Madonnas 1980s look gained her international stardom, defined a generation, and immortalized her as an icon that changed the course of fashion history.
Born Madonna Louise Ciccone, the Queen of Pop reinvented pop culture ever since her debut album. No other pop star has been able to reinvent herself and endure the passage of time the way she has. And after more than 30 years in showbiz, she has become an icon of female empowerment, the face and voice that changed the course of pop history, and a fashion icon.
Madonna, a nineteen-year-old college dropout, decided to move to New York City at the end of the seventies to pursue a career in dance. She started taking dancing lessons with Alvin Ailey, one of the most revolutionary choreographers of the twentieth century, while working at a Dunkin’ Donuts and modeling every once in a while. She was a low-budget-film actress and joined a few local bands in New York until she had her big break in 1983 with Madonna, her first studio album. In 1984, she released "Like A Virgin," the studio album that would give her international stardom and immortality in pop culture.
Reinvention is perhaps the key word when we talk about the ultimate Queen of Pop. Though a true chameleon, because in every single record she changes her image to mirror the aesthetics of her music, her most iconic looks are those that made her a legend back in the early 80’s. Always a rebel, she became crucial for the reinvention of the fashion industry during the eighties because every look she had between Madonna (1983) and Like A Virgin (1984) was light years ahead of her time.
If any word could describe her style in that decade, it has to be the now-generic “street style.” However, back in the 1980s, this had a different meaning. Women were finally joining the workforce of big corporations, and fashion wanted to celebrate that. During the years of Grace Mirabella as editor-in-chief of Vogue (the magazine's dullest years, to be honest), high fashion focused on giving women practical yet fashionable clothes they could wear at the office. Skirts, blazers, coats, and trousers focused on single colors and straight structure. Shoulder pads began to be a thing, and it seemed that this high fashion aimed for women to look more “masculine,” as if to be taken more seriously. Fashion went back to an androgynous style that we hadn't seen since Yves Saint Laurent).
Contrary to the high fashion trends that wanted to make women look more “serious” in order to be respected, street fashion focused on urban tribes and their artistic nature. Colorful garments were important, as well as the mix of textures, patterns, and the urge to accessorize. Young people in the eighties were trying to find out who they were and also rebel against the political and social systems. Here we are talking about the Reagan years, which represented a step back in terms of freedom. Sexuality and everything related to it became a taboo. AIDS and LGBT+ rights were another defining moment for the youth of the eighties, and without a doubt, we can see these as some of the major concerns in Madonna's career (like when she made voguing a worldwide phenomenon that was already a concept in New York City drag ballrooms).
Her iconic "Into the Groove" style comes directly from punk. She “feminized” the androgynous look of punk women. She understood the way the music industry works, so she made the style more "pleasing" to the eye. Part of the aesthetics Madonna represented were those of a woman who was daring, reckless, fearless, and unapologetically genuine. Though it's true that her career has been shaped by controversy, she never intended to fabricate her image around the girl-next-door archetype, or to fit the mold of the pre-fabricated, "cute" pop singers who later ruled the 1990s. Ambitious, outspoken, decisive, and creative are words that have defined her ever since her career began.
Her distinctive look has some basic elements that were repeated between 1983 and 1985 (it is important to know how she never goes back to any of her old looks, though). She wore her distinctive hair ribbon, tied around her curly, blonde curls. The glittery jacket with golden print on the break line, combined with the many necklaces, pearls and crucifixes (one of her distinctive trademarks: catholic iconography) match with the dark pants, booties, and sleeveless top. "The more the merrier" they say, and this was for sure the motto of the eighties. As many necklaces as possible, and as many colors and fabrics too: white gloves, black hair ribbon, gold, blue, silver and why not? Pearls too. Even makeup had to follow this trend: heavy, mixed, and strong. It consists of the dark eye shadow, the top-of-the-lip mole, the eyeliner all the way to the end, and strong, dark brows. Red lipstick and sunglasses are the last elements of this legendary look.
The Desperately Seeking Susan look was copied by thousands of people all over the world. Her look became her trademark, and this would change as time passed by always mirroring the aesthetics of her music. Jean Paul Gaultier took her under his wing and made her his muse, and together they gave the world defining moments in fashion and celebrity culture. Her 1980s looks are so iconic that, twenty years later, designers still echo her influence on the runway. She introduced textures, colors, styles and even ideals to many generations and defined an era. A true icon of popular culture, the undeniable Queen of Pop stated in her first ever interview in 1983, when she was 25, that she wasn't scared of the industry and was asked, if she could wish for something for the new year (1984) and the rest of her career, what would it be? “To rule the world,” she said. And so she did.
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