A guide to Rihanna's style evolution

From tie-dye crop tops to Catholic cosplay, here’s to 15 incredible years of incredible Rihanna raiment!

by Douglas Greenwood and Tom George
11 May 2022, 4:30pm

Rihanna is inarguably the most fashionable woman walking the planet. Not only did she conquer the pop music landscape in the late 00s and early 2010s, she is a leader in the makeup world — with her Fenty Beauty line proving that inclusivity is a killer key to success — and dominating the lingerie industry (and our wallets) with Savage x Fenty.

Nobody can mess with the star’s creative flow, but her path from Barbadian girl with her sights set on chart success to unrivalled global fashion icon revolutionising maternity dressing is a long and dazzling one. Here, we look back at how RiRi entered, shaped and eventually took over the fashion world.

Rihanna Tie Dye Crop Top Teen People Listening Party in 2005
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

At Jay-Z’s The Teen People Listening Lounge Party, 2005

Ah, baby-faced Rihanna! At just 17 years old, the soon-to-be-star rocked up to Jay-Z’s Listening Party in West Hollywood in a look that pretty much defined that mid-00s era. Specifically, a halterneck crop-top (tie dye, of course), body chains and a pair of acid wash hipster jeans similar to the ones she wore in the video for debut single ‘Pon de Replay’. It might’ve been early days, but young RiRi already knew the power of a consistent image.

Rihanna Mermaid Dress at New York Fashion Week 2006
Photo by Jason Kempin/FilmMagic

At New York Fashion Week, 2006

The following year, on the cusp of dropping her second album, A Girl Like Me, and with a chart-dominating single under her belt, Rihanna made her fashion week debut in New York City. Having been cordially invited to Conde Nast’s opening shindig, she grabbed her first opportunity to go full glam and rocked up looking like vintage Hollywood royalty, in a mermaid silhouette ropey silver dress and diamond accessories. Truly iconique!

In the ‘Umbrella’ music video, 2007

Three years into her career and Rihanna -- the hardest working women in music -- had already managed to rack up enough tracks to release two hit pop albums. But her third full-length, Good Girl Gone Bad, was arguably the moment she crossed over into megastardom -- you know, when your mum and dad finally cared about who she was. It all came down to one song with a video so iconic that only Tom Holland in drag has managed to match its power since: “Umbrella”. The video saw RiRi don ballet shoes and French Maid-style bodysuits; fedora hats and leather-look peplum skirts. All the while spinning an umbrella through CGI rain like an absolute goddess. Watching on, the world’s pop culture consumers had no choice but to stan.

Rihanna in Gucci's Tattoo Heart Campaign 2008
Courtesy of Gucci

For a Gucci campaign, 2008

2008 was the only year from 2005 to 2012 that RiRi didn’t release a new album. Instead, an enhanced re-issue of Good Girl Gone Bad spawned another Billboard number one single: “Disturbia”, her darkest single to date. But if her artistic vision was murkier than ever before, her philanthropic outlook was far more optimistic. In 2008, Rihanna became the face of Unicef and Gucci’s link-up, and started speaking at events and appearing on red carpets to highlight the charity’s work. She also appeared in the Gucci campaign ‘Tattoo Heart’, wearing a white bodysuit and a gigantic embroidered leather bag over her shoulder as she swung from a trapeze artist’s hoop. How she kept her balance? That’s a secret she’ll never tell.

Rihanna in Soho wearing Christopher Kane gorilla dress
Courtesy of Getty Images

Out in New York, 2009

Before the decade was out, Rihanna had time for one final image reinvention. For her hard-edged, rock-inspired Rated R, Rihanna (partially) shaved her head, and adopted a less traditional approach to dressing for red carpet events and in her music videos. Out and about in New York’s SoHo, she donned a Christopher Kane x Topshop dress that depicted a growling gorilla. As the high fashion x high street crossover was reaching its apex, this cosign really did solidify its power.

In the ‘What’s My Name?’ music video, 2010

2010 ushered in what many would call Rihanna’s most iconic pop era: the Loud album cycle. Singles like “Only Girl (In The World)” and “S&M” became worldwide smashes and propelled her to stadium-sized crowds. Meanwhile, the video for her Drake collaboration “What’s My Name?” gave us one of her most recognisable looks to date. With a puffy fascinator in her red hair, she wore monochrome shorts with technicolour banding, bangles and necklaces a plenty -- topped off with a draped Beetlejuice-stripe jacket.

Courtesy of Armani Jeans

For an Armani Privé campaign, 2011

That black-and-white moment seeped into the following year too, as Rihanna became the face of Armani’s denim and underwear campaigns for AW11. It was the first time the singer had designed a collection for a major fashion brand and, in the monochrome promos shot by Mert and Marcus and Steven Klein, she wore everything from sweet pinstripe shorts to negligees to high waisted jeans.

Rihanna Met Gala 2012
Courtesy of Getty Images

At the Met Gala, 2012

Rihanna received her first invite to the Met Gala back in 2007, when the event was a slightly more low-key affair, and rocked up in a white studded gown. She followed it up with a Chaplin-esque tux (2009) and a lace dress (2011) before stepping out in the look that blew all her previous efforts out of the water. For 2012’s ‘Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations’ theme, she wore a Miuccia-designed, crocodile leather-look backless gown that transformed her into some kind of Ancient Grecian goddess -- and marked her as a permanent Met Gala one-to-watch.

