7 of TLC's most iconic outfits

TLC wrote the blueprint for girl group style in baggy jeans, silk tuxedos and vinyl spacesuits.

by Zoë Kendall
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12 November 2021, 8:00am

TLC is the girl group blueprint. Formed in Atlanta in 1991 TLC — Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas — became not only the bestselling American girl group of all time, but the most influential as well. Together, the trio redefined contemporary R&B with edgy hip-hop beats, digital inflections and deep grooves. The group’s smooth sound was bolstered by honest, empowering lyrics that spoke to women’s independence and strength, and tackled topics from self-esteem (“Unpretty”) to HIV/AIDS (“Waterfalls”). Throughout the 90s and into Y2K, TLC scored four top-ten singles including the slinky “Creep” and the anthemic “No Scrubs.” 

In addition to their groundbreaking sound, TLC’s style is eternally influential. The group’s larger-than-life, matching-not-matching wardrobe set the standard for future female ensembles like Destiny’s Child. And traces of the trio’s signature look — a mix of sporty, gothy and street — can be seen, today, in the GHE20G0TH1K movements and the style of stars like Rihanna and Billie Eilish. Here, we take a look back at some of TLC’s most iconic outfits from the 90s through to Y2K.

tlc posing on the red carpet of the billboard music awards in air brushed shirts 1992
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

At the Billboard Music Awards, 1992

“From day one, we always admired male R&B groups. They would go onstage with no shirt on and baggy jeans and girls would scream,” Chilli told Teen Vogue in 2017, speaking to TLC’s early years. “When I met T-Boz and Left-Eye, they were buying jeans that were a size 38. Three little cute girls dressed like boys was cool back then. Our style was cartoonish but fly at the same time.” Here, one year after their debut, the group attends the 1992 Billboard Music Awards in support of their quadruple platinum-selling first album Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip. Naturally, the trio are matching in oversized denim. The shirts were spray-painted by the girls themselves, to resemble the looks from the “What About Your Friends” video. And spot the condom hanging from Chilli’s vest? In the early 90s, TLC accessorized their looks with the contraceptives to promote safe sex. T-Boz explained to Teen Vogue: “We wanted to empower young girls to have their own stash of condoms and not to leave it up to the guys. Some parents thought we were telling their kids to have sex. But we were making a fashion statement to make it easier to talk about sex.”

tlc posing on the red carpet at the mtv movie awards in dolce & gabbana boxers 1995
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

At the MTV Movie Awards, 1995

Another of TLC’s signature borrowed-from-the-boy-groups looks: the exposed boxer. “We’d been wearing boxer shorts since the beginning, but we got a little fancy around this time,” T-Boz told W Magazine in 2017, referring to these Dolce & Gabbana-waistbanded fits, worn to the 1995 MTV Movie Awards.

tlc wearing leather and tiny sunglasses at the blockbuster awards 1996
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

At the Blockbuster Awards, 1996

Four years before The Matrix hit theatres TLC showed up to the 1996 Blockbuster Awards in full Neo cosplay. Alright, not really. But these outfits are so prescient to the film’s leather-clad look — right down to the tiny sunglasses — it’s uncanny.

tlc wearing bikinis and iridescent pants at the soul train awards 1996
Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

At the Soul Train Awards, 1996

In 1995, TLC brought stylist Julieanne Mijares on board to create costumes for the group’s “Waterfalls” video. (Remember those watercolour trousers?) In addition to “Waterfalls”, Julieanne is responsible for some of TLC’s most memorable looks. Think the group’s sheer Grammy’s tuxedos in 1996 or “No Scrubs” black vinyl space suits. Or these shimmering jewel-tone looks, worn to the 1996 Soul Train Awards. Initially styled with matching organza blazers, these ensembles harken back to the iconic silk PJs from TLC’s “Creep” video. Crazy, sexy, cool, indeed.

tlc wearing white organza two piece suits at the grammy awards 1996
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

At the Grammy Awards, 1996

Right at the intersection of sporty, gothy and street, these looks are peak TLC. We’ve got tripp pants in ripstop and silk organza, oversized blazers, fuzzy sports bras, a top hat and an XXL belt chain. Styled by the group’s long-time collaborator Julieanne, these tuxedos were worn to the 1996 Grammys, where the group won two awards and delivered one of the most searing industry takedowns in Grammy press room history.

“No Scrubs” music video, 1999

More than just a chart-topping bop, “No Scrubs” is one of Y2K’s definitive anthems: a paean of self-respect, a takedown of deadbeat guys and, as Washington Post journalist Lonnae O'Neal Parker put it “a reaction to 20 years of hip-hop misogyny.” Along with popularizing the use of the word “scrub”, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 and year-end charts in 1999. And beyond: in 2001, the song was certified triple platinum in the UK, a testament to its eternal appeal. Also iconic is the single’s Hype Williams-directed music video, which epitomizes the turn-of-the-millennium’s sleek, futuristic aesthetics. In the clip, the group performs in a space station wearing a trifecta of vinyl spacesuits. Six months after the video’s release, TLC scooped the VMA for Best Group Video wearing luxe leather iterations of their iconic “No Scrubs” looks.

tlc wearing colorful mesh outfits at the kids choice awards 1999
Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

At the Kids’ Choice Awards, 1999

In 1999, “No Scrubs” brought TLC on the awards show circuit, the single garnering the group multiple nominations and wins, including a VMA for Best Group Video and a Grammy for Best R&B Performance. On their 1990 tour, the group also attended the Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards, where they were nominated for Favorite Music Group. Along with performing “No Scrubs” and getting slimed, the trio wore this trifecta of perfectly kid-friendly outfits, complete with a Sesame Street-esque spell-out logo. A statement-making ensemble fit only for one of R&B’s foremost ensembles.

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Tagged:
Music
90S
style
7 Iconic Outfits