Whitney Houston is simply “The Voice”. After the release of her self-titled debut in 1985, the singer went on to become one of the best selling musical artists of all time. Whitney’s the powerhouse voice behind some of the 80s most eternal bops (“I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “How Will I Know?”) and ballads (“Greatest Love of All”). Her incomparable artistry has earned her record-breaking accolades, which include 22 AMAs, 16 Billboard Music Awards and eight Grammys. Whitney was the first Black woman to become a staple of MTV’s broadcast rotation; and her mainstream success opened doors for other Black women artists in pop music, through the late 80s and beyond. Without question, Whitney’s musical legacy is one of the 20th — and 21st — century’s most influential. Her music defined the 80s and 90s. And so did her style: a medley of the decades’ best-of-the-best fashion trends, which took in leather jackets, shouldered blazers and sequins galore. Here, in honour of the late singer’s birthday, we take a look back at some of Whitney’s most iconic outfits.
At the American Music Awards, 1986
The daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, cousin of Dionne and Deedee Warwick, and honorary niece of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston was born to sing. In 1985, after years of singing in church choir and on stage with her mother, Whitney released her self-titled debut album. By 1986, the record reached the top of the Billboard 200 chart, where it stayed for 14 weeks. That year, Whitney scooped an AMA and a Grammy for the record. To both awards shows, she wore elegant single-shouldered gowns, reminiscent of the one she donned on her debut album’s cover.
The “Greatest Love of All” music video, 1986
Whitney’s 1985 debut spawned three number one singles: “Saving All My Love For You”, “How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love of All”. The latter, a cover of a 1977 George Bensen ballad, was the album’s final and most successful single of all. Its music video shows off not only Whitney’s vocal range, but her sartorial range. In the clip, the singer sports both her hallmark leather moto jacket and her perennial sequins, accessorized with a pair of show-stopping earrings and her signature cross necklace.PHOTO BY RON GALELLA/RON GALELLA COLLECTION VIA GETTY IMAGES
At the American Music Awards, 1987
In 1987, Whitney returned to the AMAs, where she won not one but five awards for both Whitney Houston and “Greatest Love of All”. To the event, the singer wore what would become her signature 80s outfit, the embellished skirt suit. This iteration of the look featured clashing graphic patterns in all-over sequins, another Whitney hallmark. The singer had been wearing this silhouette since the beginning of her career, having donned a diamanté studded version to the previous year’s AMAs, and she continued to revisit the look throughout the late 80s.PHOTO BY ALAIN BENAINOUS/GAMMA-RAPHO VIA GETTY IMAGES
Performing in Paris, 1991
In 1991, Whitney took to the road on her third world tour in support of multi-platinum seller I’m Your Baby Tonight. The concert series was larger in scope than any she’d done before, and included elaborate lighting, choreographed dance numbers and multiple costume changes. In place of her 80s skirt suits, Whitney’s new tour wardrobe comprised entirely of decade-appropriate catsuits — all spangled, of course. Standout styles include a rainbow diamanté number, a trompe l’oeil ensemble and a red feathered ‘suit. Here, performing in Paris, Whitney wears the tour’s simplest, most iconic look: a classic black, belted catsuit covered in crystals from the waist up.
At the Academy Awards, 1994
Beyond music, Whitney’s massive popularity piqued the interest of Hollywood, and by the early-90s, she was receiving film offers from cinema icons including Robert De Niro and Spike Lee. In 1994, she finally made her film debut — in more ways than one — with The Bodyguard. Not only did Whitney star in the romantic thriller, she soundtracked the movie, too. For her work on the film’s soundtrack, the singer earned a record seven AMAs and three Grammys. Here, to the Academy Awards, where the film was nominated for Best Original Song, she wears a very 90s take on her favoured suit silhouette, accessorized with an era-appropriate choker necklace.
At the American Music Awards, 1994
In 1994, Whitney won eight American Music Awards for her work on The Bodyguard, setting the record for most AMAs won by a female artist in a single year. That night, the singer graced the stage a total of eight times, wearing what is perhaps one of her most-televised red carpet ensembles of all time: a stunning white mock neck gown. This look — long sleeved, floor-length, and, frequently, sequinned — became Whitney’s go-to for awards shows throughout the 90s.
At LAX, 1994
In the 90s, Whitney’s red carpet style was all elegance and high-glamour in fitted gowns, sequins and velvet. Her off-duty style, however, was much more laid-back. Whether hopping a flight at LAX or performing sound check, the singer wore a uniform of denim, sneakers, Blossom hats and her perennial blazer.