Aaliyah Is the Alpha and Omega of Your #Trending Outfit


Though the fashion sensibility of Aaliyah Dana Haughton is a perennial classic, in the past three years or so, street style has been siphoning her every look, and we are now at an impasse. Health goth, the Facebook meme-turned-actual style movement, and its more marketable cousin “athleisure,” are simply trumped up takes on everything Baby Girl wore.

This is no secret for the observant viewer—again, for three years or more, tumblr teens and runway weirdos alike have been idolizing Aaliyah’s array of stringed bralettes and baggy pants, reblogging endless images of her, blingeed stars and hearts making halos around her visage. But what’s astonishing is how the fanaticism seems to snowball. Just when it seems to reach a peak, someone (or something) new resurfaces to interpret and mine her ideas, her aura—be it that cool lady you just walked by on the street or, you know, Lorde, whose outfit in this BBC1 video is straight out of the Aaliyah playbook, whether she knows it or not. (She does.)

As my colleague and fortune teller Kate Dries put it, “Aaliyah was like Marilyn Monroe. People love a person taken before they reach full potential.” Coupled with the feelings of mystery in her music and the sense of innovation in her style and videos, it’s all these reasons we get a culture in which one of music’s biggest stars tattooed Aaliyah’s face next to his mother’s, and he never even met her. And it’s also why Lifetime is going forward with its allegedly terrible Aaliyah biopic, despite lack of song rights and fierce protestation from her immediate family. (It airs on Saturday. The actor who plays her mom doesn’t even appear to say her name correctly.)

Every single #trending style movement right now, up to and including athleisure (wherein athletic gear is worn in the everyday), normcore (the thing where you dress like Middle American parents from the early ’90s) and healthgoth (which is just normcore but more fuccboi), can be traced directly back to Aaliyah. She was early on the union of goth styles with athletic wear (black lipstick galore), early on monochrome #allwhiteeverything, the only when it came to midriffs and baggy jeans. To posit that Aaliyah is the end all be all of contemporary fashion might be a no-duh point for many of us, but until the world stops doing it, we are going to keep on positing it.

Let’s break it down.

Exhibit 1. “One in a Million.”

“One in a Million” is one of Aaliyah’s most popular songs (also because the DJs and producers who sample her because it’s trendy only tend to know the singles). But it’s also the source for more fashion inspiration than is even fathomable.

Aaliyah’s chainmail bra and, in another scene, leather crop top complete with arm bands echo in Zana Bayne’s Spring 2015 collection (and entire steez, really).

Aaliyah’s angelic all-white look from this was iconic. Terence Koh, right, is also known for wearing all-white, which became a big thing at Fall 2013 fashion week and doesn’t seem to be letting up among the downtown set. In a convergence of many things at once, Koh is wearing all Hood by Air, at the Fall 2013 Hood by Air show, in which designer Shayne Oliver really dropped the all-white dictum upon us—something possibly inspired by the early Ghe20 Goth1k dress codes of all white or all black. (Ghe20 Gothik being the trendsetting queer dance party Oliver started several years ago with DJ Venus X, and Aaliyah being the “ghetto gothic” OG.)

Exhibit 2. “More Than a Woman”

All white, all black again—a style cue she even executed in gospel heartbreak mode—in a to-die-for Chanel bodysuit and juxtaposed with a young Mark Ronson (pre-sideburns). We must especially make note of this (skip to like, 3:34 to avoid having to listen to this song in its entirety):

Thirteen years later, and people are still influenced by the (then very groundbreaking) image of “Aaliyah” riding on a motorcycle through a cartoonish, uncanny-vallied Japan so much that they are taking them for their own videos in “homage.” It does remind us that Aaliyah was enamored of Japanese culture—and Harajuku style—long before the trendhumpers. In 2008, her best friend Kidada Jones told me, “We were making plans for this brand that was gonna be girly and cute and have Japanese inspiration. This was seven or eight years ago, so the whole Japanese inspiration wasn’t at the forefront.”

Exhibit 3. Tommy, girl.

The baggy, tomboy’d Tommys are widely viewed as Aaliyah’s most iconic style, though she had such breadth beyond it. Yet it’s also the single most copied of all her looks. So many people copy it, in fact, that depending on where you live, you could probably go outside and bump into three women and maybe a dude wearing a variation of this exact outfit. There’s also this, by London streetwear label Nasir Mazhar’s Spring 2015 runway:

This one’s from Nasir Mazhar Spring 2014:

Exhibit 6. “Are You That Somebody?”

THIS IS HEALTH GOTH/ATHLEISURE. This is your origin story, right here, in this video, down to the #cozygirl sweats and fabric that looks like it is named something like “Sweattech.” Give the internet a couple more months and someone will have photoshopped an HBA logo tee onto her.

This video, by the young New York rapper/singer Princess Nokia, came out Tuesday. Notice anything?

Exhibit 5. Aaliyathleisure. (Too much?)

Exhibit 6. “If Your Girl Only Knew”

The leather durag is perennial. Wear it with goggles.

Exhibit 7. “We Need a Resolution”

Another example of Aaliyah presaging athleisure (which is usually just people needing a catchphrase for being too lazy to not wear yoga pants but can also be a creative application of sweatpants). Here, she shows that one can, in fact, execute aerobic activities while also wearing baggy, shiny pants, which may or may not be denim. Ashish Spring 2015 runway:

It is at this point which we must discuss #cozyboyz. In another instance of mainstream fashion taking and, often, anesthetizing street style, “athleisure” was incarnated years ago by A$AP Yams, trendsetter and progenitor of the “Cozy Boys” movement—a mixture of high fashion with comfort dressing, long before designers were putting sweatpants on the runway. On A$AP Mob’s 2012 track “Gotham City,” the rapper A$AP Ferg solidified it on wax: “Cozy boy, so relax.”

The “new comfort” was a big trend on runways for this fall (and normcore has its roots there, too), allowing us all to be just a little bit lazier in our sartorial fortitude, but it can be directly traced back to Aaliyah’s video style, which is also just a standard look for dancers in general: loose-fitting clothing is easier to move in, but no one who’s dancing hip-hop or its choreographic derivatives wants to be caught out there in tights and a leotard. In an athleisurely flip, it’s street clothing for workouts, the inverse of bougie dorks wearing Lululemon to brunch.

It’s all very couched in our never-ceasing obsession with ’90s fashion, of course, but it goes so far beyond nostalgia for an era: it’s the elevation of Aaliyah to literal goddess status, who essentially died a pop martyr. Alexander Wang’s collection for H&M, considered the pinnacle of health goth going corporate, looks like it was crafted after a marathon run of watching all her videos. But she did have a stylist, it must be noted: Derek Lee, who crafted all her looks and still styles today, though he has no doubt moved on from those iconic looks he created in the ’90s and early ’00s. The rest of us don’t seem to be able to.

Also, here is Aaliyah doing something genuinely athletic.

Images via Getty.

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