Fashion & Celebrities

Top 10 Fashion Icons Over The Years

How Fashion Icons Influence What We Wear

Nina Gitchibayeva Nina Gitchibayeva

What makes someone a fashion icon? Over the past decades there have been many famous actors, singers, models and more… yet not many of them have been given the title of “icon”. Especially when it comes to fashion, people are very wary of who they deem deserving of being their generation’s fashion icon. So, what exactly determines who gets the honour and who doesn’t? You would think it’s the level of fame or wealth, but it’s actually much more fascinating than that. 

The Daredevil Wears Prada

The legendary Coco Chanel once said: “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” Therefore, you cannot be named a fashion icon if you don’t make bold choices and think outside of the box. Think of Lady Gaga’s meat-dress; you would not necessarily wear it and you won’t see it hanging in stores -unless you’re shopping at a charcuterie- yet most people would still recall this famous moment to this day. However, to be deemed a style icon it is of severe importance to find a balance between innovation and acclaim. 

For instance, people did not all of a sudden start wearing clothing made out of meat after the MTV Video Awards. Thus, although the moment itself was iconic, this incident did not make Lady Gaga a fashion icon. 

Icons Influence Icons

This brings us to the second criteria: influence. Your style choices have to not only engrave themselves into the mind of others, it has to inspire them to make similar choices. Moreover, to be an icon, it has to incite a whole generation to want to dress the way you dress and do their hair the way you do your hair – simply put: you need to make people want to be you. In this generation, with the use of social media, this has become much less difficult; people can simply scroll on TikTok and Instagram and follow creators whose style they admire. Before the use of smartphones, people took inspiration from what actors wore in their movies and singers in their video clips. 

Fashion is an Identity

However, simply wearing a nice outfit that people would take inspiration from is not the defining criteria for becoming a fashion icon. You have to create a distinguishing identity -with your wardrobe- that people would remember even after your time. When discussing fashion icons, New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman stated: “So 30 years after their heyday when someone says their name you can close your eyes and summon up an image of them instantly. Not an outfit, that’s just a good outfit, but an image that evokes a feeling or mood.” 

Fashion Icons Before The 00‘s

Now that the criteria for being a fashion icon is precisely determined, let us dive deeper into some examples of fashion icons over the years. 

1. Audrey Hepburn 

Starting off strong, Audrey Hepburn is one of the most admired female icons of all time, distinguished by her innocent demeanour and highly-feminine beauty.

Audrey Hepburn

She was the embodiment of minimalism and elegance. Collaborating with her designated partner-in-crime Givenchy, he and Audrey ignited the infamous exigency of the little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The little black dress is still a staple in every girl’s (or other gender’s) closet, although now it comes in many more shapes and sizes.

2. Prince

Introducing a polar opposite of this simple and innocent look, Prince has had a significant impact on fashion in the 80’s and even our fashion sense today. He was extravagant not only in his music sense but also in his sense of fashion.


Prince was all about maximalism; he loved bold colours and funky materials, such as sequins, feathers and lace. He was also one of the first males to experiment with more “feminine” elements, such as more fitted tailoring and high heels. This generation’s male fashion idols such as Billy Porter and Harry Styles would most likely not be where they are if it weren’t for Prince’s dauntless fashion choices.

3. Michael Jackson

Straying not too far away from the Pop genre in the 80’s, the multi-talented Michael Jackson is a must-mention on this list.

Michael Jackson

From influencing the wear of a Fedora and Aviator sunglasses, to the Letterman Jacket all the way to the currently-ongoing indulgence into the military style, Michael made some icon-worthy fashion decisions himself, choices that even his fellow A-listers were inclined to replicate. Think of the topical trends surrounding the wear of varsity jackets and caps and the resemblance of military-inspired cargo’s and bomber jackets. 

