Candy-colored and sparkling, Katy Perry is, both musically and aesthetically, a quintessential pop star. Her past as an Alanis Morissette-esque singer/songwriter and reinvention into a teenage dream is a familiar narrative, but it's a story that's been told told via her style choices as well as her chart performance. Perry's aesthetic is built on showmanship and a keen eye for trends, turning every appearance into a living, breathing, glittering Tumblr dashboard. While she never fully reinvents the wheel, she's consistently updating her look, a technicolor reflection of the online lives of her biggest fans. By Maud Deitch
Before she found pop stardom, Katy Perry was a good Christian girl from Santa Barbara in jeans and a T-shirt. While she will still occasionally wear a sweatshirt and jeans when she's out in the world and being captured by paparazzi, Perry has come a long way from this simple, carefree look.
If 2014 is informed by Tumblr, 2008 was the heyday of the Suicide Girl. Pinup style has long been a staple of Perry's wardrobe (the representative nipped-in waists do many favors for her curvy body type) and stylized, cartoonish rompers are an essential element of that trope. Like burlesque shows and sailor tattoos, though, this look has largely been abandoned, and likewise Perry has moved on.
The red carpet is just another stage, and like her arena performances, Perry always makes a show of it. Favoring pinks, she tends to take her cues from Marilyn Monroe at events, softening and maturing what can typically be a very young look. The red carpet is really the only time that we see Perry as an adult, a woman who has experienced wild success while still maintaining a sense of humor.
As much of a showman as the singer herself, Perry's longtime stylist and costume designer Johnny Wujek is instrumental in the creation of her onstage persona. The Katy Perry experience is an immersive, whimsical distraction, and Wujeck's costumes are instrumental in building the fantasy that is her live performance. In 2014, Perry's persona is that of an ethereal teenage dream — an adult with a My Little Pony mane and butterfly bodice.
Every pop star needs her flesh-colored bodysuit moment. From J.Lo to Taylor Swift, the "nude bodysuit" is always de rigueur. Perry's version is more Venus than Vegas — although it's definitely that too — augmenting the usual strategic glitter placement with shells. It should be noted that in performance, this look was also accompanied by a human-sized clamshell, out of which Perry emerged, as if reborn from the sea.
A more modern interpretation of the pin-up romper, high waisted tap shorts and crop tops are Perry's go-to performance ensemble. Johnny Wujek takes a relatively simple base and adjusts thematically as Perry's performances require, making this wardrobe staple one of her most dynamic.
Thematic dressing is one of Perry's calling cards, and what goes better with the Grammys than music notes?
The infamous candy cane bra: Perhaps Perry's most iconic look, her spinning confection of a costume has been taken out of rotation due to safety concerns, but it will live forever in fans' hearts as one of the most boundary-pushing of Wujek's designs for Perry.
While typically on-point as far as trends, there have been moments in Perry's stylistic history that earned her criticism for cultural appropriation (charges she addresses directly in our new cover story). Cat cafes and kawaii have been long been adopted by the teenage mainstream, but this geisha costume was a dubious move.
Perry has also pioneered the aesthetic time warp back to the Nineties, which has been going strong for the past few years. Mixed prints, chokers and tightly pulled back hair are only the tip of the Clueless-inspired iceberg for Perry, who, as a Nineties baby herself, is one of the few arbiters of the style who has actually lived through it.
No element of teen-girl culture is safe from Katy Perry's stylistic arsenal, and flower crowns have become one of the preeminent calling cards of young girldom. Borrowing from Rookie Mag teen queen Tavi Gevinson, in recent years Perry has ditched her pinup looks for something far more floral.
An ardent Barack Obama supporter, Perry used her costumes as a vehicle for expression of her political preferences on the campaign trail.
It's hard to believe that a woman who performs dressed as a human candy cane could ever be described as "goth," but witchy looks seem to be some of Perry's favorites in the past couple of years. Raven-colored hair and dark lipstick were in heavy rotation for the singer in 2012, and although she has now replaced black for green and monochrome for mixed patterns, the style continues to inform her offstage looks.
Wujek's costumes aren't just about form: the real surprise is in their function and Perry's Prism tour costumes demonstrate this time and time again. The skater skirt and crop top combination is an essential element of Perry's sartorial repertoire, but by accenting an otherwise easy look with glowing neon rope lights Wujek creates a performance within the clothes, constantly reminding the audience that they are inhabiting the pop fantasy.