Baggy Pants, A Polo Neck And Mask…


in 1999 a 17-year-old Britney Spears caused a wave of moral outrage when she posed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in a black bra and pink hot pants (while clutching a Teletubby). The cover wasn’t exactly unprecedented. This was an era in which princesses of pop like Britney, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson were ruling the charts thanks in part to their management branding them as both innocent and sexy.

Their virginity, or lack of, was a subject of tabloid news stories, yet it was rare that they would appear in anything that wasn’t skin-tight, ab-baring or butt-skimming; Britney famously dressed as a sexy schoolgirl for her Baby One More Time video.

And yet, on the red carpet at last Sunday’s Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in LA, 18-year-old singer Billie Eilish wore baggy pants, a polo neck under an over-sized shirt and the bottom half of her face was covered with a mask. She went on to win five awards that night, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year – and became the youngest solo artist to win Album of the Year. Her status as music’s most impactful new talent was secure, but it’s becoming clear that her style is equally agenda setting.

The next day The New York Times dubbed the Bad Guy singer ‘Gen Z’s most outrageous fashion model’ because of her rejection of the idea of the ‘flirty teen babe’. They described how Billie’s unfiltered look – her often make-up-free face and gothy, outsize ’80s and ’90s hip-hop and skater clothes – was being adopted by hordes of teens railing against the hyper-sexualisation being sold to them by the likes of the Kardashians and Jenners.

Billie said at the end of last year that to theorise that she dresses to desexualise herself is ‘missing the point’, adding, ‘The point is not: “Hey, let’s go slut-shame all these girls for not dressing like Billie Eilish.”’ She has also said that her styling had been an intentional decision so that, ‘Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath.’ Billie added, ‘Nobody can be like, “She’s slim-thick”, “she’s got a flat ass”, “she’s got a fat ass”. No one can say any of that because they don’t know.’

Billie isn’t the only star defining her look on her terms. The Grammys red carpet was dominated by diverse, eclectic and ground- breaking styling. Pose star Billy Porter wore a blue crystal jumpsuit by Baja East, complete with a matching cropped jacket, silver platform shoes, a crystal fringe at the bottom of his trousers, and a hat with a remote control fringe, designed in collaboration with Sarah Sokol. Rapper Tyler the Creator wore a custom Golf Le Fleur baby pink bellhop outfit, complete with a boxy suitcase. Old Town Road singer Lil Nas X was in custom fuchsia pink Versace, complete with S&M harness.

New York fashion writer and Paper columnist Evan Ross Katz says he doesn’t think that it’s so much that these stars aren’t conforming; after all, they’re still being dressed by major fashion houses and they work with renowned stylists such as Samantha Burkhart and Hodo Musa. Evan says that in Billie and Lizzo’s cases, it’s their silhouettes that make them subversive. ‘You have Billie creating a silhouette more evocative of ’90s rappers on a red carpet than that of an 18-year-old white girl from LA. And you have Lizzo, successfully proving that high fashion is for plus-size bodies – and can be tailored accordingly.

It’s true that Lizzo has embraced high fashion – or rather, high fashion has finally embraced her exhilaratingly celebratory and personal message about her body. Whether with a Jeremy Scott for Moschino strapless gown at the MTV Awards or a neon orange ruffled Valentino for the American Music Awards, Lizzo’s having fun.

Lizzo’s stylist Marko Monroe told Grazia, ‘It’s not about what’s trendy, it’s just about having confidence and wearing whatever you feel good in. I think if you have confidence, you can walk out of the house in a trash bag and a nice pair of shoes and you’ll look fucking amazing.’

Perhaps the decline of worst-dressed lists has helped, too. E!’s Fashion Police show ended in 2017, with the power now, for better or worse, seeming to belong to the public via social media. You can break the internet with one red-carpet look and boost your following in seconds while both good and bad outfits can make meme history.

Prince came to define red-carpet individuality. Bjork wore a swan to the 2001 Oscars and it is regularly wheeled out as the worst fashion faux pas of all time. Julia Roberts walked the red carpet with hairy armpits in 1999 and is still asked about it in interviews. Lady Gaga’s 2010 meat dress is one of the biggest fashion moments in history – at the time she was called crazy. Red-carpet rule breakers are nothing new, but now, not fitting in is becoming a priority – and a brand booster.

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