4. Grace Jones

Grace Jones

Living alongside Prince and Michael in this iconic era, Grace Jones was a huge inspiration for women, both in her multipotentiality (she was an actor, a model and a singer all at the same time) and her brave self-expression through clothing. Being so active in show-business, Grace did not shy away from depicting a very powerful and sultry sense of style. She proudly influenced the queer-coded club style people still actively embody today. 

5. Madonna

Accompanying Grace in her boldness, another big inspiration for women’s fashion to this day has been Madonna.


Not only was she dauntless and rebellious in her performances and her pro-feminism expressions, she also inspired many of our current trends. Madonna is the origin of our current obsession with bustier tops, chunky necklaces, big earrings and hairbows. 

6. Dapper Dan

Luxury brands such as Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton started off as only fitting into elegant fashion styles, this was until the influence of fashion designer Dapper Dan.

Dapper Dan

Dan’s trademark was implementing these high luxury clothing items into the gangster style at the time. He called this the “Africanization of the premium European brand.” This (illegal) fashion statement later evolved itself into rappers’ music videos and originated the streetwear style we know now.

7. Princess Diana

Turning to a more European-centered fashion influence, the princess of the people, Princess Diana, not only challenged the Royal family; she did it in style. Known for her critique to the Royal workings, Princess Diana used her wardrobe choices to send a message.

Princess Diana in revenge dress

Unlike many princesses before her, she pressed the boundaries of Royal fashion and added her own spin to what she was expected to wear. To stay in formal attire, instead of just wearing plain-coloured skirts and dresses, Diana wore pant suit sets in bold colours. She would also elevate her casual outfits with some formal attire, such as wearing a blazer on top of jeans and a sweatshirt. This influence in style can be recognised to this day, as she inspired the looks of celebrities such as Hailey Bieber and Gigi Hadid. However, Diana’s most iconic & rebellious fashion moment was when she wore her infamous revenge dress, after finding out her husband, Prince Charles, had been unfaithful.

21st Century Fashion Icons

8. Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton did not only make most girls around the world saying “That’s hot” to everything, she also inspired the fashion sense of millions around the world.

Paris Hilton

As one of the icons of the Y2K aesthetic, Paris popularised the wear of velour and colour-coordinated tracksuits. From Juicy Couture tracksuits, to low-rise jeans to millennial pink everything; she had girls all over the world replicating her girly wardrobe pieces. The Y2K aesthetic has become trendy again these past years and Paris is being acknowledged and remembered in this comeback.

9. Rihanna 

Even before starting her own clothing line, pop singer Rihanna influenced the shopping habits of many people around the world. She normalised the use of streetwear items in high-fashion outfits.


Rihanna was applauded for her confident and unique fashion statements, such as her ability to play with striking silhouettes and different aesthetics implemented into one outfit. With the rise of Savage x Fenty (Rihanna’s clothing line), she is seen as a huge inspiration, especially for women of colour. Rihanna was the first black woman to be an ambassador for Dior Woman. She was also named “fashion icon” by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which is as official as it gets.

Rihanna & A$AP Rocky

Even her pregnancy did not stop her from creating iconic fashion moments. On the contrary, with the combination of her and her boyfriend’s great sense of fashion, people are convinced their kid will be the most stylish amongst his peers.

10. Bella Hadid 

Last but not least, one of the most influential fashion icons of this generation is Bella Hadid. Being named model of the year and “most stylish person in the world” in 2022, Bella has been given credit where credit is due. Her fashion sense -both on and off the runway- is highly unique to herself and influences the wardrobes of millions of people around the world.

Bella Hadid

She single-handedly stimulated the comeback of Uggs, all-denim looks and low-rise pants. This all falls into her love for vintage shopping and turning her unique thrift finds into memorable, high-fashion looks.

Bella Hadid

Bella is living proof that you don’t have to wear high-end fashion brands and follow every trend. Simply being unique and staying true to yourself is the most important thing to become a fashion icon.

Nina Gitchibayeva

I am a student of International Communication and Media at Thomas More in Belgium. For my Erasmus exchange, I have decided to study Communication at Abat Oliba in Barcelona.