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Beyoncé: From Tragique to Très Chic

Bey's mum and her sewing machine have a lot to answer for.

We can split the fashion of Beyoncé Knowles into two eras. Pre-and post-2004. I'm not sure what happened in 2005 to make her dress sense evolve beyond knee-high pointy boots and angular, tummy-exposing denim, but I'm going to try and work it out. Here's Beyoncé before fame (front, second left). The girl next to her has a look on her face that screams, "OH MY GOD I'M STANDING NEXT TO BEYONCÉ." Even though Beyoncé wasn't Beyoncé yet. She was just Beyoncé… oh, forget it. Shout out to Kelly Rowland peeking over Bey's shoulder.


What's that? You want to see a video of Beyoncé singing in her first girl band Girls Tyme? Okay.

As we can see, Beyoncé was gearing up to become a megastar at an age when most of us were just about managing to, like, be alive. I can't help but watch this video of a pre-pubescent Knowles in her shiny lime green raincoat and matching high-tops, and get annoyed with my parents for not making me run for ten hours a day—while singing—when I was a kid.

I am relieved, however, that my mother didn't insist on making my friends and me clothes to wear when we started our band.

Tina Knowles was a woman inspired. She designed recklessly for Destiny's Child; she mined many cultures and man-made fibres. She was gifted with the ability to create as if no one was watching. For example, in the early 2000s, Chinese Cheongsam dresses were everywhere. My sister wore one to her end of school ball. Hopefully with chopsticks in her hair. Hopefully not with a bindi. Slightly unfortunate pose.

This style of dress was beautifully cut, great with a pair of thin-strapped mules, and finished off to perfection with a fingerful of white glittery eye shadow, and a plum lip. Tina saw this happening, and she got to work: "Don't worry girls, you're not going to miss out on this trend." She took the idea and she ran a wheezing, sweaty marathon with it, vomiting out sheeny, crunched up outfits at the finish line.

"Oh hey, what's up gurl?" Kelly being awesome. Then Tina thought: "What other cultural stereotype can I utilize and transform? I know. Saris." The fact that Tina didn't buy enough fabric to make everyone the same outfit was a stroke of luck. This accident lead to a moment of incredible discovery, in much the same way as Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. Only instead of bacteria, it was crop tops and shorts created from surplus material.

Now Tina knew what she was doing. The girls would always wear outfits cut from the same cloth, but with each girl sporting a unique style. So it began.

From 1999 to 2000 Tina honed her talents. She revelled in her designs—as did we—and we often took more from them than Tina, perhaps, intended. Case in point: the outfits above, left, were a great way to draw attention to the DC's different boob sizes and make us all feel good about ourselves, big or small. Kelly looks particularly pleased with her toe-less, knee-high boots. I'm sure that white PVC isn't chafing her ankles one bit. And then we have Michelle's long, purple flap of leather which dangles from her top and waves in front of her crotch. Her purple crotch flap! Utter perfection. Kelly's hand looks a bit tense though. She doesn't seem very comfortable. I wonder why.

By 2001 LaToya and LaTavia were out—which is a shame, because their names are so good—and Michelle and Farrah were in. Then Farrah kicked was to the curb too. Keep up please. Nevertheless, DC’s 1999 album, The Writing’s on the Wall (featuring the original members), continued to produce increasingly awesome singles well into 2000. Then came “Independent Women Part 1,” followed by “Survivor,” and “Bootylicious.” All of which is to say, Destiny’s Child were everywhere. So it stands to reason that by 2001, Tina was also at the height of her powers. She had climbed her design mountain and she was standing at its summit, rolling out greasy leather and chopping it into hot pants. She was on fire. Every week she wowed the world with yet another incredible Destiny's Child ensemble.

The single glove, people. The single glove.

Michelle's boots! She must have been so excited that Tina let her wear those while Beyoncé and Kelly just had to wear dumb, boring silver ones! And then… hot holy hell. Wait. Sorry. I need a second. Orange suede ponchos with turquoise boots and accessories? I'm gonna be honest, if you'd suggested this combo without showing me the picture, I would've said it sounds like a really, really bad idea. Just goes to show my lack of fashion vision.

Is it me or does Kelly look sort of relieved that she isn't wearing a cowboy hat? Oh no, it's probably just that she's really stoked she got to wear the chaps.

I feel a classic Tina Knowles 2001 patriotic moment coming on…

I love me some flag bell-bottoms!

