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Gwen Stefani’s Supersonic Style Evolution

The No Doubt frontwoman’s fierce fashions, from Zubaz pants to Westwood bondage gear to her own clothing empire

gwen stefani

Barry King/WireImage

Before she was "just a girl," Gwen Stefani was just a SoCal tomboy, hanging with her band, taking art classes at Cal State, and playing the occasional ska show at the Whisky a Go-Go. Gwen's early notions of style were endearing: she used to staple, paint, and sew her own costumes, which often resembled rompers or pajamas. Onstage, she often appeared as a human black jack, a fun way of deflecting the gaze of the grotty males that would turn up at early No Doubt shows to ogle Stefani, usually the token female on otherwise testosterone-fueled lineups. As a post-adolescent in the early 90s, she fell victim to the unavoidable Zubaz pant trend. But as she addressed in "Sunday Morning" years later, Stefani's early looks were simply the product of taking too many style cues from the opposite sex: willfully "out of fashion…so [she] can complain."

By Colleen Nika

gwen stefani

Videostill courtesy VEVO.com

“Just A Girl” (1995)

There's a reason Gwenabees continually show up in bindis, spit curls, Dickies, and cropped tops at No Doubt shows: to this day the singer's spunky mid-90s pin-up punk look, captured best by the "Just A Girl" video, remains her most iconic, and thus imitated, look. Technically, it's an assemblage of wardrobe items any girl could pair up, which is part of its allure. But Stefani's painted pout, dramatically lined eyes, platinum locks, and innate kittenish charm are what fans are really trying to conjure — and that, of course, is carbon copy-proof.

gwen stefani

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Heading East (1997)

After No Doubt's first shot of immense success in the mid-90s, Stefani had the means and motivation to expand her wardrobe horizons. Like many of her contemporaries, she ended up gazing East, crushing hard on both Japanese design (a latent interest that would come into full focus nearly a decade later) as well as Indian fashion statements. Before the band went gangbusters, the singer had dated bassist Tony Kanal, whose Indian roots inspired her to explore bindis. But by 1997, Stefani was taking cues from new sources, including fellow style luminary Björk, with whom she shared a combined interest in saris, Chinese silk dresses, geta, and cyclopic hair braids. Stefani's always worn her wanderlust on her sleeve, as we began to learn; playing to screaming fans on every continent for years on end tends to yield a few unexpected souvenirs.

gwen stefani

King/WireImage

Smurfette (1998)

Known as Stefani's "Judy Jetson" moment, her toe-dip into the stupendous world of Manic Panic commenced on September 10, 1998, when she showed up at the VMAs as a Smurfette. That is to say: she dipped her head a bowl of sky blue hair dye, tied it into two Flintstones-worthy domes, found a fuzzy bra to match, and went with it. From the waist down, Stefani's style story is revelatory of a few belated viewings of Hackers, as well as a conflated appreciation for British raves and Japanimation — themes she'd soon officiate in the "New" and "Ex-Girlfriend' videos. The look was largely panned by critics, but fans were smitten. Eleven years later, Lady Gaga dyed her hair blue — and showed a new appreciation of houndstooth. Coincidence? Anyone's biased guess, but consider the evidence: while Stefani didn't invent either look, do you affiliate any other singer with either style statement? Not so much.

gwen stefani

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Extraterrestrial Raver (2000)

2000's Return of Saturn, No Doubt's boldest record and their postcard from the edge of pop, was all about how the name-checked planet's orbit wreaks havoc on the lives of those about to turn 30. Stefani greeted that milestone with grim humor, dying her hair electric pink, getting braces, and updating her wardrobe to a new level of absurd. The resulting look was her most hardcore, daring, and polarizing to date: Vivienne Westwood bondage pieces juxtaposed with fluorescent Japanese fashions from brands like Super Lover. She resembled an extraterrestrial raver, so at odds with how everyone else in pop looked at the time that she stood out that it was a shock to see her undo the look less than a year later, easing back into a safer, blonder, TRL-friendly domain.

gwen stefani and eve

Videostill courtesy VEVO.com

Hip-Hop Pirate (2001)

