A guide to Zendaya's style evolution
From iconic Met Gala looks to otherworldly 'Dune' premiere gowns, Zendaya is sci-fi’s foremost fashion star.
Photos by Steve Granitz/WireImage, Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images and Jeff Spicer/Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Warner Bros
At just 22 years old, Zendaya has already had an impressive sartorial history that could rival those of celebs twice her age. She first caught our eye as a Disney tween star nearly a decade ago, and has since never shied away from taking risks on the red carpet. Her fearless fashion has not only given us endless inspiration, but has also helped push the boundaries of the fashion industry's outdated beauty standards for women of color. Now, with leading roles in the edgy HBO series, Euphoria, Spiderman: Far From Home and sci-fi epic, Dune, we have new opportunities to witness this style chameleon do her thing. From tween Queen to big screen superstar, this is Zendaya's style evolution.
Paying homage to Aaliyah on Halloween, 2013
In 2013, Zendaya channeled the one and only Baby Girl with an Aaliyah-inspired costume at Keep A Child Alive’s 20th Annual Dream Halloween. She had been in talks to portray the legendary R&B singer for a Lifetime biopic, but ended up dropping out, and actress Alexandra Shipp took the role. Still, Zendaya proves she can nail Aaliyah’s signature style, with her Tommy Hilfiger crop top, light-washed baggy jeans, and men’s boxer briefs peeking through. We wouldn't be surprised if this look led to her Tommy Hilfiger collaboration.
On the Oscar’s Red Carpet, 2015
Zendaya experienced unnecessary controversy when she was criticized for wearing locs on the red carpet Fashion Police host Giuliana Rancic made racist comments, saying that Zendaya’s hair smelled “like patchouli or weed.” Zendaya defended her look with a beautiful, well-written response to Rancic’s ignorance. “There is a fine line between what is funny and disrespectful,” Zendaya said at the time, pointing out that there is “already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people.” She described locs as being a “symbol of strength and beauty, almost like a lion's mane.”
In a power suit at the Humane Society Gala, 2016
One of the most admirable things about Zendaya’s style expertise is her ability to pull off a bold, powerful look with the same panache as a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. Case in point: the bright fuschia Christian Siriano suit that she wore to a Humane Society Gala a few years ago. Zendaya seems to have a penchant for all-pink suits and she pulls off this ultra-feminine hue like no other.
At the Grammy Awards, 2016
Zendaya paid homage to another musical legend at the 2016 Grammy Awards. This time, her inspiration was David Bowie, albeit more subtle — there wasn’t a glittery, Ziggy Stardust-esque platform boot in sight. Instead, Zendaya opted for a double-breasted Dsquared2 suit and a mullet, which had her facing criticism, but she took the negative comments in stride. “I think we can’t allow ourselves to get caught up in other people’s opinions of ourselves because then we’re never going to progress, we’re never going to go forward. So we’ve got to be real. We’ve got to do what we want to do even if people don’t like it,” she told Elle at the time.
With Michael Kors at the Met Gala, 2016
Proving more and more that she can work any hairstyle, no matter how contentious, Zendaya debuted a look that made us consider bowl cuts for the first time in, well, ever. The mod-inspired look paired perfectly with her golden Michael Kors gown for the Met Gala. Somehow she managed to look retro and from the future all at the same time. Which isn’t surprising, considering how Zendaya is always down for a throwback look. “I think I’m always just very inspired by the fashion of the decades,” she told PeopleStyle in 2017.
On the Met Gala red carpet, 2017
On her third year of attendance, Zendaya officially cemented herself as a darling of the Met Gala with an extravagant Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda ball gown that perfectly matched her 70s-esque afro. The mustard-hued dress was decorated with images of flowers and red parrots, causing the one and only Rihanna to give her props and post a photo of Zendaya in the look while calling her a “brown goddess.” Riri approval? Goals, indeed.
At the premiere of The Greatest Showman, 2017
We’d be hard-pressed to believe Zendaya ever had an awkward phase, but nevertheless, the star managed to transform into a butterfly in this gorgeous, ethereal gown by Moschino. Walking the red carpet at the Australian premiere for The Greatest Showman, Zendaya paired the look with retro-style fingerwaves and complementing yellow eyeshadow. In the words of Mariah Carey, “spread your wings and fly, butterfly.”
