in the world that is a little more interesting than a bad outfit."

She may be the Xmas queen, but she's also the extra queen. As we enter the festive season and prepare to bust a move to "All I Want for Christmas is You," let's take a look at the evolution of Mariah Carey's wardrobe.

Mariah Carey favored slinky black dresses in her early career

When Mariah Carey first made her mark on the pop landscape in 1990, she was the epitome of '90s chic. Though famed for her blond locks, Carey started out as a brunette who often wore slinky, monochromatic outfits. This look was typical of the era; slip dresses in particular were favored by the decade's female celebs. But Carey, unsure of herself at the time, was still figuring out her individual aesthetic. "I was such a kid, just in over my head," she admitted to Pride Source, "but I knew that I was gonna do this for my life and soooo: I probably would've been like, 'Who does your hair and makeup?'" She also noted that stylists often dressed her in all black: "They did. It was just like, ahhh, such a long story. You don't even wanna know."

In 1991, Carey, then only 20 years old, won two Grammys. Her look at the ceremony was unforgettable: cascading chestnut curls and a black bodycon dress with diamond straps, which matched her oversized earrings. Getting glammed up for the glitzy event was poignant for Carey, who told Interview that she grew up wearing the same three shirts on rotation due to growing up in poverty.

Continuing with the monochromatic looks of her early career, she donned a white Chanel suit at the brand's 1994 luncheon. Unfortunately, Carey revealed, the suit, along with a black-and-white set that Chanel gifted her, was stolen from her closet.

The singer's festive look is unforgettable

Christmas isn't complete without a rousing rendition of "All I Want for Christmas is You." Its status as a festive staple has only grown over time; though cheesy, the song is nonetheless earnest, a testament to Mariah Carey's love of Christmas. The track was released in October 1994 and went on to break the Guinness World Record for highest-charting holiday song on the Billboard US Hot 100.

Following its release, Carey went all out showcasing her Christmas wardrobe. For the song's music video, she rocked a red jumpsuit as she frolicked in the woods. Moreover, she famously wore a red Mrs. Claus ensemble, complete with a white fluffy collar and sleeves. She also donned the outfit on the cover of her "Merry Christmas" album. Embarking on her Christmas press tour that year, Carey's styles were again on point, with the singer sporting a red leather jacket with a furry white hood and pairing jeans with crimson stilettos. She told Interview that her festive aesthetic was partly inspired by Marilyn Monroe: "[She] was fabulously festive and gorgeous and fun and camp."

Carey continued with the Christmas slays (or sleighs) in the coming years. Performing at the Tokyo Dome in 1996, she put a retro '60s spin on the Mrs. Claus 'fit, wearing a red minidress and white go-go boots. The look was a homage to the second "All I Want for Christmas is You" music video, which was itself inspired by The Ronettes.

She became a blond bombshell in the late '90s

By the late '90s, Mariah Carey's wardrobe experienced a dramatic shift. She swapped the chestnut curls for straight blond locks; no longer the ingénue, she described to Pride Source, she exhibited a sexier style.

At the 1997 VMAs, she wowed in a black bandeau-and-slit skirt ensemble. She explained to Vogue that it signaled a shift in her autonomy as an artist — she was finally able to wear whatever she wanted (earlier that year she had split from her husband, Tommy Mottola, whom she alleges was abusive). "You can tell that I'm actually happy," she said. "It was a new moment; it was freedom. It was not being controlled by anybody."

She continued the sultry looks throughout the late '90s, donning a chic LBD and later a white bra-and-skirt combo in the "Honey" music video — one of her favorite '90s moments, she told Refinery29. "I was on a boat with my hair blowing," she said, "and I was tied up in the Dolce & Gabbana dress." Famously, Carey is a Marilyn Monroe fangirl, and her 2020 memoir, "The Meaning of Mariah Carey," reveals that she grew up mesmerized by the starlet's style, which may explain her transition into blond bombshell territory.

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The singer rocked a ton of denim in the 2000s

When it comes to both her changing musical style and her wardrobe, Mariah Carey has always been one to keep up with the times, albeit in her own unique way. There was no escaping denim at the dawn of the millennium, and Carey happily embraced the trend. In her 1999 music video for "Heartbreaker," she once again showcased an entirely new look, replacing her chic dresses with a pink halter top and low-rise jeans.

In a 2017 interview with Vogue, the singer argued that she was one of the originators of the low-rise jeans trend that went on to dominate the aughts. She recalled telling her stylist that she hated wearing high-waisted jeans, so she decided to rip off the top of the waistband. "And then I noticed a lot of people started wearing jeans ripped off," she said, "Like, the top ripped off ... I'm not taking total credit."

The star continued to don denim in the early days of Y2K. In 2000 and 2001, she wore a number of camisole-and-denim combos. One such look, pictured above, which she rocked at VH1's "Divas 2000: A Tribute to Diana Ross," remains among her most iconic. Epitomizing the peak of Y2K chic, Carey paired an intricate Emanuel Ungaro butterfly halter top with low-rise jeans and strappy stilettos. The look is so legendary that Blumarine released its own butterfly top-and-jeans combo in 2021, apparently inspired by Carey's 'fit.

