Madonna: The Evolution of Hollywood’s Ever-Changing Material Girl


| LAST UPDATE 06/29/2023

By Christiana Holland

Fans worldwide had been anticipating Madonna's The Celebration Tour. Although it was postponed due to her hospitalization, we're still celebrating the Queen of Pop's iconic career. Here's a look at her evolution throughout the years.

A Girl With Dreams

Madonna rose to fame in 1982 when she landed her first solo debut in the music industry. Yet, prior to her discovery, she was still an icon to more of a niche audience that loved to see her rock out on stage.

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In 1978, she moved to New York City for a musical career. Still, she needed a few tricks to make her notable. At age 20, she spiced up her aesthetic, throwing on a classic tank with ripped jeans and a fiery belt. But, it would be nothing without her statement jewelry, eye makeup, and the iconic bespoke pixie haircut.

Young & Impressionable

Madonna was a small-town girl from Michigan, so moving to the big apple was a brave jump for the rising pop sensation. She dabbled around to find her feet. Throughout her time in NYC, she began performing as a drummer, guitarist, and vocalist in the rock bands called Breakfast Club and Emmy. She clearly gave quite an impression.

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Oscar White / Contributor via Getty Images

After sporadic performances, all it took was one audience member to recognize she had something going for her. At this point, she was definitely experimenting to find her style. With bare makeup and textured hair, when the 80s came around, Madonna would look very different. This was just the beginning.

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Bright Lights, Big City

Here we are, in the early 80s. It was the time of vibrant colors, parachute pants, giant scrunchies, finger-lace gloves, and many other bold fashion choices that were simply iconic looking back at it now. Despite the major cultural reset we have seen in fashion, Madonna's entrance to fame stood out like no other.

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Michael Putland/Contributor via Getty Images

We could definitely say Madonna started off as an icon in herself. Though she was already slightly on the map, her striking features and significant talent put her name in lights everywhere before we knew it. She started to grow out her pixie haircut, adorn baggier clothing, and swapped jet black for her signature bold lip.

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Like A Virgin

In the blink of an eye, Madonna had her first single, Everybody. The year was 1983, and people were instantly becoming 'Madders,' the name given to her fans. She was slowly but surely discovering her sound and her look. Of course, there's no harm in some subtle trial and error. The swift transitions were happening hit after hit.

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Mediapunch via Shutterstock

Madonna was soaring through the industry like never before. After her debut single, she was suddenly everywhere. And in 1984, she released Like A Virgin, which saw an electrifying aesthetic - all about excess. It was "ironic and provocative at the same time," she later reflected, calling for teased hair, wedding dresses, and fingerless gloves.

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A Material Girl

For all the Madders out there, this was dubbed her prime time. The Queen of Pop released her 1984 studio album, Like A Virgin, and embraced everything retro and chic. Her aesthetic during this period was entirely centered around this album, which included hits such as Material Girl and Pretender - inspiring an entire decade of fashion.

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Madonna via YouTube

She adorned contoured cheeks, frosted lips, and put "female sexual purity on a pedestal," noted NME. The 'material girl' inspiration was taken from Marylin Monroe's 'diamonds are a girl's best friend' rulebook. It was all about her hot pink strapless dress and white feather boa that went on display in London and later was auctioned.

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Porcelain Preacher

Following the release of Like A Virgin, Madonna adopted a porcelain complexion. While slowly shying away from her glitz and glamour era, it seemed that with every release, there was a different Madonna. She was consistent in keeping up with herself, focusing on her brand. Time was of the essence, and she took advantage.

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Jim Steinfeldt / Contributor via Getty Images

She stepped out with pale, slightly powdered skin. Madonna was making sacrifices in her career, which all worked in her favor, even when seemingly promoting religious tributes. Another one of her most iconic looks was 'the wedding dress,' with white lace gloves and rosary beads, sexualizing bridal wear.

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Desperately Seeking Susan

Once Madonna had smashed out multiple No.1 hits, she knew it was time to wow her fans with some new styles. She introduced ultimate pop-art styles and retro garments. When 1985 came around, she added some razzle-dazzle that only anyone could talk about. Only this time, her fashion reflected her entering the film industry.

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Moviestore via Shutterstock

In addition to the lace exterior and flamboyant jewelry, the Papa Don't Preach singer then permed her hair which was glamorized with retro bows. Of course, the fierce looks - during this era - were finished off with a bright red lip. She was unmissable and always recognizable. This only elevated her film debut more.

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Madonna Meets Jean-Paul Gaultier

Although minor tweaks were made year by year, Madonna kept elements consistent and classy throughout the 80s. She had established her rock-glamor style, it was time for some professionals to step in to vamp up the creations. In 1985, Madonna showed up to the American Music Awards just as we knew her - but with an edge.