In Versace at the Met Gala, 2018
Short, blunt bangs can be tricky for anyone to master, but Zendaya is a knockout in the wavy, fringed bob she wore to the 2018 Met Gala. It was the perfect accompaniment for her Joan of Arc tribute, her interpretation for that year’s Catholic-inspired “Heavenly Bodies” theme. Her metallic, armor-esque gown was custom Versace, and came to her stylist Law Roach in a dream after contemplating strong women who had a connection to religion. “I dreamt of Joan of Arc one night and called Versace and was like, ‘What if we did something to reference Joan of Arc?’ They came back with really, really great sketches,” he told the L.A. Times.
At the Met Gala, 2019
Zendaya always kills it at the Met Gala, and this year was no exception. In another look curated by Roach, Zendaya took a page from her Disney beginnings, invoking Cinderella with a powder-blue ballgown custom-made by Tommy Hilfiger. She accessorized the look with a purse shaped like Cinderella’s carriage and even left a glass slipper on the red carpet. The best part? Roach was on hand to act as her fairy godmother, waving a wand that released smoke and magically lit up the entire dress so it glowed on the red carpet. Camp, indeed.
At the Emmy Awards, 2019
At this point, the ubiquitous “naked dress” is almost a young Hollywood rite of passage. Zendaya donned hers — a corseted Vera Wang number — to the 2019 Emmy Awards. Paired with a Veronica Lake-esque side-swept ‘do, the Old Hollywood-inspired ensemble marked a more glamorous, more grown-up look for the actress, who was now promoting her starring turn as Rue in gritty HBO drama Euphoria. While the series wasn’t eligible for any nominations during the 2019 season, Zendaya ended up winning Outstanding Lead Actress for Euphoria the following year.
At Elle Women in Hollywood, 2019
Together, Zendaya and stylist Law Roach are a force of fashion. Throughout the duo’s decade-long creative partnership, Roach has crafted not only some of Zendaya’s most iconic looks, but some of the most iconic looks put to the red carpets of Hollywood. Think statement-making looks from big name designers like Marc Jacobs or Armani. The pair is also, however, a proponent of some of fashion’s preeminent emerging talents. Think Christopher Esber, Nensi Dojaka and Peter Do. In fact, the duo have been huge fans of the latter since Zendaya’s 2019 Spiderman: Far From Home press tour, where she wore a silk set from the designer’s FW19 collection and this layered suiting look, also by Do. Into 2021’s Dune promotions, Zendaya and Roach continued to show their support for Do’s modernist styling, with a look straight from the designer’s recent SS22 runway.
At the Critics’ Choice Awards, 2020
Worn to January’s Critic’s Choice Awards, Zendaya’s iconic Tom Ford breastplate was the fashion moment that both kicked off 2020 and cemented the actress’ reputation as a red carpet risk-taker to-watch. The look was custom-made for Zendaya: “[The Tom Ford team] came to my house, and I stood topless in my living room while they had this machine that scanned my boobs,” she told British Vogue. “My boobs are forever immortalised in Tom Ford chrome.” Since her turn in Tom Ford, the armoured look has become one of Zendaya’s new style signatures; during 2021’s Dune press tour, she revisited the look with a gold-plated gown from Loewe’s SS22 runway.
At the Academy Awards, 2021
From serious Annie Hall suiting to glittering gowns of Halston proportions, Zendaya’s style has always leaned towards the 70s. This bent culminated on the 2021 Oscars red carpet, where the actress wore a neon yellow Valentino Couture gown in homage to the decade’s ultimate fashion icon: none other than Cher, herself.
At the Venice International Film Festival, 2021
Like the film, itself, Zendaya’s Dune press tour style has been nothing short of epic. We’ve seen show-stopping looks straight from the runways of Valentino Couture and Peter Do, stunning Alaïa sets, custom Nensi Dojaka and Vivienne Westwood armour. The look that started it all — and broke the internet — however was this wet-look, naked dress number, custom-fitted for Zendaya by French house Balmain. With its sandy hue and sci-fi draping, the dress was the perfect look to kick off the film’s round of European premieres.
Dune premiere in London, 2021
If Balmain wet-look was the perfect way to kick off Dune promotions, then this Rick Owens gown was the perfect closer. Sculptural, sequinned and sweeping, the outfit evoked the film’s futuristic visuals and even called to mind the outfitting of other science-fiction epics (Star Wars’ Princess Leia, anyone?). With Dune’s sequel now in the works, the otherworldly look ushers in Zendaya’s new era as sci-fi’s foremost fashion star.