R&B divas trade street for chic -- Stars like Amerie, Faith Evans, and Mariah Carey, now sport high-end fashions instead of trashy trends

You ain’t gotta dress street to be street,” said rapper Common, admiring the couture frocks at the 2005 BET Awards June 28 at L.A.’s Kodak Theatre. ”I love that women are dressing like women.” From Amerie, in a strapless yellow Valentino gown, to Faith Evans, in an aquamarine fit-and-flare dress by Matthew Williamson, hip-hop and R&B ladies are putting the fabulous back into ghetto. ”I’ve always liked to dress up,” says Evans. ”When I was a church girl, I wanted to wear what the upscale church girls had.”

It’s a long way from Sunday school to the red-carpet catwalk. While hip-hoppers like Eve and Lil’ Kim have long courted designers Cavalli, Fendi, and Versace, in an apparent bid to look as trashy and tacky as possible, they’re now embracing such refined and conservative couturiers as Chanel and Yves St. Laurent, normally associated with Hollywood royalty like Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron. A checklist: Harry Winston diamonds and Halston are now Queen Latifah’s best friends. Mariah Carey tapped Vogue style maven André Leon Talley to help clean up her look (her white Chance halter dress at the BET Awards was an improvement). And Lil’ Kim, who once wore a pasty over her breast at the MTV Video Music Awards, has bonded with the prince of tasteful, Marc Jacobs.

”The more the fashion world sees that hip-hop trendsetters can pull off high-end looks, the more designers want to be involved,” says stylist Tiffany Hasbourne, whose clients include Amerie and 50 Cent (yes, even hardcore rappers have stylists). ”[These women] are showing that hip-hop can be sophisticated and classy. You don’t have to have your butt out or look like a sex kitten to be accepted.”