But then, something happened. Something went wrong. One day in 2002, Kelly went *gulp* off-brand.

Somewhere, there is a denim pencil skirt with matching denim halter-top that's never been worn. It hangs, dusty and sad, next to a turquoise trilby and matching turquoise heels. This night was the tipping point: something had changed. By the following year, Destiny's Child began to break away from their tried and tested matchy-matchy looks.

"We're still all in jeans Tina, chill out!"

I feel pretty sure Tina was still dressing Beyoncé at this time. Semi-matching gypsy skirts—check—but Bey’s boobs are really stealing the show here. A foreshadowing of events to come.


By this point the trio were all focusing on solo projects, which in turn meant solo styles. Although Beyoncé had hit her sonic stride with songs like “Crazy in Love,” “Baby Boy,” and “Naughty Girl, she was still very much dictated to by her mother's frankly batshit sense of fashion.

Here's Bey in 2003, which, as you we all know, was the year of the fur-trimmed corsets. What do you mean you don't remember?

This dress is Versace. The label have never openly discussed that they are influenced by the designs of Tina Knowles, but it seems pretty apparent here. (Again, note Beyoncé’s right breast’s attempt to grab the limelight by trying to break free from this algae-green ribbon-prison.) And then she had an UGG moment. Ugh.

Someone has been watching the intro for Sex and The City over and over again! But by the time 2005 rolled round, Beyoncé was upping her game. She started looking slick and glamorous all the time. Black velvet to the Oscars? Drool.

But when she reunited with her bandmates, the threesome slunk back into their old ways, like twitchy addicts reaching once more for the sequinned spandex and puckered, straining satin. But although the girls were reunited, something had changed forever. Like a couple who decide to give it another go, the ladies were desperately trying to make it work, but Beyoncé was cheating on them with her solo career. She was the beauty to Jay-Z's beast —one half of the most influential pop power couples of all time (Kanye really knows what's up). And thanks to two weeks of knocking back maple syrup flavored lemon juice she was now a serious movie star. Hello Dreamgirls.

By this point designers weren’t so much knocking down her door as stampeding through it with the same demented fervor with which I attack a breakfast buffet. Now, every girl loves their Mum, but if it's a choice between a glittering, gorgeous Elie Saab gown, or a crinkly, elasticated, flared, purple, rhinestone jumpsuit (probably)… well, sarry, we know which one we'd pick.

In short, in 2006 Beyoncé learned the words, “No, Mum,” which in turn allowed her stylists Ty Hunter and Raquel Smith, and Sasha Fierce—duh—to step stuff the eff up. Her emancipation from spandex was mirrored in her business life, when, in 2011, she fired her manager dad, Matthew Knowles. Bam! Beyoncé was sampling Major Lazer, and shrugging on Gareth Pugh, Givenchy, and Gaultier. And Tumblr-ing pictures of Jay-Z pushing her on a swing. She became edgy. And provocative. She worked with Lady Gaga and wore a beekeeper hat. She cried in her 50s-retro stockings, she told girls they run the world, and then she told them to bow down. Bitches. She got married and became a mother.


Nowadays it's hard to remember the sartorial innocent she once was. She's become an icon—and I would never use such a lame word if I didn't really mean it. AND I DO.

For example, the way she wears patterns and chunky gold jewellery on the beach. Or the way she rocked braces in 2009 for a lunch date with Jay. Even while pregnant she kept it vibrant and classy.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I miss the days when she would step out with Michelle and Kelly, in an outfit that was almost too perfect for the occasion. For example these inexplicable scout uniforms.

Which is why it made me so happy in 2009 when she wore this specially made outfit to meet Lewis Hamilton before the Grand Prix. Likewise, this Superbowl Promo outfit from earlier this year.

We love you Beyoncé. We love you in a classic jumpsuit, low ponytail, and red lips at the 2013 Grammy's, and we love you at the 2004 Music Awards with an enormous weave hair, a gold jacquard short suit, and rhinestone trim. But most of all, we love how you're an incredibly inspiring feminine force in the music industry, and one who has succeeded while spending 70% of your career in chaffing man-made fibers, styled in seriously dubious ways. Every woman has a chequered (sometimes literally) past when it comes to fashion, and we want to celebrate yours in all it's odd hues and crinkly textures.

Elizabeth Sankey is in a great band called Summer Camp and you can stalk her on Twitter @Sankles.