‘Bigger Than Fashion?’ Why Taylor Swift Will Never Be A Style Icon

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Taylor Swift “cannot style a dress. Or a skirt. Or anything”, claims one critic at Fashion Magazine; others appreciate the down-to-earth authenticity of her off-duty looks, like what she wore for this outing at a recent Kansas City Chiefs match on January 13. Photo: AP Photo
The billionaire star has never collaborated with a luxury brand, skips fashion weeks and often goes high street.
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Unlike A-listers like Beyoncé, Zendaya and Harry Styles, Taylor Swift has never done fashion weeks, or luxury brand collaborations – and many style critics have been less than thrilled by her ‘authentic’ style choices.

Most people with an algorithm handy or even a tenuous enjoyment of fashion have basked in the phenomenon that is the celebrity “fashion girlie”.

Exhibits A-D: Rihanna, Chloë Sevigny, Hunter Schafer and Taylor Russell – famous faces who exemplify the buzzword by donning surreal Schiaparelli and Loewe creations, swathes of archive Alaïa, or waist-cinching Mugler frocks.

This growing cohort cements the end of celebrity dressing as simply the pursuit of hotness – as dictated by the male gaze, naturally – whether on the red carpet or en route to Cannes. According to fashion girlies, being a sartorial nerd – and pulling the looks off with fierce aplomb – is the most potent form of relevance in today’s Insta-glam age.

But is it really? The most notable outlier is possibly Taylor Swift, who is midway through her record-breaking Eras Tour. Swift is currently one of the most famous people in the world and one of pop culture’s most influential voices. She wears clothes, yes, and often looks great in them. A fashion girlie, however, she is not.

Last year, as the media furore around Swift’s personal life rendered her a full-time tabloid fixture, fans and indifferent social media users alike were served a paparazzi-fuelled stream of off-duty looks, including an oversized rugby shirt with riding boots, and a corset-style denim minidress paired with glittery silver heels.

Online reactions averaged lukewarm at best and provoked derision at worst, with Jenisse Minott writing for Fashion Magazine: “According to many Swifties and non-Swifties alike, she can write [songs titled] ‘Style’ and ‘Dress’, but she cannot style a dress. Or a skirt. Or a blouse. Or anything.”

Not everyone in the online community thinks Swift a poor dresser, but the consensus is clear – her absence from brand campaigns and front rows only reinforces the fact. “Do I like her style? Most of the time, yes. Is she a fashion icon? Unfortunately, no,”

According to culture writer Emily Kirkpatrick, Swift’s status as a fashion anti-hero almost certainly functions as part of her meticulously constructed personal brand.

“I think everything she does is a kind of act of branding, and fashion is a very logical extension of that,” says Kirkpatrick, noting that Swift’s fashion choices are not only a way for her to deliver so-called “Easter eggs” to her eagle-eyed fans (recent outings’ shades of green have stoked excitement around her Reputation re-recording). The looks also help her project a down-to-earth relatability echoing a bygone genre of celebrity – à la 90s paparazzi snaps – that represent more authentic examples of personal styling.

Kirkpatrick raises Beyoncé, who, having achieved professional success comparable to Swift’s (the two made this clear when they attended each other’s concert film screenings in late 2023), wears almost exclusively custom luxury pieces that even billionaires would struggle to get their hands on.

Meanwhile, Swift is going out to dinner with her friends in Aritzia and Madewell, toting affordable handbags by niche labels. She works with stylist Joseph Cassell Falconer on red carpet, stage and editorial dressing, but his hand in her day-to-day looks is less obvious. “She can afford to wear all Gucci, she can afford the same level of customisation – yet she’s not, which to me, speaks to intentionality,” adds Kirkpatrick.

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Dressing for the office: Taylor Swift is seen arriving at the Electric Lady recording studio in New York, in May 2023. Photo: Mega/GC Images

Affordable luxury accessories label Mansur Gavriel is just one brand benefiting from Swift sightings. Last June, the singer was spotted with the brand’s M Frame box bag (US$895) on several occasions; the brand has a strong relationship with Cassell Falconer, but was still pleasantly surprised when Swift stepped out with its shoulder bag.

“We’ve definitely seen many new customers from her influence. We see sales spike when Taylor wears a style if it’s in stock, typically between 50 and 200 per cent,” says CEO Maria Borromeo. If a piece isn’t available, customers will wait. “We have over 2,000 sign-ups on out-of-stock styles she has worn,” Borromeo adds – the aforementioned bag is just one of them.

It’s safe to say that while Swift has chosen not to brand herself as an haute couture-wearing stylephile, her impact isn’t the lesser for it. According to social media analytics firm Launchmetrics, Swift generated US$3.9 million in media impact value (MIV), a proprietary metric that measures impact and engagement, in her Gucci gown at the Golden Globes.

With that in mind, why isn’t Swift inking fashion and beauty deals left, right and centre? The most immediate answer is that she – a billionaire thanks to her music career – doesn’t need the side hustles. But there’s also the fact that signing ambassadorships would only cede control of her narrative to third parties, a move Besovic likens to “giving her power to someone else”. In light of Swift’s feud with record exec Scooter Braun over the ownership of her masters, it’s clear why she’s choosing to keep things in-house.

“She’s too powerful for these brands,” Besovic adds. “She relies on her music and her fans – she doesn’t need the stamp of approval from Anna Wintour and the fashion world because at this point, she’s bigger than fashion.”

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