R&B has provided the world with plenty of style icons, but few have had the impact of Aaliyah. Her life was tragically cut short 15 years ago today, but her image, as immortalized in interviews and music videos remains powerful—particularly within the fashion community. You don’t have to look far to see the effect Aaliyah had on the current generation of tastemakers; Beyoncé Instagrams clips of her, Rihanna regularly cribs from her playbook, and Drake has her image tattooed on across his back. For those who grew up listening to her music, Aaliyah remains one of the preeminent performers—and trendsetters—of the pre–social media age. The industry may hang on each new ’90s-influenced collection, but many of the styles cycling back into relevance owe nearly everything to the streetwise look Aaliyah popularized.
Hoodies, bucket hats, Timberland-like boots, and logo-covered Windbreakers now appear on the most exclusive runways, but when Aaliyah arrived on the scene singing “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” her attire was trailblazing. Her baggy jeans worn with underwear showing, overalls with bra tops, and oversize leather
jackets were cool, but they were also the kind of tomboyish trends that seemed taken from an older brother, rather than cultivated by a stylist.
It wasn’t long before fashion took note, with Tommy Hilfiger enlisting her for a campaign opposite Kate Hudson, and labels like Roberto Cavalli dressing her for big events. With each new release, Aaliyah evolved, never losing her love of sports jerseys or basketball shorts, but experimenting with a sexier aesthetic that reflected her maturity. By the time 2001’s groundbreaking eponymous album dropped, Aaliyah was as sleek and fashion-conscious as they came, frequently stepping out in slinky gowns with thigh-high slits and sultry pieces straight from the runway.
In the 15 years since her death, Aaliyah has become a bona fide muse for designers who cite hip-hop and the early ’00s as a reference point. You see her lasting influence in the Carhartt-esque workwear Alexander Wang sends out for his diffusion line, T by; Demna-era Balenciaga and its billowing puffers; Hood by Air’s latex fabrics; Off-White’s graphic jumpsuits; Fenty x Puma’s belly chains and hooded furs; and countless other catwalk moments. There doesn’t seem to be a current streetwear trend that Aaliyah didn’t sport first—something to remember the next time you see someone stepping out in Timbs and overalls.