Stefani dove straight from outer space New Wave raver (that's a lot of baggage for one look) to hip-hop pirate as Eve's henchwoman for 2001's "Let Me Blow Your Mind." Sporting dramatic (and sudden) waist-length hair, a beaded beret, a striped bikini top and a red baseball jacket, it wasn't the trendsetter's most progressive look, but suggested plenty about the power of rapid transformation. A year after alienating the masses with the caustic, furiously pink-stained Return of Saturn ethos, Stefani was back on the youth's radar, and the charts, as one of pop's major players.

gwen stefani

Gwen Stefani (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)

James Devaney/WireImage

Houndstooth Rasta Queen (2001)

In 2001, No Doubt's pop comeback needed a major visual to give context to their new musical bag of tricks: reggae, dancehall, Cars-saluting power pop, and funk-infused electronica. Stefani quickly configured the perfect storm and proved a latent prowess for brand direction, conceiving of Rock Steady's album art and her own wardrobe as one, fluid, interrelated style concept. She was heavily into Stephen Sprouse's work for Louis Vuitton at the time, so she knicked his graffiti text, flatteringly, and plastered it everywhere she could, including her bra tops, bandmates, and the stage they played on. Fishnet overlays, arm warmers, rasta bands, and a ton of houndstooth brought the look to a head, ensuring nascent fans that No Doubt were here, damn it, they were severe, and they weren't going anywhere.

gwen stefani fashion

Gwen Stefani and Harajuku Girls (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Monarch Madame Butterfly (2004)

By 2004, Gwen was a pop cultural polymath, a maestro of fashion and music alike, and soon, every ounce of her style and sound reflected that. Her solo era was defined by four words: love, angel, music, baby. Those commonplace words may conjure up Hallmark connotations for most, but they served as outright cryptology for No Doubt fans, who began to deconstruct their idol's L.A.M.B. mantra (Love Angel Music Baby) as early as 2003, when she began to discuss plans for an upcoming clothing line. Two years later, the line was not only real – it was massive, and it spawned a sister line, Harajuku Lovers. Both lines tied topically and aesthetically into Gwen's solo musical output, and her own look at the time (a kooky monarch from a Lewis Carroll story, or an overgrown Alice in Wonderland sex doll from Tokyo, depending on your view). Naturally, she wore her own designs, but more often than not, she relied on John Galliano, a fellow eccentric queen, to give her look the royal batty treatment.

gwen stefani fashion

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Rolling Stone x L.A.M.B. (2005)

Stefani's January 27, 2005 Rolling Stone cover as a solo artist provided L.A.M.B. all the exposure publicists could dream of, with the singer sporting its signature Gothic text sweater, worn agape. At the time, her Pharrell-fueled hit "Hollaback Girl" was about to become massive; fittingly, the singer's chilled out back-to-basics Chola queen cover look paralleled her style for the video. Even on those casual days, however, the Stefani/L.A.M.B. omnibrand infusion initiative was still in full effect.

gwen stefani

MTV/Getty

Cruel Intentions (2007)

Stefani's second solo outing, 2007's The Sweet Escape, wasn't a style departure as much as a detour to the next requisite phase of fame: the meta-pop album. She wrote songs, like another blonde icon did a decade before, on how strange life feels when you're 38 and both a mother to your own offspring and an idol to girls young enough to be your daughter. If an artificiality vs. authenticity complex was a concern for the singer, it didn't dissuade her jarring style statement for the album: a resurrection of Michelle Pfeiffer's look in Scarface, awkward wig and all. She also dabbled in the irony of wearing a school uniform 20 years too late, but in doing so, reminded some of Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill. See? The school girl motif will never die, even for unconventionalists like Stefani.

gwen stefani

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Back in White (2009)

Despite the success of her solo projects, Stefani proved to be a team player at heart, returning home to No Doubt in 2009 after four years of going it alone. The band commemorated their reunion with a popular summer tour, where every member showed up dressed as a villain from A Clockwork Orange. Stefani was way into white that year — a tribute to the mods' view of the future as well as her own love of anything starkly retro-modern. The tour's looks relied heavily on commanding ivory ensembles from Belgium's Ann Demeulemeester, paired with the designer's famous dont-fuck-with-me combat boots. As an intermediary look that touched upon Stefani's familiar roots, as well as her ever-protean forward evolution, it hit the mark.

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