Why Do We Covet Rihanna’s Style?

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that we want to dress like Rihanna.

We thirst after her Swarovski crystal dress, envy her sheer tank top in “Work,” and we buy her Fenty x Puma collection up in minutes, leaving nothing behind as though it had just been a heartbreaking mirage.

And the proof is in the pudding (or in her limited edition merchandise). This spring, Rihanna’s Manolo Blahnik capsule collection crashed the site several times upon its release, and her affiliation with Dior spiked sales for the company. Plus, her collaboration with Stance has boosted revenue high enough to warrant the singer releasing a third collection, proving that Rihanna’s alliance with any brand drives up numbers big-time. Which also means we want to be her. Or at least channel her unfuckwithable aesthetic.

And that’s understandable. Over the last few years especially, Rihanna’s sense of fashion has been defined by her sense of self, in that it’s unique, commanding, and in no way apologizes for what it is. When on the CFDA red carpet back in 2014, Rihanna addressed the journalists who took issue with her gown’s translucence and specifically reminded them that her boobs were covered in Swarovski crystals (so please relax). In 2015, she was the only Met Gala attendee to enlist a Chinese designer for the event, the theme of which was "China Through the Looking Glass" (and earned accolades for the work of art she wore). And in Vogue’s April cover story, Tom Ford described the singer as “daring, fearless, and constantly evolving,” which is arguably the most accurate description of her yet. Rihanna cares about what she puts on, yes — but she doesn’t care what anyone thinks about it. And that’s the whole point of fashion to begin with.
Photo: Josiah Kamau/BuzzFoto/Getty Images.
That's what makes her stand out from her celebrity contemporaries. In the aughts, the likes of Mandy Moore (MBlem), Ashlee Simpson (for Wet Seal), and JLo (Sweetface) pedaled collaborations to fans with a “look like this” approach to style. With the exception of Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B., Victoria Beckham, The Olsens’ The Row, and The Jessica Simpson Collection (which are all going strong), stars used their influence to encourage fans to dress like them — take a look at the Kardashians' various endeavors today. For these celebrities, style was no longer about a personal interpretation, it was an extension of business. Especially since the former were based heavily on trends of a specific era, with no room for personal or sartorial growth.
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In short: Nobody’s dressing like Ashlee Simpson circa 2008 anymore. Especially not Ashlee Simpson. Rihanna remains separate from that pigeon-holed business model. And that’s likely because her own sense of fashion is impossible to pin down. Rihanna lacks a signature look. She’s not interchangeable with any other artist, and she follows no formula for getting dressed and going out. On some days, she’s in a two-piece suit. On others, a bathrobe. Most recently, she was spotted in platforms with a print dress. Every day, she looked fantastic. First, because her chosen pieces were great. Second, because she embodies the mantra, “I do what I want!” And she stands by that choice.

When we say we want to dress like her, it's that pride of self we want to emulate. Rihanna evokes confidence, and confidence is powerful. And Rihanna is both.
Photo: Alo Ceballos/GC Images.
Especially since the secret to Rihanna’s style isn’t about picking up her collaborations or attempting green lipstick (but you can — because it’s awesome) or about dressing exactly like she does. It’s about owning your body and your sense of self and choosing to wear pieces that make you feel good. It’s about taking risks where you want and dressing on your own terms. Arguably, it’s about rejecting the trend-centric formula a lot of us feel safer abiding by and trusting your gut instead. Plus, Rihanna’s sense of style isn’t elitist or classicist or a wearable way of saying “I’m better than you.” Instead, it’s leading by example. It’s proof that fashion rules are a myth, and that style is yours to interpret as you see fit. This is us simply seeing and recognizing hers.

Which we’re all free to be inspired by or pick up (should you find any Fenty x Puma anywhere in the world we live in). But where other celebrity designers have stayed in their aesthetic lane and worked with what they knew, Rihanna’s put it all on the idea that risk pays off. No two Rihanna collaborations look the same because no person is always the same, and Rihanna understands this. You dress for a day, for a mood, or for what part of yourself you need to channel. A bathrobe, a print dress, or a two-piece suit.

So now we can stop coveting Rihanna’s style and acknowledge how her approach to it has changed the game, instead. By abiding by her own rules, overseeing her own collections, and committing to every look she wears, she’s doing something far more important than making a certain shade of lipstick look cool. She’s telling us that it’s okay to have confidence in taking risks and that if you're wearing something like you mean it, you’re going to look great.

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