Aaliyah's most iconic looks and why she is still relevant today, 15 years after her death
It's been 15 years to the day since Aaliyah Dana Haughton and eight other people died in a plane crash leaving the Bahamas where they'd just completed filming her single "Rock the Boat" off of her self-titled, third studio album, Aaliyah.
For those of us living our best (Read: most awkward) years through the '90s, us '80s babies, she may be the first icon we remember losing. Where we lost David Bowie and Prince in the last year, it was likely our parents and grandparents who allowed us to grow up enjoying them and their music. Aaliyah was our icon; they didn't put us on to her.
We lived through her come-up, snuck out of the house and partied to "Are You Feelin' Me?" from the Romeo Must Die soundtrack, burned CDs for our high school sweethearts made up of her slow jams like "Come Over" and "I Don't Wanna," danced some of our first slow dances to "4 Page Letter," mimicked her dance moves from "More Than a Woman" in front of our bedroom mirrors and emulated her style. God, at 15 I wanted to be Aaliyah. I wanted my hair to cover my eye like her. I wanted to wear sneakers and boots everywhere just like her. And more than anything I wanted to be in a bandeau and baggy jeans just like her.
The quintessential around-the-way girl, Aaliyah's style is often referenced as tomboyish, however, she never minimized femininity or sexiness. She was both early cozy girl and the highly desirable "girl that can do both" long before your entire Twitter timeline thirsted for it.
Her impact is still incredibly visible in today's R&B and pop stars. You can see it in Rihanna, who has called "Are You That Somebody?" one of her favorite videos. Even as recently as her Anti World Tour, the brown oversized suit with a leather lace-up bodysuit underneath Rihanna wears on stage is very reminiscent of Aaliyah's looks.
When Ciara first came out, her style appeared to be inspired by Aaliyah's forever-bare midriff in her videos for "Goodies," "1, 2, Step" and, expectedly, "Like a Boy." Both Ciara and Alicia Keys have both regarded her as an inspiration, while Tinashe's looks frequently pull comparisons.
Perhaps not the only one embodying the around-the-way aesthetic — we had TLC, Mary J. Blige, SWV, Xscape and In Living Color's fly girls — it was Aaliyah's youthful, sweet personality confidently coupled with that sexy, street look that really made it stick. When you see a woman in a bralette and masculine-cut pants, or Gigi Hadid in all-Tommy-Hilfiger-everything working on her Tommy Hilfiger line, we all know who comes to mind: Aaliyah. Because her life was cut so short, her strong sense of self and personal style are forever immortalized.
One of Aaliyah's closest friends, mentors and collaborators Missy Elliott told Fader, "She wasn't close-minded. She was an artist that got it." It wasn't just music where she pushed the needle and set new trends either: This translated in her style as well.
She could take her look from very feminine, like in the "We Need a Resolution" video, to performing for MTV's 1996 Rock 'N' Jock in her sunglasses with a bandana tied around her head. It wasn't just murdering today's popular genderless looks we've seen Jaden Smith and Kylie Jenner come to embrace. Before the HYPEBEAST off-shoot HYPEBAE and men's brands Kith and STAMPD had so many women wearing their clothes that they could justify producing women's lines, wearing men's clothes defined Aaliyah's look.
Aaliyah was heavily influenced by Tommy Hilfiger, wearing his designs everywhere: from in videos to on red carpets and at events. As her stylist and bestie, Kidada Jones and Aaliyah worked together throughout the time Aaliyah was featured in Tommy Hilfiger ad campaigns in 1996.
In a recent interview with Complex, Tommy's brother Andy Hilfiger explained how she inspired changes to the Tommy Girl line, "After we started working with Aaliyah, we put a lot of that stuff [she wore] into the line. Tommy Girl was [previously] very preppy, it had a lot of plaids and was very schoolgirl. But then we added this whole Aaliyah look to it, which really gave it some new legs." Even an all-American heritage brand as established as Tommy Hilfiger pulled inspiration from the then 17-year-old.
Although, many pull inspiration from Aaliyah to this day, her ability to maintain her sweet and shy image, ooze sex appeal and preserve a level of mystery around her while making groundbreaking music showed everyone a softer side of a street-inspired look that has never been duplicated. Here are a selection of her defining looks:
Babygirl, better known as Aaliyah
From her debut video, with the crop, sagged jeans, bandana and signature glasses, Aaliyah made a statement.
In all yellow performing at the Forum in Inglewood, California, Aaliyah killed an all-Tommy-everything look.
"Cleans up nice" is a gross understatement.
For her "We Need a Resolution" video, Aaliyah is stunning, leaving her sneakers at home draped in this all-black sheer look and her signature bralette.
At her best
All-black, body chair, black crop top; nameplate necklace; leather pants; and her crimped, sideswept hair over sunglasses? This is peak Aaliyah (and what I'd like to wear everyday this fall).
Laced up in leather on the hood of a droptop in the opening of her video for "One in a Million," and she still looks like the princess of R&B.
She is that somebody.
Every single last look in the "Are You That Somebody?" music video from the Dr. Doolittle soundtrack was iconic. From the leather and sparkly red bra to the futuristic 'fit to the jaw-dropping skirt with two slits, Aaliyah never looked better or more versatile than in this video.
Fur coats in LA
Is there really any better opportunity to wear an ankle-length white fur coat over an all-white ensemble than on the red carpet for the Anastasia premiere is Los Angeles in 1997?
The original cozy girl
She's on stage in Cali in her oversized sweatsuit killin' 'em.
Well before Instagram and hashtags were a thing, Aaliyah's whole crew 'fitted in Tommy is the original #SquadGoals.
Break out the tissues.
In the final scene of "Rock the Boat," the last video Aaliyah released, she's looking like an angel. There's no better way to remember her.
Rest in peace Babygirl.