Aaliyah style: why the One In A Million star's legacy will live forever

Why her style is—and always will be—relevant

A collage of images depicting Aaliyah styles from cropped tops with white jeans, to signature slicked hair, sunglasses, banana, baggy clothing
(Image credit: Getty images / KMazur / Sal Idriss / Chris Walter /)

Some stars have the power to influence style and popular culture long after they've gone. And, when it comes to Aaliyah, that's certainly the case. To celebrate Aaliyah's music finally being available on streaming platforms—and to coincide with the launch of her new book, BabyGirl: Better Known As Aaliyah—Kathy Iandoli looks back on her own relationship with the icon aka 'Princess of R&B' and how her style is—and always will be—relevant. 

When I was 15 years old, I made the decision to grow out my bangs, and it was all Aaliyah’s fault. Some call them “fringe,” but whatever they were, as soon as I saw Aaliyah in the “Back & Forth” music video, I knew I no longer needed them. 

"She seemed to have come out of nowhere, dressed in baggy clothes and shades, with a honey-coated voice that was sweet yet slick."

American R&B singer Aaliyah, aka Aaliyah Dana Houghton (1979-2001) poses for a photo backstage at Madison Square Garden for Lifebeat's Urban Aid benefit concert on October 5, 1995 in New York City, New York.

Aaliyah poses for a photo backstage at Madison Square Garden for Lifebeat's Urban Aid benefit concert on October 5, 1995 in New York City.

(Image credit: Getty Images / Catherine McGann)

Aaliyah and I were the same age, and just seeing how cool someone could be in the same 24 hours a day that I had... Well, it was intimidating, yet inspiring. So, I was inspired to grow out my hair. 

My bangs started growing, reaching that awful length below the eyes, where the only option is to pin them back, since they’re still too short to reach behind the ear. 

A collage of images including school photographs of the writer Kathy Iandoli, in the middle there is an image of Aaliyah with trademark hair and colorful outfit and on the right there is an iconic image of the actress Veronica Lake with her hair down the side of her face

From L-R: A collage Kathy's yearbook headshots, Aaliyah performing on stage in California, Veronica Lake in 'This Gun for Hire'

(Image credit: Kathy Iandoli / Getty Images)

By the time they reached my cheekbones, I considered it a small victory, but by then it was 1996 and Aaliyah had already graduated to the covering of one eye with a swooped bang. She did that like actress Veronica Lake, who was her mother’s favorite. Aaliyah was my favorite, so now I wanted that look. I started wearing hats to force my hair down. 

This all sounds so sad in retrospect, but that’s the kind of power Aaliyah had: she was a teenage icon. Then, alas, by my 19th birthday my hair grew out! So had Aaliyah’s, and she stopped covering her eye. Talk about timing. Since we both had long hair by then, I opted to just be my own person; still an Aaliyah fan though.

"There was a synergy there, that after she passed has remained frozen in time."

Kathy Iandoli

I never grew that fringe back, but when I started writing my book on Aaliyah, I searched through pages created by her fans. Some are 15 years old, just growing out their bangs, while others are a little older and covering their one eye as she had. 

For the years that Aaliyah was in the music industry, she connected with us teens. There was a synergy there, that after she passed has remained frozen in time. It’s like she’s become a rite of passage for kids, whereby once they discover her, they too grow with her. And coincidentally, so does their hair. If that’s not the definition of immortal, then what is?

Kathy Iandoli is the author of the book Baby Girl: Better Known As Aaliyah, out now.

Aaliyah outfits

We're big Baby Girl fans here at My Imperfect Life and we couldn't talk about Aaliyah without running through some of her most iconic looks. There wasn't a look that she couldn't pull off, whether it was baggy clothing, sunglasses in several shapes and colorways, leather looks, a futuristic aesthetic, bandanas, crop tops, tailoring—and let's not forget that Tommy Hilfiger campaign—Aaliyah's style is eternal. 

1. The noughties aesthetic

Aaliyah pictured wearing a pink cut out top with white jeans, at The 4th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival and preview of Kimora new lingerie line "Baby Phat"

(Image credit: Getty Images / KMazur)

Nothing says the Noughties like white jeans with gold chain belt, a pink top and mini handbag. Still, would 100% rock this now. 

2. Showstopping gowns

Aaliyah wearing a black and yellow Roberto Cavalli dress at the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on September 7, 2000 in New York City.

(Image credit: Getty Images / Kevin Mazur)

Aaliyah wore a black and yellow Roberto Cavalli gown to the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on September 7, 2000.

3. Masculine tailoring

American singer and actress Aaliyah (1979-2001) attends the 11th Soul Train Music Awards, held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, 7th March 1997

(Image credit: Getty Images / Michael Ochs)

No stranger to subverting masculine tailoring, Aaliyah chose a shiny purple two-piece for the 1997 Soul Train Music Awards red carpet. 

4. All black everything

Aaliyah wearing an all black leather outfit 1998 during The 12th Annual Soul Train Music Awards at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States

(Image credit: Aaliyah / Chris Walter)

Leather trousers? Check. Exposed midriff? Check. Sleek sunglasses? Check. Everything needed for a Sci-Fi Matrix-esque moment is present. 

5. The sheer beaded look

Aaliyah attends the premiere of Romeo Must Die with her brother Rashad Haughton, she is wearing a sheer black and embellished long top over opaque black embellished trousers and sandals

(Image credit: Getty Images / Steve Granitz)

At the premiere for Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah wore a sheer embellished top over black embellished trousers. An outfit that wouldn't look out of place on many a designer catwalk, like the Marc Jacobs SS14 runway—a mere 13 years after this date—which just proves just how fashion forward Aaliyah was. Also, who else could pull off flat sandals on a red carpet with aplomb? 

6. Hip Hop style

Aaliyah is pictured in an all white ensemble with glasses and bandana

(Image credit: Getty Images / Sal Idriss)

Aaliyah was known for her hip hop aesthetic with baggy jeans, bandanas, and loose-fitting clothes taking center stage. This all-white look, complete with ombre sunglasses and more-is-more jewelry, is no exception. 

7. The film looks

Aaliyah pictured in a film still from Romeo Must Die wearing a leather jacket and her hair swept to the side

(Image credit: Getty Images / Hulton Archive)

You can't talk about Aaliyah without discussing her film moments. Whether she was the vampire Queen Akasha in the Queen of the Damned or Trish in Romeo Must Die (pictured) with her hair swept over to one side and killer combo of leather, crop tops and statement trousers, it was always the cutting edge of cool. 

Kathy Iandoli

Kathy Iandoli is an American author and journalist, specializing in the history of Hip Hop. She's recently worked on the Netflix documentary Ladies First: A History of Women In Hip-Hop (streaming now) and has written for VibeThe SourceXXLThe Village VoiceRolling StoneBillboard, Pitchfork, PlayboyCosmopolitanMaximThe GuardianVice, and many other publications. She has held editorial positions at top Hip Hop/urban entertainment websites which include AllHipHop.com, HipHopDX.com and BET.com. Iandoli is an alumna-in-residence of Music Business at New York University and has appeared across the media, on radio, and in television and panels discussing Hip Hop and gender.