Mariah Carey really glittered in the mid aughts

Following the release of her much-maligned movie "Glitter" in 2001, Mariah Carey switched between her aforementioned Y2K aesthetic and a more glam wardrobe. In 2003, she embarked on her Charmbracelet tour, which saw her undergo numerous costume changes.

One such ensemble featured a pink tasseled romper adorned with glitter and velvet, two materials that featured heavily throughout the 2000s. A review by The New York Times noted that the tour marked a change in Carey's personal branding toward a more camp and OTT image akin to that of fellow superstar songstress Cher. By 2004, she was fully embracing her kitschy style transformation; appearing at the Fresh Air Fund Salute to American Heroes, she showcased a pink glitter dress that made her look like an IRL sparkly mermaid.

Two years later, she wore another figure-hugging shiny gown for her appearance at the Golden Globes. The black Karl Lagerfeld dress led to Carey, who was evidently and objectively slim at the time, being mercilessly body shamed by the press, symptomatic of the arguably toxic diet culture of the aughts. "Satin is a very unforgiving fabric," she reflected in an interview with Rolling Stone. "And what was I gonna do? Call frickin' Karl Lagerfeld and say, 'Can you please make it out of matte jersey instead?'" But she added that she loved her curves and had no intention of diminishing them. "The weight-obsessed workout monger is not my role model as a singer," she stated. 

Her style soon harked back to her early '90s debut

Toward the end of the 2000s, Mariah Carey's style was reminiscent of her chic early '90s looks, albeit with a modern Mimi twist. Appearing at red carpet events in 2009 with her then-husband Nick Cannon, whom she wed in the spring of 2008, she rocked simple light brown curls and LBDs, topped off with diamond jewelry.

Though she was the epitome of glam on the red carpet, the star soon proved that she was unafraid of shedding the designer gowns and makeup. That year, she played social worker Ms. Weiss in the harrowing drama "Precious," and fans got to see Carey like they'd never seen her before; the singer was nearly unrecognizable sporting brunette bangs and a drab, unflattering wardrobe. Speaking to The Guardian about the role, Carey admitted that eschewing her famous glam persona resulted in her insecurities regarding her looks bubbling to the surface. "I looked so damn ugly! ... I've always been very insecure about my looks, anyway," she explained. "Having led such a public life."

In an interview with The Telegraph, she discussed how disparate the character's wardrobe was from her own. "The hair was disgusting, and the clothes were horrible," she said. "I really had to let go of any vanity and not care about my good side or my bad side. I had to strip down everything I am and become a completely different woman."

She sported a chic maternity wardrobe

In 2010, Mariah Carey announced that she and Nick Cannon were expecting their first child. Throughout her pregnancy, Carey wore chic ensembles that were far simpler than her signature extra outfits. During an outing in Brazil that summer, she wore a plain brown maxi dress under a chunky knit orange cardigan. Without a doubt, this was not the OTT songbird we had come to expect.

Subsequently, in a chat with Vogue, she discussed how her style had changed due to pregnancy and conceded that she had to tone things down for comfort's sake. For instance, the self-proclaimed stiletto lover could only wear flats when she was expecting. "I'm a shoe fanatic ... [But] here's the only shoes that mattered," she explained, gesturing toward some comfy slides. "When I was pregnant that's all I could wear." This was indeed totally out of character for the superstar; as Lee Daniels once told The Guardian, "Mariah was born as an embryo in stiletto heels. She walks — even in her home — on her ... toenails!"

In December 2010, Carey even toned things down for her favorite holiday. Following the release of her album "Merry Christmas II You," the pregnant star performed "One Child" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" at the annual "Christmas in Washington" concert. A far cry from her usual camp festive wardrobe, she wore a simple sparkly red dress with a satin bow for the occasion.

Mariah Carey glammed it up in the 2010s

Following the birth of her twins in April 2011, Mariah Carey once again returned to the dazzling style we know and love. The following year, she was named "BMI Icon" at the BMI Urban Awards. Attending the ceremony, she sported a sleek black mermaid-esque gown and cascading blond curls — complete with her signature diamonds, of course. When she accepted her award, she poked fun at her supposed diva persona. "Go wide! I'm trying to get a better pose," the stylish star quipped to the photographers, per Rolling Stone.

And when she performed at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2013, she wore two stunning, figure-hugging dresses — one a silky red number and the other a bejeweled white gown. The latter looked straight out of Marilyn Monroe's wardrobe.

Later in the 2010s, she embraced yet more fun looks and career milestones. In 2015, Carey was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, accompanied by her impeccably dressed young children, donned a glitzy, glittery gown for the occasion. The following year, she discussed the importance of glamour on her show, "Mariah's World" (via Vanity Fair) and the contradictory backlash she's received for embracing an extravagant wardrobe. "They say, 'Oh, they want her to be grand . . . They want her to have glamorous clothes," she said. "'They don't want her to have glamorous clothes.' Can people make up their minds!"

