If you’re in the mood for some style inspiration, look no further than these empowering Black women and men. The below masterminds of style have influenced the status quo for decades and in some cases, a century. Beginning in the 1920s, with Josephine Baker making a case for showing some skin, we close with a glimpse into the future featuring some exciting style stars to follow along as the new decade continues on.
As we recall Black fashion icons who have certainly made an impact on the fashion industry, we encourage you to take a moment and appreciate the hard work of these strong, powerful icons, many of whom were about more than just looks. Our list includes civil rights activists, royalty, and revolutionary business owners. Plus, we include sartorial pieces inspired by each notable person’s style. Shop along.
1920s — Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker was one of the most iconic dancers and singers in the 1920s. Growing up with humble beginnings, she took it upon herself to learn how to dance and soon became a world-renown sensation, never afraid to push the label in fashion and style. Later in life, she was a leader in the French Revolution and American civil rights movement. If you’re looking for a new role model, here she is.
Puffy Sleeve Signature Shirt in Fuchsia
Josephine Baker style is defined by risk taking and bold details. She practically invented the puffy sleeve. Get her look with this bold semi-sheer number.
1930s — Billie Holiday
Listen to Billie Holiday while reading this and you’ll surely be transported to another, far simpler, and more peaceful world. She went from being one of many Harlem jazz singers to the most memorable in history with many mainstream musicians crediting her as an inspiration. Her beautiful odes and sweet ballads are unforgettable, but she also had a unique sense of style worth revisiting.
Utopia Hair Comb
Billie Holiday was known for the dramatic flair that an oversized flower hair accessory added to her look. Here’s a subtle way to channel the infamous jazz singers ‘do. This hair comb will be the perfect addition for both your formal gatherings and casual summer days.
1940s — Dorothy Dandridge
Known for rejecting stereotypical Black roles and fighting for her rights to equality, Dorothy Dandridge is a cinematic legend. A Hollywood star, Dandridge was nominated for several awards throughout her career, but her graceful and glamorous style always took center stage.
Crepe-Trimmed Draped Silk-Charmeuse Minidress
Dorothy Dandridge’s looks were always glamorous and elevated. You’ll want to channel her as your inspiration for your next dressed-up evening. If Dandridge were here today, we know she’d be using her favorite Cushnie dresses as an excuse to get dressed up.
1950s — Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt rose to fame in the early ’50s as a singer, but her career spanned all the bases. The singer became the original “Santa Baby” and shortly thereafter moved over to acting, playing the role of the first Black Catwoman. She eventually found her way to Broadway and was able to use her platform for activism.
4mm Pearl Beaded Choker
Eartha Kitt’s timeless day look is incomplete without the dainty pearl necklace she wore. These freshwater pearls are from designer-to-know Mateo New York. This piece will freshen up your look and give you eternal style.
1960s — Nina Simone
We all know Nina Simone for her standout voice, but she was also the woman to look to for ’60s fashion inspiration. She was originally projected to be a concert pianist but took a risk and became a jazz singer instead. She’s recorded more than 40 albums and made an unforgettable mark in music history. Her style is one to watch if you are looking to add a retro-glam feeling to your looks.
Pompom-Hem Crochet Dress
The look Nina Simone wore in 1968 is back in style with a crochet piece being the go-to for a swimsuit cover-up. This beachy number will be sure to join you on every getaway you can imagine.
1960s — Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix was the rock-n-roll superhero we didn’t know we needed who swooped in to save the day with his melodic rhythms that won over the crowd at his infamous Summer of Love performance. Still one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived, he also makes for a great style icon to represent his era of counterculture.
Telescope Button-Up Blouse
The CEO of mixing prints, Jimi Hendrix style is just as chaotic yet relaxing as his music. A one-of-a-kind printed blouse is the perfect place to start, and this one from Black-owned business Fe Noel would fit right into his closet.
1960s — The Supremes
We’re taking it back to Motown with this legendary girl group who can never be forgotten. The trio quickly rose to international stardom for their ability to release hit after hit and earn the crowd’s love every time.
Floral Strapless Maxi Dress
If you’re missing the ’60s, a retro print with an emphasis on florals will be eerily reminiscent of The Supremes’ look above. This strapless dress is exactly what we’d expect to see the trio wearing in the early days of their career.
1970s — Naomi Sims
Naomi Sims entered the fashion industry at a time when there was unfortunately little representation of Black women. She made a mark securing many cover stories and designing her own collection of wigs.
Manon Organic Cotton Maxi Slipdress
Naomi Sims was frequently seen in an elegant white dress, and this number from Tove Studio is surely right up her ally. Dress it up or down to get the look.
1970s — Diana Ross
We mentioned The Supremes previously, but we just have to revisit lead member Diana Ross on her own. She became one of the greatest style icons of the 20th century with her effortless approach to glitz and glamour. After discovering her own path and venturing away from The Supremes in the ’70s, her style rose to a whole new level.
Diana Ross might have been known for her bold and unapologetic style in fashion, but she also knows how to make a classic all-white outfit into a statement. This hat will give you a ’70s feel that will have you floating on a vibe.
1970s — Donna Summer
Known as the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer is the fashion icon that comes to mind when thinking of the glamorous dance music of the ’70s. With a strong and powerful voice, her style makes her stand out even more. With bright colors and a disco feel, you also can’t forget the perfect blush.
Berried Away Blush
When it came to beauty essentials, you couldn’t catch Donna Summer without blush. The classic product doubled as eye shadow for bright looks that made her a fashion and beauty icon. Try on her look with a blush like this from Black-owned business Mented Cosmetics.
