If we’re talking of the biggest historical fashion icons, then we have to include many a king and queen, film actors, contemporary royalty and other celebrities. The biggest fashion icons have crossed paths with convention, broken norms, made bold statements or endorsed brands and made them popular. These ladies and gentlemen have broken barriers and influenced style and fashion. By carving a niche for themselves in the world of fashion, they have left behind individualistic and distinctive legacies. Some of them are etched in our memories forever. Trendsetters started their fashion journeys in the western world as early as the Medieval Period.
In the fashion industry, new styles and trends are created every season. As one style goes out, the other is already poised to make waves. It works that fast. The fashion industry, as it stands today, would not be in the place that it is, if it weren’t for fashion icons. The industry owes a debt to them, and admits this. In the current period, celebrities, stars, and famous people can take selfies and post pictures for all to see on social media. Fans are constantly on the lookout for new posts by famous people as is the print media. This brings them immediate success or failure, as far as their fashion and style go. More than that, it brings them attention spontaneously.
Nonetheless, many of the men and women who experimented with style and went on to invent their distinguishable fashion didn’t have the same opportunities. They couldn’t possibly influence people in the same way – they didn’t have the same means. Yet, the fact that we still think of them as the biggest fashion icons, means something significant. They knew what they were up to and knew the effect they were having in setting fashion trends. The following eight fashion icons were not only successful in their respective careers, but they possessed a sharp fashion sense. This hurled them to fame.
Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I (1533-1603) is probably one of the huge influencers of fashion and style in history. In the latter half of the sixteenth century, she largely dominated the styles that women wore. Her desire was to create a fashion sense that would make people see her as a ruler with power. Her gowns are the stuff of legends. They were embellished with jewels, and made from fabric with elaborate prints. She felt she needed to show off her status as a queen, and her clothes and the way she carried herself would achieve this. She is noteworthy as one of the biggest fashion icons history has witnessed.
Her ruffled high-necked collars were imitated by men and women alike. Courtiers imitated her style in the hope that she would glance at them once in a while. Nevertheless, she was a proud queen who didn’t give them the time of day! The queen had a habit of passing down her costly gowns to noble ladies, deserving of such rewards. Many ladies-in-waiting were fortunate to receive these prized possessions. Notably, wigs were very popular at this time and the queen’s typical wigs were copied as well.
The Sun King, Louis XIV (1638-1715), was known for his famous fashion trends when he ascended the throne as the King of France. His creative flair and love for all things grandiose and gaudy can be seen in the way he built his Palace at Versailles. The court at this palace was always brightly turned out, in terms of courtiers and the king himself. There has been no court in Europe as fashionable as his. Using the tenacity and skills of his finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis built a textile and clothing industry to rival that of all Europe.
He ensured that his subjects bought only French cloth. He imposed harsh punishments on those who imported material from other countries, especially from his arch enemy, Spain. Many nobles went bankrupt to keep up with the king’s style of clothing and wigs. The king had a way of banishing nobles from court if they didn’t adhere to his own fashion sense. It is important to realize that the French fashion industry has produced some of the biggest fashion icons as time has passed.
Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was an Austrian archduchess who was married to the dauphin, Louis XVI of France. She had a daunting and somewhat strange first brush with fashion as she was made to change from her Austrian gown to a French one on her journey to France. This was done to symbolically show her preparation for becoming France’s future queen. She was known for her lavish clothing style and bright colors. She even used very colorful makeup. Although the whole country criticized her for her style, people flocked to copy her dresses. At the court of Louis XVI, nobles and high-ranking ladies were known for the styles of clothing they adopted and needed to be in unison with the royal family. Queen Marie Antoinette is remembered through the annals of history for her flamboyance, and she is a top-notch historical fashion icon.
There is no mistaking Coco Chanel (1883-1971) with her revolution in the fashion world. In the early part of the 20th century, she took inspiration from the clothes of men and created elegant, and simple stylistic clothes for women. It was a period in which women were discovering their own sense of style. Previously, women had been exposed to the rigors of having to wear corseted dresses that, though in keeping with the trend, were all but comfortable.
Chanel was a pioneer of relaxed, yet high fashion wear. For instance, she used jersey in innovative ways because it draped easily and was affordable too. Jersey, so far, had only been used for men’s underwear! She made trousers very popular for women, as well as costume jewelry. Her simple, yet classic accessories could make or break an outfit. Chanel wore her clothes herself, and women wasted no time in mimicking her. Chanel was undoubtedly the queen fashion icon influencing the first modern styles of the century.
A British beloved actor called Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) embodied class and elegance like no other fashion icon in history. She was the muse for Hubert de Givenchy and wore much of his couture in her professional life and in her personal life. The little black dress in the famous film Breakfast at Tiffany’s was designed by Givenchy for her. It has been iconic and is copied even today. She loved to wear sailor stripes with ballet flats, and these are adopted by the most stylish women e now as well. Twenty-five years after her passing, people still feel her loss as one of the biggest influencers in fashion and style.
Givenchy’s simple, yet tasteful column-styled gown, the three-strand pearl necklace, and the elegant up do are all signature Hepburn style indicators. Not to mention, the diamond necklace, large sunglasses of tortoiseshell, and the long, long cigarette holder.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
The ex-wife of one of the most controversial presidents in American history, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, with her chic and simple fashion sense was the inspiration of millions of women all over the world. She promoted Chanel looks with her box bags. She also loved Halston pillbox hats. Jackie defied “fads” and trends, making her own style statements every time she stepped out.
This devastatingly handsome American actor has been touted as the biggest fashion icon in Hollywood in the 50s and 60s. He had a casual, yet impressive masculine style sense. In movies, he was often portrayed as the anti-hero. The actor embraced all the looks from leather biker to rugged denim. When he wore suits, they exuded a timeless charm. Popularly worn by him, in films and outside the sets, was the blend of the turtleneck with a tweed blazer. In the 1960s, this became an iconic look for men. Classic, yet sleek, the actor remains one of the greatest Hollywood male historical fashion icons.
Princess Diana’s legacy extends far greater than just fashion, but the people’s princess was a fashion icon who was advanced for the time she lived in. She had impeccable style, and carried off every piece of cloth she wore with nothing but grace. In the 80s, when she started her family with the birth of Prince William, she looked elegant in simple blazers and long wool coats. From the moment of her wedding day till far into her life as Princess Diana, she favored the Emanuel designers greatly.
Even while pregnant with Prince William, she managed elegance in simple silver ballet flats with evening gowns. She loved sailor collars and wore clothes by Bruce Oldfield and Donald Campbell often. Jasper Conran was also a much-loved designer. With matching hats and ideal accessories, she was perfect in every way, from head to toe. It seemed like she could carry off just about any piece of clothing from pencil skirts to dungarees with ease and simple chic. She appeared like she didn’t even have to try. This makes her a fashion icon of the greatest stature, with people trying to emulate her today.
Style and fashion icons in history are too many to mention in a single article. There are so many more like Diana Ross, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, and more recently, Madonna (with her outlandish concert costumes) and Lady Gaga. There was also Marilyn Monroe and the iconic British model, Twiggy. The ones mentioned above stand out. This is because they influenced fashion while they lived, and we think of them as the biggest fashion icons to have existed even now.