What We Can Learn About Fashion From These Style Icons

Originally written & published for Eco Warrior Princess here

I’ve always had a big issue with idolizing random people and influencer culture, it leads to false perceptions of the real world. Style icons are another warped reality that Instagram has both expanded and damaged with influencers and fast fashion. I know because I’m a target of it too, mindlessly scrolling through someone’s social feed, wondering if the teeth whitener they’ve been paid to sell works (FYI I’m going to suggest it probably doesn’t).

“Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live.” – Gianni Versace

If we scrape all that shit off the top, underneath the fashion industry is exciting, skillful and full of history. In my eyes style icons are creative people, expressing it through what they wear without asking for other people’s permission. They also care about who makes their clothes, where they are from and how it makes them feel. I’ve always had a strong attraction to textiles and fashion, it’s a hobby to raid second-hand stores and go through textile and art museums. I still like looking through magazines such as Frankie and Vogue, to keep images of styles I like.

The reason I have style icons is to remind myself what I love in fashion and what it really means. It’s not about buying clothing or following anyone, it’s about treasuring the items you have, having fun and ensuring your clothes have a positive impact. Even though some may say the world is more narcissistic and wasteful then ever before, fashion and style can have a positive impact. The below is what I’ve learned from my style icons.

Don’t follow trends

Debbie Harry was the lead singer of a punk band called ‘Blondie’ and one of the pioneers of the punk era of fashion in the 70s. I like her for multiple reasons; firstly she’s not afraid to speak her mind and this is reflected in what she wears. She wore alternative outfits on stage that weren’t on trend for her era. The iconic aspect of Blondie is not only her love of leopard print but her no-F’s attitude to female fashion. At the age of 73, she has maintained her strong sense of self and style, including recently being seen on-stage wearing a dress printed with the phrase, “Stop f—ing up the planet.” Good on you Blondie.

What We Can Learn About Fashion From These Style Icons - Don't Follow Trends
Credit: Raph_PH via Flickr

You can be a smart boss lady and still like fashion

Michelle Obama – need I say more? Michelle Obama is an icon in all senses of the word. She’s a lawyer, writer.. oh and happened to be the first African-American First Lady in history. She has a never ending list of achievements that can be read here. Fashion shouldn’t be a defining factor of someone, but what Michelle Obama did prove is that you can be an incredible changemaker and still care about fashion.

“First and foremost, I wear what I love. That’s what women have to focus on: what makes them happy and what makes them feel comfortable and beautiful. If I can have any impact, I want women to feel good about themselves and have fun with fashion.” – Michelle Obama quote, Vogue 2009

Money won’t buy style

I can’t reiterate this one enough – stop buying random shit from people’s Instagram accounts. If there’s one person to listen to in terms of fashion, it’s 96-year-old Iris Apfel. Apfel is an American world-famous icon, with her eclectic dress sense, love of fashion and big glasses. She is an accidental icon and started out reproducing antique fabrics with her husband Carl Apfel. She mixes old with new and doesn’t seem to care about expensive designer brands. If you watch her documentary ‘Iris’, you’ll see her purchasing bracelets from a random store in Brooklyn for a few dollars. She’s also one of the few people not to be a designer and have their clothing and accessories exhibited at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What We Can Learn About Fashion From These Style Icons - Iris Apfel
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 24 2016: guest in attends at the 38th Annual American Image Awards at 583 Park Avenue in New York City. Credit: Ron Adar/shutterstock

Wear your values

Fashion is a statement and what you wear matters. Each purchase you make has an effect on a line of people that have produced a garment. The English actress and activist Emma Watson is a strong advocate for sustainable and ethical fashion. She recently took her fashion values one step further, collaborating with Vogue and Good On You in March this year on a sustainability-focused issue. The actress uses every red carpet event to showcase her values with fashion, from wearing a dress made from recycled plastic bottle to the Met Gala to wearing upcycled textiles to the Oscars. Us mere mortals may not be walking a red carpet each day, but we can wear our values through our clothing all the same.

What We Can Learn About Fashion From These Style Icons - Emma Watson
Credit: Flickr

Don’t follow conventional rules

Janelle Monáe is an American singer, who’s rapidly becoming a style icon for her unconventional fashion and statement looks. Her iconic look is a tux, which also has a really interesting meaning behind it. She previously worked as a maid and her monochrome outfits have hinted at this previous life. “I bathe in it, I swim in it, and I could be buried in it. A tux is such a standard uniform, it’s so classy and it’s a lifestyle I enjoy. The tux keeps me balanced. I look at myself as a canvas. I don’t want to cloud myself with too many colors or I’ll go crazy…” 

What We Can Learn About Fashion From These Style Icons - Janelle Monae
Credit: Adam Salsman

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