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Lester Cohen via Getty Images

Jean-Paul Gaultier intertwined a personal flare. She lost the bow and replaced it with a loosely fitted scrunchie, and while the red lip also stayed put, the smudged smokey eye made its way to the carpet. Finally, she wore an original J-P.G cone-shaped corset top decorated with her renowned rosary beads and lace gloves.

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Who's That Girl?

Of course, a few years later, Madonna was already bored with her style and decided to spice things up. After pursuing a high ponytail for so long, it was only natural that she was going to evidently let her hair down… or cut it all off. In 1987, something sparked in the pop singer, as if she was way ahead of the industry and her time.

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Icon and Image/ Contributor via Getty Images

It was like clockwork. Madonna knew how to keep her fans excited. By 1987, she cut and bleached her hair blonde, extended her love for lace, and embraced fishnet tights whenever she could, complete with a leotard and boots. Whether this was a marketing strategy for new music, there were many pointing fingers asking, "who's that girl?"

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The Cone Bra

New generation alert! The 80s had ended, and that only meant an entire era of experimentation was just waiting at Madonna's doorstep. At the beginning, in the year 1990, Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour took off. More importantly, this was another moment in her career where she debuted an iconic look.

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Gie Knaeps via Getty Images

She was center stage, and all eyes were on her. If you were a real Madder for Madonna, fans would know the historic cone bra made its return from Jean-Paul Gaultier's debut. According to Harper's Bazaar, the complete design became "underwear as outwear." Suddenly, belts were being strapped to leotards as a staple trendsetter statement.

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Come on, Vogue

While fashion has met music before, the way Madonna incorporated her own iconic flair made it all worthwhile to revisit the collaboration. With every beat, there's a striking pose. In the power of Madonna, this was a point in her career that moved audiences with her.

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Her Vogue era was predominantly set while Madonna was thriving in New York. She graced sleek hair, all smiles, dark and defined lashes, with a polished lip complexion. To promote Vogue, she styled herself in a sheer lace black too, diamond cuff bracelets, and rocked a bouncier blonde perm than usual. It was a look to remember.

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A Marilyn Monroe Moment

From sheer lace to white grace, Madonna had a lightbulb moment just one year later. It wasn't exactly hard to keep up with her ever-changing styles, but it definitely got confusing at times. Whether it was a new album or just a persona change, she had no problem with switching it up - on her terms.

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Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Her blonde curls got longer and looser. As she held on to the arm of Michael Jackson, her Prince of Pop, she opted for a reserved look as she swapped out the sheer aesthetic to completely opaque. With an exaggerated red lip and diamonds draped around her neck, her Marilyn Monroe aesthetic covered Vanity Fair earlier that year.

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The Frozen Era

Not long after, the ice queen was seen rocking long brown crimped locks, and primarily more conservative clothing. Did she just tell everybody that sheer was out? According to Ray of Light's producer William Orbit, Madonna's mindset during this new zen era was "don't gild the lily" - meaning? Embrace the imperfections.

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Frank Micelotta via Getty Images

In 1998, Madonna stepped foot inside the VH1 Fashion Awards, sporting a long yellow gown created by Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens. The contrast between her jet-black hair and brightly colored gown lit up the entire carpet, making an entrance - as usual. Still, this would only be a Madonna look with her signature corset.

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Double Denim

As for double denim, Madonna walked so Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake could run. In 1998, the superstar rocked the dark blue jean co-ord for her music video Ray of Light. Though many might perceive the denim duo as a fashion sin, there are truly only a few that can pull it off.

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Frank Micelotta Archive / Contributor via Getty Images

As we began to enter the 2000s, fashion was becoming more simple and more neutral. Although Madonna had fans running wild for her fashion choices, she continued to keep up with every generation. She had an eye for what worked and what didn't, and as NME described, she was entering an era of "red dead redemption meets campy cowboy."

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The Red Kimono

The 2000s had begun. Madonna was ready to take on a new era of fashion statements that would go down in pop history. The dream team of Madonna X Jean-Paul Gaultier collaborated again for the Grammy Awards. Undoubtedly, this was one of her most drastic changes considering she mainly got creative with black and white accessories.

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Kevin Mazur via Getty Images

She was unmissable - but far from unrecognizable. Though this was not a job for the fashion police, she certainly turned heads as she dressed in red from head to toe, including her lips but excluding her dark chocolate brown straight locks. The red boots were definitely a statement, but she could make any outfit look easy.