1980s — Pat Cleveland
Pat Cleveland is known as one of the first Black supermodels rising to stardom in the early ’70s with features in every top magazine. Her unique facial features and confident personality are what got her both scouted on a subway platform and a long-lived career as a top model.
Tatouage Couture Liquid Matte Lip Stain 09 Grenat
Pat Cleveland is one of the originators of what is now considered off-duty model style. With the slick back bun, bold red lip, and the perfect pair of jeans, you, too, can look like a model.
1980s — Grace Jones
The pioneer of androgynous fashion, Grace Jones was an unforgettable icon of the ’80s and influenced the cross-dressing movement. Another staple figure in the disco and nightclub scene, she has unforgettable style.
Sequin Shorts in Argento
If you’re looking to emulate Grace Jones’s confidence and style, we recommend finding ways to dress up for your everyday. Adding something bold like sequins to a daytime look will give you that edge.
1990s — Naomi Campbell
The supermodel era of the ’90s featured Naomi Campbell as a main character among the group. Her English charm and confidence is what made her an unforgettable staple of the decade and a continuing star today.
Checked Seersucker Midi Dress
A truly Clueless moment, Naomi’s plaid look takes the print to a new level with its bright undertones. We recommend taking a cue from the ’90s supermodel and wearing a bright plaid dress this summer.
1990s — Aaliyah
Aaliyah rose to stardom at a young age making an influential mark on the R&B scene. Her smooth and gentle voice was a stark contrast to the edgy, tomboy style she was known for. Think baggy sweatpants, bandanas, and oversized denim—her style might as well have been trademarked.
Black Area 1 Sunglasses
Aaliyah dove into the streetwear trend of the ’90s with her whole heart. One aspect of her style that could fit into anyone’s closet includes the small sunglasses that dominated the fashion scene during her time. For the cool-girl look, try a tiny lens.
2000s — Beyoncé
We all know and love Beyoncé, but notably the most influential time for her style was the early 2000s as she broke away from Destiny’s Child and developed her own career. Her take on the 2000s’ trends was always classic and elegant.
Apfel Cutout Cotton-Blend Poplin Halter-Neck Maxi Dress
The cutouts and halter neck on this dress bring two very important 2000s trends into the modern era. Easily capture Beyoncé’s glam look for everyday by adopting a dress like this into your wardrobe.
2000s — Rihanna
While Rihanna’s style may now be known for ultimate luxury and sophistication, her fashion choices had simple beginnings that are what led her to where she is in the industry today. This 2000s look is definitive of her style.
Amanda Lace-Trimmed Satin Blouse
An easy way to get RiRi’s early 2000s style is a blouse like this. The white lace and light green hue are two things that made their way into 2020. Add the perfect denim skirt and you’re good to go!
2000s — Michelle Obama
The joy of Inauguration Day in 2009 was made all the better with this bold, floral Jason Wu dress worn by the blossoming First Lady herself. Michelle Obama used her platform for amazing work and empowering women. Of course, she never forgot to dress the part, becoming an influential and timeless fashion figure as her side gig.
Virginia Runway Top
If you’re looking for a textured white piece that gives you the effortless glow Michelle Obama has, then look no further. This top says it all with strategically placed ruffles that will accentuate your figure.
2010s — A$AP Rocky
One of the best-dressed men in fashion, A$AP Rocky knows style so well that anyone could take a cue from him. Always on trend but classic, he’s hard not to fall in love with, not to mention his confident personality matches his eternal style.
Pernille Oversized Woven Blazer
To get the A$AP Rocky look, choose an oversized blazer and layer it with something unexpected. This is the perfect way to turn heads whether in the workplace or out on the weekends.
2020s — Lizzo
With an unmatched voice and iconic style, Lizzo is one of the hottest new artists. She’s projected to be one of the biggest fashion icons of the upcoming decade, too, so our eyes are peeled on what she will wear next. Her micro bag moment at the AMA’s was an unforgettable look for the fashion lover.
Le Micro Vanity Mini Printed Leather Shoulder Bag
When planning a micro bag moment for ourselves, our mind always goes to Jacquemus. This floral gem is the perfect charm for your summer looks.
2020s — Zendaya
Zendaya is coming in hotter than ever lately. With many big projects planned for the future, you can look forward to seeing her outfits trending for years to come. We love her bold attempt at color and styling. She’ll never wear something you’ve seen before, so we’ll be watching closely.
Pink Sequined Silk Dress
When it’s time to be glam, we look to Cushnie for its perfect dresses. Look no further than this one to get Zendaya’s look for an evening out.
2020s — Billy Porter
Billy Porter is a force to be reckoned with, and his iconic red-carpet moments leave us wishing for the return of events ASAP. A Broadway performer who truly takes the stage wherever he goes, this is an icon who surely has big fashion moments planned for the decade ahead.
Go for gold if you’re inspired by Billy Porter’s 2019 Met Gala look. Truly anything unique yet timeless is what comes to mind when we think of Porter. A clutch like this is perfect for date night or any special event.
2020s — Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, has success on her own as an actress, but becoming a royal came with some definite perks, such as becoming a style icon worth looking up to. Her style has evolved in recent years to become more sophisticated and timeless. If you’re looking to upgrade your wardrobe for the office or an afternoon tea party, look no further.
Stella Picot-Trimmed Silk-Satin Midi Skirt
Chocolate brown has become one of the most sought-after colors of the year. Instant sophistication and class comes along with wearing it, so channel royalty like Meghan in a skirt to match her look.
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