What Makes Someone a Fashion Icon?

We’re asking because times they are a-changing


In response to the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit featuring “iconic” Beyoncé costumes, New York Times critic Vanessa Friedman argues that although Beyoncé may be a pop culture icon, she doesn’t actually merit the title of “fashion icon.”

Friedman admits that at first this may seem like a “blasphemous” statement. NO ONE challenges the Beygency — she should sleep with one eye open from now on. But as much as you may want to disagree with her, Friedman does make some interesting points. She goes on to say that Beyoncé lacks CFDA accolades (unlike Rihanna), she has yet to “spark” any trends and the products she endorses (which are few) don’t fly off shelves. Furthermore, her own brand, House of Deréon, is practically defunct.

The Cut‘s rebuttal: “Why Would Fashion’s Biggest Critic Slam Beyoncé?” points out that Beyoncé has, in fact, had commercial fashion success, and the “freakum dress” should never be forgotten. I would also add that I have a burning desire for a “NO ANGEL” sweatshirt from the Beyoncé shop. At the end of the day, while she may not be a fashion “icon” per se, Beyoncé has no doubt projected a strong, admirable sense of style.

Before taking any sides though, we first have to ask what makes someone a style icon? The Cut posits:

The definition of “fashion icon” should stop being so narrow and as inaccessible as it is these days. It should be about more than just wearing the most avant-garde or fresh-off-the-runway looks. 

We agree that the term “fashion icon” should extend beyond the realm of celebrity. It is important to remember that at its root, the word “icon”  refers to the representation of a common symbol. Reverence is implied, but if someone’s style embodies any cultural zeitgeist, then they can be considered an icon.

That being said, amazing personal style doesn’t automatically make your next door neighbor an “icon,” since he/she isn’t publicly known. (Unless, of course, your neighbor is Jenna Lyons.)

While celebrities make a conscious effort to shape our culture, it is also possible to be what we call an “accidental” style icon: someone whose personal style is effortlessly enviable. Take someone like Amelia Earhart, whose style remains iconic, yet she had other things on her mind besides getting dressed in the morning. Gloria Steinem is another perfect example.

Contemporary fashion icons are a different breed though — social media and the Internet make it much easier to have just 15 minutes of icon fame. And behind every celebrity is a celebrity stylist, so is it possible to be a truly authentic style icon anymore?

The same way that the rise of secularism birthed an alternative to iconographic art, one could argue that the elite title of fashion icon faces the same fate. Do we really invest emotionally in icons anymore? Do we need them? If Beyoncé — the untouchable demigodess of popular culture — is subject to a deposition of icon status, then perhaps there’s room in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for us mere mortals.

Image via the New York Times