In the ‘Pour It Up’ music video, 2013

2012’s Unapologetic gifted us one of the best singles of the following year: trap anthem “Pour It Up”. Set in a dream-like strip club, the video sees Rihanna wearing a styled out, peroxide blonde wig, bejewelled lingerie, a denim thong that predates Y/Project’s, sky-high dollar bill-printed stilettos and a gigantic faux-fur jacket. “Money make the world go round,” she raps as she sits in a golden throne. Boss bitch energy, indeed!

Rihanna CFDA 2014
Courtesy of Getty Images

At the CFDA Awards, 2014

250,000 Swarovski crystals, skin-coloured panties and a sliver of a faux fur: that’s all Rihanna wore to collect her Fashion Icon of the Year prize at the 2014 CFDAs. With a dress by Adam Selman, it was a look that felt like a gear-change for the star: sheer, nipple-freeing (who could forget her excellent “Do my tits bother you?” comment) artisanal design that felt like a multi-layered statement to a pop world that tried to determine what women should and shouldn’t get away with when it came to their wardrobe. It was at this moment we realised Rihanna really didn’t give a fuck about what the gatekeepers thought. Flawless.

Rihanna at IHeartRadio Awards 2015 wearing Versace Green
Courtesy of Getty Images

At the iHeartRadio Awards, 2015

Honestly, who else could balance appearing in a children’s film about a plucky alien finding refuge on earth (Valerian, remember?) with a new single titled “Bitch Better Have My Money”? Rihanna celebrated the first track of the Anti era -- one that wound up not even making the final album -- with a performance on the iHeartRadio Awards in front of a military-issue helicopter. For it, she went full Riddler Green, pairing a bodycon dress with thigh high boots, a Sesame Street-worthy fur and all-Versace accessories.

Rihanna on the set of Ocean's Eight wearing Hillary Clinton Sweater 2016
Courtesy of Getty Images

On the set of Ocean’s 8, 2016

On US election day 2016, Rihanna was on-set in New York, filming the all-woman installment in the Ocean’s franchise and -- in between takes -- adding to the swirling political discourse. Earlier in the year she’d been snapped wearing a T-shirt with Hillary Clinton’s face on it, a shot which the internet had soon transformed into a T-shirt and sweater design with the slogan, “I’m with her [as in Hilary]. And her [as in Rihanna].” Now, to make the whole situation a little more meta, she let paparazzi get a glimpse of her wearing that new Ri x HRC sweater -- adding an extra layer of Ri-ception to her political stance.

Rihanna wearing couture Dior at Cannes Film Festival 2017
Courtesy of Getty

At Cannes Film Festival, 2017

By 2017, the singer was no stranger to red carpets and knew how to absolutely nail them. But her appearance at the Cannes premiere of Tilda Swinton movie Okja still fully left us for dead. Dressed in a couture Dior gown and a pair of tiny Andy Wolf shades, she proved that -- be it Stateside or on the French Riviera -- everybody bows down to her royal highness Rihanna.

Rihanna wears Margiela at the Met Gala 2018
Courtesy of Getty Images

At the Met Gala, 2018

Sure, the Prada x Schiaparelli Met Gala look was the fashion embodiment of the flames emoji, and Rihanna’s rightful title as the ruler of the New York arts event was secured in 2015 when she wore that seemingly never-ending Guo Pei omlette dress. But it was her 2018 effort that dominates when we think of showstopping Met looks. As celebrities arrived in loose interpretations of the show’s Catholicism-inspired theme, Ri went one further, turning up as the bloody Pope! With a Maison Margiela gown and a tiara fashioned into a suitably papal headpiece, everybody in attendance and watching at home was soon metaphorically kissing her holiness's feet. Honestly, why do the rest of us even bother?

Rihanna at Savage x Fenty Launch 2019
Courtesy of Getty Images

At the launch of Savage x Fenty, 2019

2019: the year when Rihanna’s fashion legacy became nothing less than total industry domination. LVMH handed her the keys to her own house; Fenty became the most talked-about new brand in what felt like forever. Befitting her new status, Rihanna has learned to be far more selective in terms of what she turns up to, and what meets the public’s discerning eye. At the launch of her Savage x Fenty event, she rocked up in a form-fitting and shimmering crystal mint dress from her own label and some more Andy Wolf mini shades.

Rihanna wears Balenciaga at the Met Gala 2021

At the Met Gala, 2021

There’s no doubt that Balenciaga’s Demna was behind the best two looks of the 2021 Met Gala. After shocking all by dressing Kim Kardashian in a head-to-toe bodysuit that fitted perfectly over those renowned curves, he went the opposite way for Rihanna. The beauty mogul was swamped in voluminous black ruffles with a crystal head piece under her black beanie and we were obsessed! It confirmed what we all already knew: Rihanna owns the Met Gala. The fact that the 2022 event had a statue of the pregnant and unavailable-to-attend star in lieu of her actual presence, is the level of main character we should all aspire to be.

Out in Los Angeles, 2022

Rihanna has been fairly behind-the-scenes as of late, focusing on dom top-ing the beauty and lingerie worlds with her Fenty ventures. However, in 2022 she had the whole world envious of a foetus when she announced she was pregnant with her first child. The queen of the fashion world has continued to spot iconic looks throughout her pregnancy, baby bump on show. Most recently, she popped up heavily pregnant at her favourite restaurant in Santa Monica, Giorgio Baldi, wearing the stunningly sexy crystal mesh set from Miu Miu’s AW22 collection. An indelible legend. A boss. The queen of the fashion world. Thank you, Robyn Rihanna Fenty. Thank you for your service.

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