Was it the oversize Swarovski crystal-adorned bow hat she wore to Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration or her signature feathers, sequins, and fringe looks from her early days? There is no doubt Aretha Franklin was a fashion diva, before it even became a thing.
For the duration of her career, Franklin was able to effortlessly combine gospel, soul and pop music to become a raging force in the music industry, becoming the first woman ever to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She made songs that have endured for over fifty years and have become mantras for people, most especially women, all around the world. “Respect” has been a movement mantra since 1967, while “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Think” can probably be recited by most people familiar with American music.
American singer and worldwide sensation, Beyoncé, recently mentioned, in an interview with Vogue September Issue, Franklin as a huge inspiration in the music industry:
“Imagine if someone hadn’t given a chance to the brilliant women who came before me: Josephine Baker, Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, and the list goes on. They opened the doors for me, and I pray that I’m doing all I can to open doors for the next generation of talents.”
Not only was Franklin a cosmic force in music, her striking style and swagger were also very influential — from her hairstyle which often changed over the decades to reflect the country’s political climate, to her dramatic ensembles that stood out from other performers.”Up until her retirement from performing in 2017, feathers, sequins, and fringe were her signatures. She moved from form-fitting dresses in the sixties to eccentric caftans in the nineties, but her joyful, luxurious approach to dressing remained, emphasising Franklin’s star power.” (Glamour)
Her delightfully extravagant sense of style and ability to make an ordinary outfit pop made her the ultimate diva, even before divas became a thing.
In all her years of being active, Aretha Franklin remained very vocal about social and political issues — a shining symbol for Black America. This includes being a vocal advocate for size inclusivity in the fashion industry.
Franklin reportedly used an interview with Jet Magazine in 1987 to publicly ask Calvin Klein to make larger sizes. “Please make 14s,” she said, referring to the lack of clothing available over a size 12. She also called out Valentino:
“Valentino has some of the most chic clothing that I have ever laid eyes on. I become enraged every time I see the Valentino line. Please if you won’t do a 14— and you’re making the girls who wear 14 very unhappy — please do a special order for me.”
She often wore clothes that complimented her size and commanded respect.
Because she was unapologetic about herself, there were a few that did not appreciate her eccentricity. In the nineties, a New York Post writer commented that Franklin was too “bosomy” for the clothing she wore, to which she replied:
“You are hardly in a position to determine what separates stars from divas since you are neither one nor an authority on either.”
We stan an unapologetic Queen. May she Rest In Power!