Tina Turner, one of the most ground-breaking figures in music, has passed away. She was 83. Her six-decade long career was defined by her not just her powerful singing voice, but also the personal power Turner relied on to overcome obstacles and tragedy. All the while, Turner maintained a stage presence that helped propel her into an iconic diva.
Winning 12 Grammys, an acting career, a writing career, and over 200 million albums sold, Tina Turner is without a doubt a musical powerhouse. We take a look back and celebrate the looks that helped define both her career and the culture itself.
Danceable Heights: 1971
Part of Turner’s act from the very beginning was high-energy. For that, she needed movement most dresses didn’t provide. She worked with celebrity designer Bob Mackie to alter gowns to fit her dancing needs.
Mackie explained to People that the result was high-slights and fringe. “Tina didn’t have any money at the time; she’d buy these really cheap evening gowns in jersey [material] when she was in Europe and bring them in,” says Mackie. “I’d stand in front of the mirror with her and would just start cutting. She’d say, ‘a little higher here,’ and I’d cut and then we’d pull it open and tack it down.”
Turner herself noted that the media quickly noticed she showed off her legs. “Sometimes I think I’m as famous for my legs as much as my voice,” Turner told The Sun back in April. “I only had my legs on show so much as it made it much easier to dance… and then it became part of my style. When I was younger I never felt confident about any part of my body, but with all the attention my legs received, I realized they must be OK!”
Spreading Her Wings: 1977
In the late 70s, Turner became a solo act.
This wasn’t an easy change, as Turner’s relationship with her first husband was marked by years of abuse. With the new chapter of her life beginning, this Bob Mackie creation was an ode to her freedom, and the mark of a new woman.
No longer under her ex-husband’s control, Turner’s look would continue to evolve to become bolder, sexier, and more glamorous.
“When we met, she was hiding from [ex-husband] Ike, from hotel to hotel. Then she spread her wings and opened for the Rolling Stones,” Mackie told People, who adds that Turner’s style prioritized the audience. “She loves her costumes. And she loves her heels, her Louboutins. She’d pop a few Tylenols and go out there in her heels. She wanted to look as good as possible. She said she was there for the audience.”
Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll: 1984
At 45, Turner was on the brink of one of the greatest comebacks in music history and was taking time to focus on rock ’n’ roll. While touring alongside The Rolling Stones, Turner’s iconic shaggy haircut became a staple of her look.
Turner told Billboard in 1984, “I changed my band and changed a lot of the songs,” she said. “I was doing a high-energy Vegas type of show, because I was working a lot of clubs. I changed that and made it more rock’n’roll. I got into a lot of the rock ’n’ roll clubs, and a result my audience is getting younger and younger.”
Record-Breaking Denim: 1984
Speaking of that comeback, later the same year, Turner would release “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” which quickly became a number-one hit. This made her the oldest woman to ever have a number-one hit.
The music video for the song is a celebration of her rock look, with a huge blonde mullet and bold red lip. Walking and dancing in the streets of New York in a timeless leather dress and denim jacket, Turner strikes a gorgeous figure that’s about to take over the whole world.
Making Max Mad: 1985
Where would we be without Tina Turner’s performance in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? Her look for the movie employed a lot of elements from her signature style but turned to the post-apocalyptic. The chainmail armor-dress she wears would be a stunner at the Met Gala any year but worn by Turner in Thunderdome was history in the making.
Director George Miller told Jet that they had Turner in mind for the role the whole time. “We needed someone whose vitality and intelligence would make her control over Bartertown credible. She had to be a positive character rather than a conventional evil ‘bad guy.’ We had worked on the script with [Turner] in mind. But we had no idea if she’d be interested.”
Foreign Affairs: 1990
Already a trend-setter, Tina Turner helped usher in the iconic mom jeans craze that not only swept through the 1990s, but has recently experienced a return to popularity. In fact, the entire look, down to the simple pearl necklace, wouldn’t look out of place today.
Her look here screams quiet luxury. There’s an elegant minimalism to this on stage look in comparison to her Vegas-level feather and fringe. And while she would certainly continue to return to those show-girl influences time after time, this era remains a style-defining moment.
Everything from her free and grown-out curls to her flowy peasant top encapsulates an elevated, effortless beauty that trends continue to try to emulate to this day.
A Gift to Oprah: 2004
Flying in from Switzerland to surprise The Oprah Winfrey Show for Oprah’s 50th birthday, Turner shocked the show host with the performance of a lifetime. Turner, 64 at the time, sang “The Best” in an all-black look that recalled her rocker days. Skin-tight and big hair never going out of style, Turner stunned in this long-sleeve, leather-skirt combo. The little peek of skin at the shoulder is the perfect touch, especially when paired with those knee-high boots.
In absolute awe, Oprah watched and even got to dance with Turner in what must have been one of the most joyous experiences anyone could ever have.
Broadway Beauty: 2019
Appearing during the curtain call opening night of the Broadway musical based on her life, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Turner herself gave an emotional speech acknowledging the many hardships she has overcome.
“This musical is my life,” Turner said. “But it’s like poison that turned to medicine. I can never be as happy as I am now.”
Turner herself was a timeless vision in a floor-length, sequined gown. At this point, her appearances were few and far between, but you would never know it. At home on stage as she ever was, Turner’s stunning gown was accented by an intentionally messy hair style that complimented the actress playing Turner’s younger self.
Among her close friends, celebrating her success and surrounded by support, this moment is an excellent way to remember not just the icon, but the woman herself.