When Rihanna accepted the CFDA Style Icon Award this past June, she stood on stage literally sparkling in a custom fishnet dress that exposed nearly everything, with matching gloves and du-rag, all embellished with 216,000 Swarovski crystals, and a pink fur stole wrapped around her shoulder. The room was full of some of the most powerful people in the fashion industry, including Anna Wintour, who presented RiRi with the award and called the singer her "tweeting buddy." Rihanna thanked her inspirations (models and designers), as well as her stylist Mel Ottenberg. She spoke with honesty and confidence. "Even as a child I remember thinking, 'She can beat me, but she cannot beat my outfit,'" she said. "And to this day I mean, that is how I think about it."
Wintour prefaced Rihanna's speech with her own, before presenting the trophy to the singer. "Rihanna speaks to her fans with her every look," Vogue's editor-in-chief said. "And what she says to them—and I include all of us in that group—is that it's fun to feel a little boyish one day and dress up like a dazzling diva the next. I think that's what she was going for tonight. The point is to be audacious, even jaw dropping or button pushing—and yes we know she enjoys pushing buttons—while remaining true to yourself."
If Rihanna is teaching women anything about style today, it's not to give a fuck.
Image via E! Online / WireImage / Jamie McCarthy
The thing is, some women are averse to take risks because there's this idea to be "perfect" or "flawless." It's taboo to show some skin, and it's not always considered "normal" for females to wear guys' clothes because that's not what women are supposed to look like, or how they're supposed to dress. But this isn't the 1920s; it's okay to show some skin. It's also perfectly fine to be "button pushing" (word to Anna Wintour). Rihanna is seriously combating the norm, and in doing so, suggesting an alternative.
How exactly? Rihanna claims her womanhood and identity through either repurposing men's clothes or being salacious on one's own terms. She gives a middle finger to the idea that women have to and should only wear dresses, skirts, and high heels. In fact, she's one of the few today who isn't afraid to rock guys' clothes—and actually looks incredible in them, and as such, has influenced other females to do the same, this author included. She steps out of her comfort zone and, as she told Vogue in 2011, "dare myself to make something work" when she puts looks together.
If not that, she's constantly teaching women that it's okay to wear 216,000 Swarovski crystals and be nearly naked. We've already seen almost-nude photos of RiRi, but they were on her terms (not leaked online), and shared by her (before she got rid of her Instagram account, that is). The best part is, she's completely unapologetic about it all.
The thing is, fashion is never just about clothes. It's a way to express yourself and, in a way, can be used to empower people—men and women alike. As they say, "when you look good, you feel good." It's also, as Rihanna has shown time and time again, a vehicle to test ideas and norms—and then change them. That's why the fashion industry has gravitated towards her. That's why Balmain's Olivier Rousteing has repeatedly said Rihanna is his muse, even looking to the singer for inspiration for his Spring 2014 collection.
Rihanna is a 26-year-old mega star who's essentially playing dress up with designer clothes often either loaned or gifted to her. But there's a lot to be learned—even if you're not in your 20s anymore (and should stay away from 216,000 Swarovski crystal-embellished gowns that expose your ass). Take risks. Be confident. Be unapologetic. Because this is a no basic zone.