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An Ode to Kylie Minogue

This was the moment we'd all been waiting for. If there was any fashion era that we would want to make a comeback, it's everything centered around low-waisted jeans and tanks, serving the early 2000s looks. While Minogue had her fashion sense down to a T, it was only a matter of time before Madonna enhanced the look.

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As fashion made its way through the eras, Madonna started as she meant to go on. That being said, she noticed Minogue's aesthetic and decided to dedicate an outfit publicly. At the 2000 MTV Europe Music Awards, she wore a tank with the Australian singer's name embezzled on the front and paired with cowboy-style low-wait jeans.

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Disco Diva

All of a sudden, Madonna had a flashback and channeled her original 80s anthem. It was as if a disco ball had been floating over her head, guiding her through another fashion moment. In the years after Madonna released her single Hung Up and visited Tokyo, her style totally revamped.

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Inspired by Saturday Night Fever, she ditched the bleached perm and embraced a golden-toned 80s wavey cut. She also brought back bright colors, leather jackets, leotards, and her beloved fishnets. As her album, Confessions on a Dancefloor, debuted in 2005, she was the ultimate disco diva.

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Punk Princess

In the height of her retro-chic era, one of Madonna's most recognized hairstyles was her clean-cut black bob with bangs. Around 2009, she continued to dress in layers of lace and fishnets, with the subtle additions of spikes and chains that made us revisit her initial rockstar days.

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Dimitrios Kambouris / Staff via Getty Images

By 2013, fans were intrigued to see that she incorporated a suit co-ord into the mix at The Met's spring Costume Institute exhibition. The cheque-patterned duo worked perfectly in her honor, as she wore a chain around her neck with a padlock and an embezzled 'M' on it. It was as if fashion had her in a metaphorical chokehold.

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Bringing the Glamour Back

The mid-2000s was that perfect cross-over point where contemporary modern clothing was slowly making its way to the storefront windows. Though fashionistas were still set on their mini denim skirts, oversized sunglasses, and layered tanks, changes were long overdue. It was time to snap back into elegance.

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Kevin Mazur via Getty Images

In 2011, Madonna walked the red carpet at the annual Met Gala, which represented the legacy of Alexander McQueen. However, she had teamed up with Stella McCartney in a pale blue satin gown which brought an essence of old-time Hollywood glamor. Her red lip made an appearance while her hair was styled perfectly into a vintage side parting.

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A Whole New Woman

The Princess of Pop might have hinted at the looks she would serve a few years down the line. In 2011, Madonna posed her heart out at the premiere of her W.E. film while rocking an all-black look with classic Louboutins. Her long-time makeup artist commented on her fashion to Allure, "I would say that she is very detailed."

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Michael Loccisano / Staff via Getty Images

Don't think she had us fooled, those fishnets were under her 3/4 length tailored trousers. When taking a look at the top half of her look, her jacket and sleeveless blouse were covered in abstract designs. She also lost her red lip along the way but instead opted for a light pink so it wouldn't distract fans from her outfit.

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Suited & Booted

This is the moment when Madonna went full force on the suit and tie aesthetic. She started off mellow, but we never believed it would stop there. When attending the 56th Grammy Awards, she honored Ralph Lauren by keeping it real and chic while posing with her eight-year-old son at the time, David Banda.

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Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor via Getty Images

Is that the bespoke Madonna red lipstick returning for one night and one night only? All makeup aside, she decorated her wide-leg suit co-ord with a brimmed bowler hat and a diamond-encrusted cane. Not to mention, she had grillz installed in her mouth to shine anywhere and at any time. Her little date matched for full effect.

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Through the Looking Glass

Another Met Ball, another Madonna moment. She never fails to amaze us. After over a decade of high-fashion moments, she continues to bring us fresh new looks, as if she has an endless checklist hidden somewhere. After trying out perms, bob-cuts, and high ponytails in scrunchies, she attended this event with a simplistic edge.

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The theme was 'China: Through the Looking Glass.' In correspondence to the theme, she styled her hair the longest we had ever seen it, draped over an off-the-shoulder graffiti print column dress with a cape, custom designed by Moschino's creative director Jeremy Scott. It was the perfect Fall/Winter introduction. Thank you, Madonna.

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Deja Vu

In the spirit of LA, Madonna took us back a couple of years come the 2015 Grammys. It was a major moment of nostalgia after debuting some of her signature fashion staples. The pop icon strutted the red carpet dressed like a matador. The black and white look, complete with lace and arm gloves, made a statement. But perhaps the most notable moment?

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Kevin Winter/Staff via Getty Images

After flashing her rear for the camera, the unapologetic queen hit the Grammys stage for a performance like no other. Clad in a fiery red ensemble, Madge made waves as she joined her backup dancers, who were dressed as Maleficent - along with black horns. Yet another moment during her career that raised eyebrows.