Despite her New Year's Eve nightmare, Mariah Carey's outfits were on point

Though Mariah Carey is always the consummate professional, her 2016 New Year's Eve performance in Times Square was nothing short of disastrous. Throughout the painful performance, the singer struggled with sound difficulties and an apparent lip-syncing nightmare. Eventually, she walked off stage after making several awkward recommendations to the sound team.

She later blamed the slip-up on not using her usual team. "My true fans have been so supportive," she told Entertainment Weekly, "and I am so appreciative of them and everybody in the media that came out to support me after the fact because it really was an incredible holiday season that turned into a horrible New Year's Eve."

As calamitous as the night was, Carey's outfit nonetheless stole the show. Exemplifying her queen status, she wore a sparkly skin-toned bodysuit under fishnet tights and a lavish white fur coat. Thankfully, she redeemed herself for the following year's Times Square New Year's Eve performance, where she proved that she does indeed sing live. This time around, she wore a revealing glittery dress, once again topped off with a big fur coat that, one would hope, protected her from the Big Apple's big chill. At one point, she was also able to poke fun at her skimpy and not entirely winter appropriate attire, quipping, "I was told there would be hot tea," per the Daily Beast.

Mariah Carey's shimmering wardrobe reflected #JusticeForGlitter

Toward the end of the 2010s, Mariah Carey yet again embraced the power of the grandiose. In 2018, she embarked on her Las Vegas residency, which featured myriad fancy outfit changes, from a pearlescent angelic gown to flowy red ensembles. In an interview with People, her stylist, Nicolas Bru, discussed the process of dressing the superstar for the shows. "As for the show, it's split into four segments, so we did four different outfits ... For the ending, I wanted to do an angelic moment, so we had this show stopping white hand-embroidered, feathery dress," Bru said regarding the pearlescent dress.

In 2019, Carey was honored with the Icon accolade at the Billboard Music Awards. When attending the ceremony, the ageless star once again opted for black, turning heads in a glittery long-sleeved dress with a thigh-high slit. Perhaps the dress was a subtle nod at her recent attempts to destigmatize and reclaim her panned movie "Glitter" — that year, she told Variety that she was thankful to her fans (or "Lambs" as she dubbed them) for instigating the #JusticeforGlitter movement.

Though so often dubbed a diva, Carey was strikingly modest in her acceptance speech. "Icon? I really don't think of myself in that way," she admitted, per People. "I started making music out of a necessity to survive and to express myself and I just wanted to create something so I could feel worthy of existing."

Mariah Carey didn't allow the pandemic to cramp her OTT style

During lockdown, most of us channeled Adam Sandler chic, breaking out the hoodies and sweats as we Netflixed the day away for the umpteenth time. Not Mariah Carey, however. Trust Mimi to still come out dressed in her finery during a worldwide pandemic. In March 2020, Carey posted a video about the importance of handwashing on her Instagram. The singer, who was joined by her two children for the clip, was seen wearing a silky, plunging nightie and matching robe adorned with pearls. She was also decked out in diamonds, obviously.

Then, in December 2021, Carey headed to McDonald's, where the Mariah Menu had just launched, and wore a floor-length, sparkly red gown for the occasion. She topped off the look with a diamond-adorned face mask and matching gloves, proving that style and safety are not mutually exclusive. "We're just here and the kids wanted to go to McDonald's. I just need a cheeseburger," said the elegant star, per Page Six. Mood, Mariah.

Fittingly, she chatted to The Guardian during the pandemic to address longstanding claims that she's a high-maintenance diva. "I deserve to be at this point," she mused. "That may sound arrogant, but I hope you frame it within the context of coming from nothing. If I can't be high-maintenance after working my a** off my entire life, oh, I'm sorry — I didn't realize we all had to be low-maintenance. Hell, no!"

Fans are loving Mariah Carey's retro throwback style

No holiday season would be complete without the Queen of Christmas flaunting her finery. Testament to her love of extravagant Christmas garb, in October 2023, Mariah Carey designed her own festive dress for The Children's Place's holiday collection. Carey's look, simply known as "The Dress By Mariah Carey," is a red velour number that resembles something Mrs. Claus would wear after her glow-up. The collaboration also features children's clothing, which Carey had fun modeling with her two kids. "The twins love to dress up as much as I do during the holidays, and I love that they experiment with fashion," she told InStyle. "The twins and I had the best time ... when we shot the campaign. We could truly feel the Christmas magic, and I know we all looked and felt amazing in the outfits."

On November 1, Carey declared to her almost 13 million Instagram followers that it was time to start getting into the holiday spirit, posting a comical video of Halloween pumpkin ghouls releasing her from a block of ice as she declared "It's ...... TIME!!!" And, yes, she did wear her "All I Want for Christmas is You" Santa jumpsuit.

In December, she continued with the immaculate celebratory wardrobe. The star wowed at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, wear she wore a rhinestone-decked red minidress, pictured above, in one of her most stylish Xmas outfits to date.