Where does your style come from? Is it the runway? The mall? The thrift store? Or is it something you carry with you, a conglomeration of experiences, flavors, words, sounds, and textures that make up the person you are now?
Could it be that we, as a society, have also gathered bits and pieces of history to create an overall esthetic of what we find beautiful? Whether we realize it or not, we kind of have. We’ve taken things from different periods of history and slowly allowed them to simmer into our culture and tastes. But what about recent history? Is it possible we’ve been unaware of how someone swooped in and changed the way we experienced the world? Well if that were the case in fashion, Grace Jones holds the title for being the one who broke the mold and showed other people that the world of style wasn’t flat. She demonstrated it was an unexplored universe waiting to be seen.
Grace broke into the New York disco scene in the late seventies. She began as a model and go-go dancer but it wasn’t long before she also proved herself to be a star onstage. In 1977, she performed at the members-only gay club, 12 West. In a piece regarding Grace’s groundbreaking career, that continues to this day, Barry Walters tells about the night she sang at the disco:
“Grace Jones sang 'I Need a Man' just like a man might —tough and lusty, she was a woman who was not just singing to them, but also for them, as them. She was as queer as a relatively straight person could get. Her image celebrated blackness and subverted gender norms.”
Grace was never an ordinary girl. She exuded sensuality and strength in a way nobody else could. Yet unlike other women of her time, her erotic nature was not forced. She told a story, rather than expect her body to do all the talking. She played with what it meant to be feminine while constantly playing with androgyny. As tough as nails she is, she does not come off as unapproachable. She can hold an entire room’s attention, but at the same time gives the feeling that she’s talking to you in your living room. Her dichotomous personality is inviting rather than restricting. In a way, Grace shows us how human beings are not one, but many things. Our sexuality is also not a restrictive feeling, but one that allows for possibilities. This also applies to the fashion we have now, where our style is made out of different eras and broken rules.
Anyone who’s taken a stroll in the mall or searched for things in online stores has realized that what was passé in the eighties, glitter and disco, has been reinvented and combined with the flower power of the sixties to create the outfits we see on Instagram and summer music festivals. Grace went from the seventies into the eighties seamlessly, because her style was based on who she was and what she wanted, rather than trends. She set the tone for what others would choose to follow.
One thing that is kind of underrated about Grace is her relationship to art. Plenty of her fashion editorial photo-shoots and stage outfits feature a nod, or full blown collaboration with contemporary art. Famous artist Keith Haring did her body paint for both a film and several stage performances. It’s not hard to see how many of the current pop stars out there have in some way taken Grace’s cue to what their shows should include. However, in her book, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, she makes on point clear: “But where [Haring] painted directly on my body,” Jones writes, “[Rihanna] wears a painted bodysuit. That’s the difference.”
Grace’s main contribution to fashion seems to breaking down the doors of what is considered appropriate or cool. She showed how ridiculous it is to think that femininity cannot come in the shape of sharp tailored suit or that sexy could not be strong and dominant. She demonstrated how beautiful did not have to be a woman smiling into the camera. Instead, she presented an aggressive, incredibly mesmerizing, portrayal of emotion that photography had not shown until then.
So next time, when you’re choosing your outfit for a night out, a date, a formal affair, or just a day when you need to bring some sass into the office or your neighborhood coffee shop, remember Grace Jones inspired you. Even if you’d never thought about it before.
Grace is a powerhouse, she and other women like her have inspired us is many ways, what is the style of an alpha female?
Learn style and the feminist manifesto in one take!