Madonna's fashion evolution
Material Girl with a Rebel Heart
Ever since she released her debut album in 1983, Madonna’s been expressing herself through style — and had an impact on what’s in vogue every step of the way. In honor of the Queen of Pop’s 60th birthday, we’re shining a ray of light on her many sartorial reinventions over the last three and a half decades of her lucky stardom. Open your heart and get into the fashion groove, ahead.
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1983: The “Lucky Star” music video
Starlight, star bright, the star’s first look we see in the ‘80s is her “Lucky Star” video ensemble, consisting of a black mesh crop top, black fingerless lace gloves, a black ribbon in her hair, a black skirt over leggings, and stars and crucifixes (both of which will show up in her wardrobe constantly in the looks to come) dangling from her ears and around her waist.
1984: Onstage at Madison Square Garden
To perform in New York in 1984, she maximized her layered thrift-store look with bright lace leggings under a mismatched skirt, fingerless lace gloves, a bright patterned jacket, and black kitten-heeled booties.
1984: At the first VMAs
Wearing a white corset atop a white tulle skirt dotted with hearts, white elbow-length fingerless gloves, starry earrings and crucifix pendants, and a belt buckle stamping “BOY TOY” across her stomach, the pop star made awards show history and shocked the world when she performed “Like a Virgin” at the very first MTV Video Music Awards, emerging from the top of a wedding cake and then writhing and rolling around the VMA stage.
1985: In Desperately Seeking Susan
Madonna’s mid-‘80s edgy-girly look was perfected in Desperately Seeking Susan, in which she spent most of the film wearing a lacy black top under a black and gold embellished jacket, wildly accessorized with stacks of bracelets, lace gloves, a thick hair bow, and strands upon strands of necklaces (some bearing religious symbols).
1985: The “Material Girl” music video
Queen Madge channeled Marilyn Monroe for her “Material Girl” music video, which was heavily inspired by Monroe’s iconic performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Madonna copied Monroe's William Travilla dress — a bubblegum-pink strapless satin sheath with a belt at the waist and a huge bow, lined in black, at the back — as well as her choreography with an army of male admirers, right down to hitting one of the men with a black lace fan.
1986: The “Papa Don’t Preach” music video
The girlish hairstyling and piles of jewelry vanished in the “Papa Don’t Preach” music video, which saw the pop star trying out a tomboyish new look. For the action of the unwanted-pregnancy-themed clip, she’s the ultimate cool girl in jeans and a leather jacket, while some sequences of her singing and dancing put the star in a black corset and pants, accessorized only with a thick black belt.
1986: The “La Isla Bonita” music video
"La Isla Bonita" marks Madonna’s first foray into Latin-influenced music and style, and she embraced that aspect of the song fully when selecting the wardrobe for the track’s music video. Throughout the clip, she alternates between playing a religious woman, wearing very plain clothes, and a dancer in a voluminous red flamenco dress with flowers in her hair.
1989: The “Like a Prayer” music video
Madonna’s interest in religious themes and fixation with Catholic imagery peak with “Like a Prayer” (which some might say is her all-time greatest single). Her wardrobe is relatively understated in the track’s music video, a lace-trimmed black fitted slip dress and a crucifix necklace, all finished off with — most shocking of all! — dark hair worn in loose curls.
1989: The “Express Yourself” music video
The David Fincher-directed “Express Yourself” music video takes the song’s title literally, visually referencing the 1927 German expressionist film Metropolis. Madonna appears, in part of the clip, as an elegant woman in a chartreuse dress. She plays with gender-bending fashion in other shots, however, wearing a boxy black suit, flattened hair, and, most curiously, a monocle.
1990: The “Vogue” music video
For most of the dance sequences in the black-and-white “Vogue” music video (also directed by Fincher), Madonna strikes her poses wearing an all-black suit that unbuttons to reveal a black bra, but it was the sheer lace top she wears for a short scene at the beginning of the clip that got a reaction, sparking outrage for being see-through.