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Coming Full Circle

In 2016, Madonna worshipped the stairway to heaven at the Met Gala. As Harper's Bazaar stated, she was "proving that age is nothing but a number." The pop icon has never been one to shy away from an outfit. With the help of Riccardo Tisci, they created the black look with sheer lace panels, a headpiece, body chain, and thigh-high boots.

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David Fisher via Shutterstock

But there was actually more to their vision. "The fact that people actually believe a woman is not allowed to express her sexuality and be adventurous past a certain age is proof that we still live in an age-ist and sexist society," she explained of the bold look.

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Where's Madonna?

Imagine a world where Madona was unrecognizable and swiftly went along with the crowd as an average human being. Of course, that's not remotely possible. Although, at the Met Gala Ball in 2017, it was a close call. Not only did she show up wearing nude lipstick, but also a bold outfit.

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Dimitrios Kambouris / Staff via Getty Images

Now, this wouldn't be a classic Material Girl look without her signature arm gloves, black, of course - but surrounding paparazzi and presenters were nearly blindsided by her entrance. As she glared at the camera with her smokey-eye gaze, she rocked a camouflaged collaboration with Jeremy Scott. There was no going undercover here.

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Madame X

In 2019, Madonna introduced her alter-ego, Madame X. This was not only a fashion statement for the singer but also for her character as an artist who had continued her legacy generation after generation. While Madame X was also the name of her 14th studio album, she decided to take advantage of this milestone.

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Isabel Infantes - PA Images / Contributor via Getty Images

It turns out the infamous name appeared after celebrity inspiration. According to CheatSheet, Martha Graham told Madonna, "I’m going to have a new name for you… Madame X… Madame X is the name of a spy, a secret agent." So, as she introduced Madame X to the world, she did it with an eyepatch, creating more mystery than ever before.

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A Fresh Start

While all good things come to an end, this only signals new beginnings. When Covid-19 hit the world in 2020, Madonna took this opportunity with her head held high. She was far from going off the radar, even if it meant that she couldn't flaunt an outfit that exceeded everyone's expectations.

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Theo Wargo / Staff via Getty Images

Aside from Instagram posts taken from home, Madonna embraced a simple look on stage (excluding the outfit). As a way to symbolize her purity yet still remind fans who she is, as she graced the 2021 VMA stage revealing the 'inner Madonna.' It was simplistic, yet it said so much.

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Pink Hair, Don't Care

In 2022, Madonna uploaded a shocking TikTok video. Taking into consideration the context as well as her appearance, the video left users with many questions. For starters, she had hinted at her change in sexuality - but her looks took us by surprise even further.

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Access Hollywood via YouTube

Despite major changes, we were thankful to see Madonna stay true to her roots by wearing the famous cone-bra corset. Yet, this time, she wore a white T underneath. More importantly, her hair was bright pink and cut short as opposed to her famous blonde color. But more changes were to come.

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Late-Night Grillz

There are definitely a few fashion staples that Madonna has kept close to her heart over the years. In fact, when she appeared on Jimmy Fallon's talk show in 2022, she rocked onto the stage with long blonde locks and some very recognizable accessories.

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The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon via YouTube

Not only did she bring back the mouth grillz, adding some extra glamor, but she was also wearing the iconic fishnet gloves. It seems she always finds a way to incorporate such a crucial piece of outwear into each and every outfit. The smokey-eye shadow was also there, and even the long rock n' roll chains.

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2023 Grammys Drama

As we reach the end of Madonna in today's modern world, it's clear she's made her mark in Hollywood. The Material Girl has managed to introduce trends while intertwining herself with her music. However, her recent debut at the 2023 Grammys left fans divided. As she put it, the backlash signified "a world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45."

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Kevin Mazur via Getty Images

"Instead of focusing on what I said in my speech… many people chose to only talk about close-up photos of me taken with a long-lens camera by a press photographer that would distort anyone's face!" she soon hit back amidst surgery rumors and backlash. But despite it all, she'll "never apologize for any of the creative choices" made along the way…

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Canceling Her Tour

Recently, it was revealed that Madonna has been battling a serious bacterial infection that landed her in the ICU for several days. Her manager, Guy Oseary, assures us that she's on the road to recovery. "Her health is improving, however she is still under medical care," he said. "A full recovery is expected."

Bill Marino / Contributor via Getty Images

Sadly, the singer was forced to postpone her upcoming tour, which had been a celebration of her four-decade-long career. Nevertheless, millions of fans worldwide - including us - are finding other ways to honor the Queen of Pop. Until we see her on stage again, we join the rest of her fans in wishing her a full and speedy recovery.

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