How Lady Gaga Used Her Outlandish Fashion To Make Her A Star

By Meghan Dillon··  8 min read
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It’s safe to say that pop singer and actress Lady Gaga has evolved since she first came onto the music scene in 2008, and her style evolution is nothing short of fascinating.

Looking back, it’s easy to notice how she used outlandish fashion to make a name for herself before evolving into her present classier looks – and it’s actually pretty brilliant marketing.

She Used Fashion To Put Her Name on the Music Map

The music industry (especially pop music) is extremely competitive, and it’s nearly impossible to chart a number one hit on talent alone. Talent alone doesn’t make you a star – you have to be good-looking, young, and willing to “do what it takes” to keep your name at the forefront of the industry. 

To that point, the most iconic performances by pop stars are often over the top (think of Britney Spears’ “I’m A Slave 4 U” performance at the 2001 VMA’s with a live snake), and Lady Gaga was well aware of that when she entered the pop music scene in the late 2000s. Despite having a stunning voice and loveable personality, Lady Gaga knew she had to go above and beyond to make a lasting impression.

Twitter user visakan veerasamy argues, “Lady gaga chose to be weird as a positioning strategy in order to get the attention (for her hard-won talent) that would make her a star. She knew she couldn't get to where she is by playing it straight. If she set out to be this classy, elegant, sophisticated artist from day 1, I don't think anybody would've taken her very seriously. She's attractive but not 99.9th percentile attractive in the land of perfect faces. So she competed for attention in an orthogonal way. It worked.”

Think about it for a second. Her music and style in the early days of her career were super outrageous and headline-dominating, which worked to put her in the public’s eye, yet she has toned down her style over the past few years pretty dramatically. She has achieved success and icon status in the fashion and music world, so she doesn’t have to provide shock value anymore to make headlines. Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look back at some of her most bizarre styles from the early days of her career.

Lady Gaga’s Iconic Early Looks

Hair Bow

Back in 2008 when Lady Gaga was promoting her debut album, The Fame, one of her go-to hairstyles was a hair bow – made from hair. She achieved this by using extensions, as she told MTV, "I tied it up in a bow, and then you can just bobby pin it to your hair."

Though this look is very tame compared to some of her other infamous ensembles, it was one of the first signs that Lady Gaga was a unique artist, ushering in the new era of the pop star.

Disco Chic

Similar to the hair bow, Lady Gaga’s “disco chic” aesthetic was popular as she was promoting her debut album, particularly with songs like “Just Dance” and “Poker Face.” This aesthetic reflected the electro-pop sound of her first few singles and made her look unique from the other artists singing in the same genre at the time.

Meeting the Queen of England

Lady Gaga met the Queen in 2009 after performing at the Royal Variety Show and wore a stunning latex gown designed by Atsuko Kudo. Lady Gaga told Vogue, “I was meeting the Queen, and I wanted to dress like a queen in a British fashion, but I also wanted to do it in my way. We thought we’d give this look of a queen a modern twist by making it in latex.”

In typical Lady Gaga fashion, she made the over-the-top dress work. The styling on the top of the gown looks incredibly elegant. Leave it to Lady Gaga to make a latex gown look refined.

Every Outfit in the “Telephone” Music Video

From the Diet Coke cans as hair curlers in the jail yard to the crime scene tape outfit, it’s safe to say that the fashion in the 2010 “Telephone” music video is all over the place. It’s outlandish and doesn’t make any sense, which is what makes it so Lady Gaga.

The telephone is supposed to represent how we’re so caught up in technology (side note: this sentiment has aged so well), but the chaos of the video and the costumes are what makes it iconic. It’s all over the place and doesn’t really make sense, but that’s kind of the point. 

Director Jonas Akerlund said, "For us, it was a little action movie with a made-up, crazy story. You don't have to be so deep about things. For me, music videos are about entertaining and bringing out the music and the artist. The form itself allows you to be creatively free. I am a little weird and a little untraditional in how and why I tell stories in music videos. But I enjoy the fact that people go deep and see things in my work because it means the music got out there and got some attention."

Akerlund’s analysis of the music video perfectly describes Lady Gaga’s persona in the early days of her career. A lot of what she did was outlandish, but nobody could doubt that it was creative. 

Meat Dress

Lady Gaga wore her most famous dress at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. It was made of raw beef and made by Los Angeles-based Argentine designer, Franc Fernandez. Lady Gaga wore the dress to protest the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” bill, a Clinton-era policy that allowed members of the LGBT community to participate in the U.S. Military under the condition that they remained closeted.

She told Vogue, “I thought to myself, ‘If you’re willing to die for your country, what does it matter how you identify?’” The dress received the most criticism from animal rights groups like PETA, but Lady Gaga later clarified that she meant "no disrespect" towards animal rights by wearing the dress. The dress was preserved by taxidermists and is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Lady Gaga’s Style Today

Lady Gaga is more focused on her acting career than her music career these days, and it doesn’t take an avid fan to detect her dramatic shift in style over the past few years. Some of her more recent looks have a classic Old Hollywood glamour feel to them, a stark contrast from her early days.

Lady Gaga shined during the 2019 awards season when she received several nominations for her role of Ally Maine in the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born. Many of Lady Gaga’s gowns (especially the black Brandon Maxwell gown that she wore to the Oscars) looked like they came straight off an Old Hollywood red carpet, which makes sense because A Star Is Born is a Hollywood classic. The movie has been made four times and stars some of Hollywood’s best. From Judy Garland in the 1954 version to Barbra Streisand in the 1976 version, Lady Gaga knew she was among Hollywood royalty, and she dressed like it.

She wore a stunning emerald green Ralph Lauren gown paired with Tiffany jewelry to the 2022 BAFTA Awards, and we can’t get over how beautiful she looked. It gives off serious Grace Kelly vibes, and we’re obsessed.

Another recent look that turned heads was the white Armani Privé gown she wore to the 2022 SAG Awards. Both dresses were worn to award shows where she was nominated for her role of Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci, and the elegant gowns reflected her glamorous role. Reggiani had access to the most luxurious clothes in the world before her downfall, so it was only fitting for Lady Gaga to wear couture gowns as a respectful nod to the role.

These red carpet looks are a marked departure from her early outlandish styles, to the point of which it makes you wonder. Is the new Old Hollywood glam just a phase she’s in? Was her earlier bizarre fashion something she grew out of? Or was it all a brilliant strategy to shoot her into fame, and once established, she can now show her true self?

Closing Thoughts

When you look back, it’s easy to see how Lady Gaga put herself on the map with over-the-top outfits because she knew that’s what it took to become a pop star. Now that she’s well established, she can sing and dress however she wants, which means that we'll hopefully be seeing a lot more elevated and feminine glamour from this style icon.

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