1990: Onstage during the Blonde Ambition Tour
Yes, we’ve made it. We’ve reached the cone bra. The spiky pink corset, designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, that Madonna wore on her Blonde Ambition Tour made underwear-as-outerwear history — and inspired copycats for years after the fact.
1990: Onstage at the seventh VMAs
For another unforgettable VMAs performance, Madonna channeled yet another legendary Material Girl, going full Marie Antoinette to perform “Vogue” at the 1990 show.
1991: At the 63rd Academy Awards
Attending the Oscars with Michael Jackson, Madonna harkened back to Monroe once again with a short platinum blonde ‘do, a sparkly white gown, and a luxurious white fur.
1992: The “Erotica” music video
Madonna released Erotica, the album, and Sex, the racy coffee table book, concurrently in 1992, at which time she started even more explicitly exploring sexuality with her work. The music video for the album’s title track includes footage from the making of Sex intercut with Madonna playing the masked Mistress Dita, her gold-toothed dominatrix alter ego. As Dita, she wears a sheer black blouse with crisp white collar and cuffs over a black corset, topped with a thick black necktie.
1993: Onstage during the Girlie Show Tour
The 1993 Girlie Show World Tour saw Madonna looking eastward for fashion inspiration. To sing “Vogue” during the show, she wore an Indian-inspired black headpiece along with her beaded black bra, sparkling shorts, and patent leather heeled combat boots.
1998: The “Ray of Light” music video
In the late ‘90s, Madonna’s life changed dramatically with the birth of her first child, Lourdes, and her big-screen triumph with Evita, for which she won a Golden Globe. The pop star also began to study Kabbalah in this period, and the new perspective it gave her both was strongly reflected on her seventh studio album, Ray of Light — and in what she wore in the presentation of it. For the title track’s music video, scenes of life around the world are intercut with Madonna dancing in front of a bright blue sky, wearing a denim jacket, jeans, and her red Kabbalah string bracelet.
1999: Onstage at the 41st Grammys
Madonna continued her Eastern-inspired trend when she performed at the Grammys in the same red kimono she wore in her “Nothing Really Matters” video.
2000: The “American Pie” music video
To cover Don McLean’s classic in 2000, Madonna really went low-key, performing the song in front of an American flag wearing a plain lace-trimmed camisole and jeans.
2003: Onstage at the 20th VMAs
The infamous 2003 VMAs! Madonna opened the show with her pop diva successors Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, who both wore white outfits that referenced the Queen of Pop’s “Like a Virgin” days. Madonna herself wore a top hat and tails over a black corset, though she took off the hat and coat before planting a kiss on both of the pop princesses.
2005: The “Hung Up” music video
For 2005’s “Hung Up” music video, Madonna took it back to basics, singing the disco track while wearing a hot pink leotard with a purple sequined belt and dancing alone around a mirrored dance studio.
2012: Onstage during the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show
Madonna was a true pop goddess at the 2012 Super Bowl, where she headlined the halftime show (with assists from M.I.A., Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, and Cee-Lo Green) in a towering headdress over her black, gold-edged outfit, topped with a gilded gladiator belt.
2013: At the Met Gala
The 2013 Met Gala theme was "Punk: Chaos to Couture," and for someone who has defiantly subverted expectations — with fashion and otherwise — throughout her life, Madonna was ready for it. She attended the ball wearing a belted and studded plaid jacket over a fishnet bodysuit, finishing off the look with a straight black wig, black leather gloves, and hot pink heels.
2015: The “Living for Love” music video
Madonna leaned back into the Spanish influences that inspired her so much in the '80s with 2015's "Living for Love" music video, in which she wore a series of bullfighter costumes (along with cross necklaces, naturally).
2015: The “Bitch I’m Madonna” music video
Madonna went candy-colored for the buoyant music video for this Rebel Heart track, dancing through the clip in a white leopard-print dress, a hot pink studded jacket, and hair to match.
2018: At the Met Gala
If anyone could dress for 2018's "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" Met Gala theme, it would be Queen Madge. Turning to her old pal Jean Paul Gaultier for the look, she wore a voluminous black dress with a matching veil, topped with a smattering of crosses at her neck and in her glittering crown.