14 African American Fashion It Girls Who Shook Up The Industry

Here’s looking at you, Tyra Banks.

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Le top model Tyra Banks lors du défilé Yves Saint Laurent collection Prêt-à-porter Printemps-Eté 199...

It girl is a buzzy term people throw around a lot today. However, it’s by no means new: The phrase traces back to 1927, when British writer Elinor Glyn coined it, referring to movie star Clara Bow. But the fashion It girl is a category of its own. You know who she is: She significantly influences the trend cycle thanks to her ability to pioneer looks — so much so, the masses are always quick to jump on her latest outfit formulas. And some of the iconic members of this club are African American women. This is unsurprisingly, though, as the Black community has a huge impact on how the society at large gets dressed.

Of course, we have current Hollywood darlings like Zendaya and Natalia Bryant to follow for fashion inspiration today. But there are also countless Black female trailblazers who paved the way for these women to shine. Take, for example, world-renowned dancer Josephine Baker, who earned a reputation in the 1920s for her boundary-pushing fashion choices, such as her see-through embellished gown and fur shawl combo circa 1928 (a look Rihanna paid tribute to at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards). There’s also legendary popstars like Tina Turner and Diana Ross, who burst onto the fashion scene in the ‘60s with their ultra-glamorous leg-baring mini dresses and sequin numbers.

Ahead, read up on these icons and more African American fashion It girls through the ages.

Josephine Baker

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Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Baker rose to popularity in 1925 after performing in the musical La Revue Nègre. And though many aspects of the production didn’t age well in modern times, what does hold up today is Baker’s ability to pull off a head-to-toe lewk. But this makes total sense, given that Baker was close friends with designers Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain, who were behind some of her on-stage outfits. And she’s still a muse for Dior today, as the fashion house’s Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2023 show paid homage to Baker and her glamorous style in the ‘20s.

Lena Horne

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Entering the limelight in the 1940s, Horne gained recognition for her performances in films like Stormy Weather and The Wiz (which gave us fantastical costumes like her memorable starry look created by Tony Walton). A New York native who never passed up opulent looks, Horne was known for donning her signature one-shoulder gowns, which were often in quirky prints and lavish materials.

Dorothy Dandridge

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Dandridge starred in hit films like Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess — the former earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in 1955, the first African American up for the accolade. Throughout her career, the Cleveland-born actor was the poster child for old Hollywood glamour, typically donning elegant looks consisting of metallic, diamonds, and fur.

Tina Turner

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Dubbed the Queen of Rock & Roll, Turner performed in the ‘60s and ‘70s wearing teeny-tiny high-shine numbers. Her most famous look to date? Fringe silhouettes, like this sultry flame dress created by designer Bob Mackie in 1978. Later, in the early aughts, Turner turned to flashy one-and-done jumpsuits rendered in metallic materials and patent leather.

Diana Ross

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No one does fearless, risk-taking style quite like Ross, who catapulted to fame in the ‘60s when she became a member of Michigan-founded girl group The Supremes. Glittery gowns, ruffle-y silhouettes, diamond-encrusted jewelry — luxe pieces are always on the sartorial menu for the musician. Now 79 years old, the sought-after singer continues garnering fanfare for her iconic fashion sense, most recently taking on the role as Saint Laurent’s Spring/Summer 2024 campaign star.


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When you think of ‘80s supermodels, Iman is likely one of the first to come to mind — and rightfully so. During the decade, she popped up on the catwalks at shows like Givenchy, Chanel, Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, and Thierry Mugler. Iman’s style was only matched by her late husband, David Bowie. The power couple never failed to make a buzzy statement, whether they complemented one another in timeless blazers or donned contrasting outfits (think a leopard print dress and black suit).

Pat Cleveland

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When you’re discovered by a Vogue fashion editor on a subway platform, your fashion career is pretty much destined for greatness. Such was the case for Cleveland, who was approached by Carrie Donovan (who was an assistant at the time) in 1966 at just 15 years old. After landing a spot on Vogue’s up-and-coming designer feature four years later, the New Yorker began modeling for heavy hitters like Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Thierry Mugler, and Christian Dior. With a wildly successful career spanning decades, Cleveland has made waves for her stellar off-duty style, too. In a 2017 interview with Lenny Letter, the model spoke about how she liked to dress sexy off the catwalks during her heyday in the ‘70s. “You could just be a full person — not limit yourself, express yourself,” she said to the outlet.

Tyra Banks

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Before her America’s Next Top Model days, Banks was a regular on the runways in the ‘90s, walking at shows like Fendi, Chanel, Givenchy, and Oscar de la Renta. Plus, she also had numerous milestone moments, like being the first Black woman to have a modeling contract with Victoria’s Secret. What’s more, in 1996, Banks was also the first Black model to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue.


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“I dress in my baggy clothes every day, and I am a laid-back person, which is what I portray on camera,” the late musician, who was revered for her sporty tomboy aesthetic, once said to MTV. Forever the reigning queen of ‘90s style, Aaliyah was no stranger to leading trends from bygone era, such as crop tops, cargo pants, and exposed underwear. In fact, her Tommy Hilfiger ad circa 1996, which shows the singer rocking logo boxers, is still referenced today.


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It would be a fashion crime to talk about African American style It girls without bringing up Beyoncé. The Houston native has had a chokehold on the fashion world since she joined girl group Destiny’s Child in the late ‘90s. And much like any A-list celebrity, Queen Bey’s style has evolved over her time in the public eye, from her shimmery red carpet looks during the early aughts (a prime example above) to her first clothing brand House Of Deréon (remember the bodycon cutout mini dress??) And this past month, the “Cuff It” singer fully entered her Western-inspired fashion era.

Halle Berry

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Back in the early aughts, Berry was doing naked dressing before naked dressing was even a thing. In fact, the Catwoman actor famously rocked more once-popular trends that have recently reentered the sartorial zeitgeist, including skinny pants, flip flops, and cargo pants.

Tracee Ellis Ross

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Like mother, like daughter. Much like her superstar mom Diana Ross, the Black-ish actor’s affinity for bold, dramatic looks knows no bounds. Perhaps you recall this shimmering purple striped Sally LaPointe jumpsuit at the 2019 Met Gala after-party? Or, more recently, the viral Loewe puffer jacket she donned non-stop last year? Working with celebrity stylist Karla Welch, Ross is a must-follow on Instagram, as she’s constantly sharing her latest looks with followers.


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When Zendaya steps on the red carpet, you can pretty much expect for every camera in the room to flash her way. This is because the Euphoria star, who works with beloved stylist Law Roach, marches to the beat of her own sartorial drum, often flocking to under-the-radar indie brands like Torisheju (seen here), Chet Lo, and Christopher John Rogers.

Natalia Bryant


The daughter of late NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, the 21 year old is undeniably a fashion darling these days. As of late, you’ll spot the budding style muse sitting front row at runways shows like Versace, Brandon Maxwell, and Chanel. And when she’s not near a catwalk, the University of Southern California student is partnering with brands such as Victoria’s Secret, UGG, and Bulgari on campaigns.