Aretha Franklin Was Calling For Diversity In Fashion In The ’80s

On Thursday, Aretha Franklin passed away from pancreatic cancer at her home in Detroit. She was 76. The first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was not only a force musically during her six-decade career — she was a force in appearance, too. During the ‘60s and ‘70s, a time when girl groups and glitter reigned supreme, Franklin performed in slinky silhouettes often accompanied by fur or feathered accouterments. And while her hairstyles often changed to reflect the country’s political climate — she went from beehive updos to a short Afro during the Civil Rights Movement — Franklin maintained a glamorous persona well into her seventies.

Franklin’s unique aesthetic may be a result of the fact that she wasn’t afraid to shop for herself; when the Queen of Soul performed “My Country This Of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, she was wearing a hat she selected from Detroit-based milliner Luke Song. In 2009, Song told WWD that Franklin was a regular customer. “She actually had three to choose from for that day, but went with her second choice. It probably looked better on camera.” (It did, so much so it became a meme.) But the singer told Newsweek in 2012 that she loved the hat. “And that lesson I learned is that sometimes you could search for something long and hard, until you realize that what you’re looking for is right at home,” Franklin said.

Though her over-the-top fashion is one of Franklin’s best-known signatures, less known is the fact that she was a vocal advocate for size inclusivity in the fashion industry. In an interview with Jet magazine in 1987, Franklin reportedly asked Calvin Klein if he could “please make 14s,” 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,” she said at the time. “I become enraged every time I see the Valentino line,” Franklin continued. “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.”

Clearly, she was ahead of her time in more ways than one.

Though her second career in design never came to fruition, her influence on the industry is still undeniable. From mini skirts no one thought should she should be wearing to a fur collection that deserves some respect, we’re celebrating Aretha Franklin’s life and legacy by honoring some of her most epic outfits ever.


1965

These sleeves!

Photo: Fred A. Sabine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images..


1967

The higher the hair…

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images..


1968

Tell us this head wrap doesn’t feel so now.

Photo: David Redfern/Redferns..


1968

Franklin matched her boa to the hem of her dress (her mind!).

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images..


1974

The ultimate glamour shot.

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images..


1975

A little bit of lace, a little bit of polka dots.

Photo: Waring Abbott/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images..


1982

Commanding attention, always.

Photo: David Redfern/Redferns..


1983

Only Franklin’s use of feathers is more iconic than this slinky silhouette.

Photo: ABC Photo Archives/ABC/Getty Images..


1983

This headdress!

Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage..


1985

Is this a feather boa or a feather lining? Either way, it works.

Photo: Jerry Wachter/IMAGES/Getty Images..


1992

This muff! (Franklin knew her accessories.)

Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage..


1993

Le queen.

Photo: Mark Reinstein/Corbis/Getty Images..

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