For women who straddle the line between being young millennials and old Gen Z’ers, Lady Gaga’s early style was more than just a hit or miss on tabloid fashion pages.
When she burst into our mainstream teenage consciousness in 2008, mirror bra’d and channeling Bowie in lightning bolt eye makeup, we, too, had just discovered “Life on Mars” via mixtapes (or Pandora radio).
When she trotted through the “Bad Romance” music video in Alexander McQueen’s armadillo boots, we were teetering in our first pair of heels.
When she said, “I am not a piece of meat,” at the MTV VMAs wearing a dress made of sirloin, we were being ogled by older boys at sweaty high school dances.
Now, the former Stefani Germanotta is back promoting her first narrative film, Bradley Cooper’s much-anticipated take on A Star Is Born.
Judging by early, glowing reviews of the film, not to mention the standing ovation she received at the Toronto International Film Festival, Gaga just may have given the most-anticipated performance of the year. Appositely, her fashion (and Monroe-recalling platinum bob) while promoting the movie has been superlative, attracting rapturous online love and praise.
The Gaga journey to red carpet glory is a journey shared with, or more accurately echoed by, her young fanbase.
Though we may not have had access to the Haus of Gaga, her Factory-esque circle of stylists/friends such as Brandon Maxwell and Nicola Formichetti, the self-proclaimed Mother Monster’s fashion trajectory mirrored how so many young people stumble upon their personal style.
First, Gaga imitated her icons (Bowie and Madonna), and then she found her own look. At her most rebellious—meat dress, lobster hat, cigarette-covered sunglasses—it felt like she was fucking with us all, seeing how much she could get away with, coming home past curfew and daring her parents to do something about it.
This attitude reigned during Gaga's first two albums (The Fame and Born This Way), but when the reigning queen of crazy town made a move for legitimacy—recording an album of standards with Tony Bennett and winning a Golden Globe for her role on American Horror Story—something changed.
In place of Haus of Gaga, she wore a conventional, ladylike Alaïa number at the 2015 Oscars, and a black velvet Versace gown at the Golden Globes. There was nothing wrong with the looks—the classic silhouettes put her on many best-dressed lists—but the sudden maturity left her looking like the antithesis of Gaga-oh-la-la.
It was like when we bought our first investment trench coat in college because a fashion magazine told us it was an “essential,” only to enter class and see everyone else in the same piece.
She has also returned to the red carpet with as much enthusiasm as she wore the storied meat dress.
At a photocall for the film, Gaga stepped off of a gondola again wearing Alaïa. Unlike the fussy, this is fancy damnit, Alaïa she wore to the 2015 Oscars, the strappy white dress was simple, devoid of any distractions. Along with paying homage to Marilyn Monroe (another wannabe serious actress) atop a subway platform in The Seven Year Itch, the design projected a relaxed confidence.
In 2015, Gaga told Billboard that, “If you see me dressing really out there, I tend to be self-deprecating inside. When I dress like a lady, I tend to be feeling very wild and confident.” Sounds like Gaga's feeling pretty good these days.
That was very apparent at the premiere of A Star Is Born, when Gaga brought out the big guns (and we don’t mean the talked-about assault rifle bra she wore in 2013, months after the Newton shooting) in a feathered pink Valentino gown. The massive, tiered, cupcake-y get-up was attention-grabbing Gaga 2.0.
Sure, it was the requisite princess dress one is expected to wear for a grand premiere event. Yes, it was a traditionally feminine blush pink. But Gaga got the sartorial last word: it was covered in unruly feathers that jutted out in every direction, and looked like it weighed approximately 90 pounds. Much like those famed McQueen armadillo shoes, it was as ridiculous as it was breathtaking.
Two weeks later, Gaga is still taking the piss out of the classic definition of Hollywood glamour. At the Toronto film festival, for example, she wore a staid velvet Armani Privé frock—oh, and it came with a dramatic black veil worthy of a National Theater production of The House of Bernarda Alba.
On the red carpet, Bradley Cooper lifted that veil with the kind of care that a veil should always be lifted. He had likely been coached, and fulfilled his fashion responsibilities with aplomb.
But should you think that Gaga has now simply transitioned into a familiar red carpet siren, check out her cover of September’s Vogue. It's more raw and pared-back than sumptuously glamorous—while the accompanying photoshoot by Inez and Vinoodh is a mix of styles with a unifying intimacy. Gaga still likes to play with her audience; she is never one look, and growing up doesn't mean going conventional.
Like the young women who watched—and imitated—Gaga’s style evolution, the multi-hyphenate’s relationship to fashion has been honed to something near perfection. While she’s appeared to move on from her enfant terrible meat dress era, she will always gravitate towards designs that demand attention—and applause (applause, applause).