Happy Birthday, Madonna: The Style Evolution of the Material Girl

This image is no longer available

In honour of her 59th birthday (August 16), we look back at some of the fashion highlights from the Material Girl.

Before the influential style of Lady Gaga, there was the queen of ever-evolving wardrobe changes: Madonna. No one else better understood the power of constantly reinventing oneself better than the Material Girl.

The mega-star entertainer—who celebrates her 59th birthday this month—continues to captivate, enthrall, entertain and fascinate us—and not just with her music, but also her savvy fashion sense.

When she broke onto the scene in the early ’80s, her style consisted of thrift-shop finds—a pile-it-all-on mentality that included ample amounts of lace, from bustiers to cropped leggings. Her arms were  =often stacked with black rubber bracelets and she wore several crucifixes, with her hair voluminously teased and crimped. And there was always that dangerous-looking dark mole above her lip. It was a look quickly adopted by teenage girls everywhere.

But the bigger impact she had went beyond the teen market: She single-handedly took lingerie out of the boudoir. It became daring, sexy and acceptable to wear a lace bustier or show off your lace bra under a sheer top while out on a night on the town.

As her career accelerated and she became a global phenom, gone was the grit and thrift-shop fashions, and she embraced designer wares. But there were always dollops of sexiness. One of her earliest reinventions was when she turned herself into a platinum blond bombshell à la Marilyn Monroe.

Madonna became a one-woman fashion force, not just sparking trends but also introducing inner-circle designers to a wider audience, like avant garde French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier who did several costumes—including the infamous cone bra—for her 1990 Blond Ambition tour.

Her clothing choices also signalled various stages of her life: Married to British director Guy Ritchie and living with her children in the English countryside during the early 2000’s, her wardrobe consisted of tweeds and floral print dresses. At this stage in life, she was also trying her hand at writing a series of kids’ books.

But the provocateur also, on occasion, used her attire to raise awareness on certain issues, as she did at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2013, where she wore a Boy Scout’s uniform to criticize the organization’s ban on gays.

As her wardrobe choices while in her 50s continues to ignite controversy—that infamous rear-end dress at the 2016 MET Ball, anyone?—she’s learned how to handle the judgement that often comes her way.

Her outfits have become the equivalent of flipping the finger at society, while stating—as she always has—it’s my body, it’s glorious and I’ll wear what I want.

We take a trip down memory lane at some of the Material Girl’s best—and most daring—looks.

1. Madonna, sporting her early fashion style, in New York, 1984.

2. Cropping her hair and going platinum, at the premier of her movie, Who’s That Girl?, in 1987.

Madonna and Michael Jackson (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

3. Channeling Marilyn Monroe, Madonna accompanies Michael Jackson to an Oscar party after the Academy Awards in 1991.

Madonna (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)

4. In her goth stage in 1998 at the VH1 Fashion Awards in New York City.

5. Another variation of her glam goth look in 1998 at the Vanity Fair party with her brother.

6. Wearing the sleek sexiness of Gucci, Madonna attends the MTV Video Music Awards in 1995.

LONDON - SEPTEMBER 14: Madonna arrives for the launch her new book "English Roses", where she read some of her book to over a hundred school children at a tea party at the Rooftop Gardens in Kensington on September 14, 2003 in London.

7. Evoking an classic English beauty, Madonna wears a floral dress to the lauch of her children’s book in 2003 in Kensington.

US singer Madonna poses as she arrives to attend the amfAR's Cinema Against AIDS 2008 benefit at Le Moulin de Mougins during the 61st International Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2008 in Mougins, France. The amfAR foundation raises funds for research, education and treatment of HIV/ AIDS worldwide. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)8. The singer goes for chic elegance at the amfAR’s Cinema Against Aids 2008 benefit at the Cannes Film Festival.

VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01: Director/writer Madonna attends the "W.E." premiere at the Palazzo Del Cinema during the 68th Venice Film Festival on September 1, 2011 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)9. Going for retro-glam, Madonna attends the E. premiere – the film she wrote and directed – at the Venice Film Festival in 2011.

10. The singer at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2015.

11. The Material Girl stopped by the 2016 MET Ball in a Givenchy dress that set tongues wagging.