a guide to cardi b’s style evolution

From baby Belcalis to the queen of Paris Fashion Week

by Douglas Greenwood
01 October 2019, 10:49am

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

It's hard to imagine that once upon a time, hip-hop and high fashion rarely intersected. These days the two are symbiotic. A front row is never complete without the genre's formative names. Enter: Cardi B. A character since birth, the reality-star-turned-hip-hop-icon has swiftly become a stalwart of the fashion week circuit, popping up everywhere from Paris to New York and making headlines with each new outfit. But how did the Bronx-born star make the leap from bodycon dresses and coloured weaves to Thom Browne headmaster outfits with sky high heels?

From birth to modern day, here’s Cardi B’s excellent style evolution.

1996(ish): Is that Thom Browne stripe?
Can you believe that Belcalis Almanzar, aka Baby Bardi, literally invented the sartorial-streetwear mashup in the mid-90s? This now well memefied moment gave us our first look into the wardrobe of Cardi B when she was a kid, and boy, was she rocking something iconic. Layering a navy halterneck crop-top and trouser two-piece (with a side-stripe motif that looks suspiciously Thom Browne-esque) over a white shirt? The kids in the playground could never!

2010: A Star Is Born
Even when she was a New York high schooler, Cardi -- still known then as Belcalis -- loved the spotlight. You can see that in this clip of the rapper at 17 years old, on stage at her high school talent show performing a rendition of Gaga’s Bad Romance. Flanked by backing dancers, you can tell that Cardi knew she was deserving of top billing: she channelled her inner popstar by wearing a blood-red catsuit with tears in the legs. This might not have been her day-to-day wear as a teenager, but it’s proof that Cardi-in-training knew how to up the game and get noticed when the spotlight shone her way.


2012: Locker Room
After she graduated high school, Cardi famously paid the bills by balancing a career as a stripper with a stint at college. In this Instagram photo taken somewhere around New York in 2012, you can see Cardi getting to grips with her fashion identity, wearing space buns and a metallic-and-mesh crop top as she slouches by some lockers. Paired with trainers that have a slight Prada Cloudbust vibe.

2015: Cheap Ass Weave
Fast forward a few years, and we meet a Cardi that’s establishing herself as a thrifty queen in the early days of her eventually stratospheric fame. Having found viral fame on the internet, she’s earned herself a spot on the reality show Love & Hip Hop, and is already one of its most watchable stars.

Back then she knew when it was okay to scrimp and when someone should be forking out the cash for the important things. “Cheap shoes is okay, cheap dress is okay, but cheap weave is a ‘no’” she insisted on her Lady Leshurr-riffing debut track Cheap Ass Weave back in 2015. The World Star Hip Hop-premiering video saw her stay true to the classic hip-hop dominant look of 2k15, wearing an embellished royal blue catsuit, but it was also the first time we saw her pushed out of her comfort zone style-wise.

2015: The Rebel of New York Fashion Week
Ever drawn to larger than life New York characters, Rio Uribe, founder and creative director of Gypsy Sport, plucked Cardi from the reality TV realm and gave her a spot on his catwalk. Yep – before she was sitting front row, she was walking down its runways in a cut-and-stitch gold and blue number with corseting details all down the front.


2016: The High Fashion Transformation
By the time 2016 came around, barely a year before Bodak Yellow made her an international megastar, the reality TV shmoney was starting to roll in properly. Cardi’s wardrobe was changing with it. At the top of the year, she had an estimated net worth of $400,000, and her reputation as a music star was about to implode with the impending release of her first mixtape. In this look, our personal favourite from the year, she paired a high ponytail with a pattern Gucci mac and Louboutin heels. The haute-couture rap star of our dreams had formally arrived.

2017: The Cardi Breakout
Does anything define iconic quite like rocking up to your first MTV VMAs and opting for not one, not two, but three different outfits? As the world was getting wrapped up in Cardi mania with the proliferation of Bodak Yellow throughout the airwaves, she made several fashion statements on the night. First, she performed her reigning hit on the gig’s pre-show wearing a gem-studded leotard and matching Saint Laurent boots (with a cool $10,000 price tag), hit the red carpet in a custom saintly white pant suit and cape, courtesy of Christian Siriano, before introducing Demi Lovato in a pristine white gown with soft pink feather appliques. A trio of fashion moments in a few hours? Casj.

2017: The Helmut Lang Look
With Bodak Yellow still reigning high on the Billboard Hot 100, Cardi wandered into New York Fashion Week and sat right on the front row for just about every show of note: V Files, Fenty x Puma and, donning her strongest ‘frow’ look to date, at Helmut Lang. She pushed through throngs of fans to get into the show wearing nothing but bug-eye sunglasses, a distressed PVC trench and fishnets. Her fiancee Offset trailed behind. Iconic.

2018: Cardinal B
Cardi has, in many ways, become the queen of tongue-in-cheek haute couture, and it was solidified come 2018’s Met Gala, when she hit the red carpet for the show’s Catholicism-inspired "Heavenly Bodies" theme dressed like a goddamn deity. Under the supervision of Jeremy Scott, her gown -- which she wore while seven months pregnant -- took 35 Moschino seamstresses more than 2000 hours to make. It was her own version of the preg-bel beauty on the Met Gala carpet pioneered by Kim Kardashian-West in Givenchy a few years prior.

2019: Mugler Magic
The pop culture and fashion world’s jaws collectively dropped at the top of 2019, when Cardi made her second appearance at the Grammys -- this time a multi-nominee -- not wearing a daring, one-of-a-kind dress made especially for her -- but a piece of style history. On the night she became the first woman to win the Best Rap Album prize, she wore three archive pieces loaned to her by the legendary Manfred Thierry Mugler, acquired by her loyal stylist Kollin Carter. Though the understated white fringe number she wore to collect her prize might be the one she remembers the most fondly, no one can deny that that iconic ruched pink oyster shell look, complete with pearl necklaces and a matching hair wrap, might be one of the greatest things to grace the Grammys red carpet this century.

2019: Paris Fashion Week SS20
This all leads us nicely up to Cardi’s unannounced return to the fashion week calendar, this time in Paris, where she arrived in the most extra way possible: dressed head to toe in Richard Quinn -- face mask included -- attracting the attention of paps underneath the Eiffel Tower. "I heard you b*tches were missing me at Fashion Week New York," she said in a video she posted to Instagram. "I'm here to serve it to you motherf*ckers, and serve it to you cold." Soon after, she saunters out across the street asking passersby to keep an eye on traffic because “a bitch can’t see!” It was the entrance to end all entrances this season, matching the marvel of J-Lo at Versace, and she’s kept it up. Over the weekend, sitting next to Anna Wintour at Thom Browne wearing one of a delicious blazer and padded skirt ensemble, some headteacher-worthy spectacles and skyscraper Thom Browne-print heels too. And on its final day, she finally made her debut at Chanel, wearing a matching monochrome jumpsuit and hat and a houndstooth overcoat.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

Style Evolution
Cardi B