10 Black Beauty Icons Whose Signature Looks Are Still Relevant Today
Very few people have influenced my personal aesthetic quite like the ultimate Black beauty icons of decades past. I'd been inspired by the women that I saw in music videos and glossy editorial spreads for as long as I can remember. Their signature styles, all unique in their own right, continue to make their way on my proverbial mood board today. From Sade's super slick bun and bright red lip to Aaliyah's ombré dye job, the beauty moments I obsessed over in my adolescence are still very much on trend today — and they happen to be a lot easier to recreate than you think.
However, it's nearly impossible to talk about the stars that inspired me without discussing how impactful it was seeing faces on a grander scale that looked just like mine. Even as a little Black girl growing up in Indiana, I knew I wanted to work in fashion at the age of 5. But because of my geographical location, my perception of beauty was a bit... skewed, to say the least. The world that surrounded me was made up of fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes — as were the covers of the magazines that I bought in the grocery store. But I distinctly remember the moment I got my hands on the 2004 September issue of Vogue. My 10-year-old self was so excited and inspired to see Liya Kebede, the only Black model on what is now one of the publication's most memorable group cover shots, to date (though, at the time, I couldn't see the implications behind her image being tucked inside, rather than appearing front and center). For most of the world, they were "pretty faces." But for myself and many others, she represented Black beauty on a larger scale, in an editorialized and glamorous way for my generation (like Beverly Johnson and Grace Jones), that seemed unattainable. It gave me hope that my dreams of entering the industry could also come true.
Today, I still rely on the supermodel and nine other Black style mavens for inspiration. With decades worth of iconic moments to pull from, now is as good a time as ever to try their signature beauty looks out for yourself.
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I've always been inspired by the late singer's laidback cool girl style, so it makes sense that I would pay close attention to her beauty looks, too. Outside of her signature smokey eye from her epic "Try Again" music video (which singlehandedly defined my childhood), Aaliyah was also known for her muted ombré locks, still on trend in 2020. Color-treated hair needs lots of moisture, and this leave-in conditioner provides just that — without yucky residue.
2. Liya Kebede
Both on the runway and off-duty, Liya Kebede opted for some version of her signature natural no-makeup makeup look — sticking with shades of berry. Coloured Raine Cosmetic's bold eyeshadow palettes are are a great place to start if you're looking to get in on one of summer's most popular color trends.
3. Mariah Carey
Known for her honey-blond hair, Mariah Carey always has the glowing bronzed makeup look to match. It gives the singer a golden luminous effect and the soft burgundy lipgloss completes the '90s feel. Fenty Beauty's Killawatt Freestlye Highlighter is perfect for recreating the singer's signature glow.
4. Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott's lipgloss and dark lip-liner duo dominated the early '00s and ever since, it's been a staple combo in my vanity. Complete this icon's signature look with a deep rouge-colored pencil and your favorite clear gloss to match. As for the musician's go-to products: MAC Lip Pencil in Chestnut and Black Radiance Perfect Tone Lip Gloss in Cashmere.
In between wash days, I typically rely on a super sleek bun that can only be attributed to that of singer, Sade Adu (formally known as, simply, Sade). A soft brush, edge control, and a hair tie are all that are needed to create the look yourself. And of course, a slick of her signature red lipstick is a requirement.
6. Karyn Parsons
I've been compared to Karyn Parsons' Fresh Prince of Bel-Air character, Hilary Banks, in my lifetime more times than I can count. But aside from her signature preppy and polished style, it was refreshing to see someone on television who embraced her big coils in an unapologetic way. It's what inspired me to opt out of bone straight hair and for bed-head curls instead. Create the look at home by investing in a barreled curling iron for an "unfussy" effect.
7. Grace Jones
The queen of contour (long before Kim Kardashian West), Grace Jones knew a thing or two about how to use makeup to sculpt your face. The iconic model used a deep rouge color to emphasize her already chiseled cheek bones with a bold eye to match.
8. Beverly Johnson
Glamour and opulence are two words that come to mind when thinking of Beverly Johnson, and her beauty aesthetic was a reflection of that. The first Black woman on the cover of American Vogue (and Elle) in the '70s, the supermodel was especially fond of a smokey eye and deep brown lip color.
9. Bianca Jagger
While Bianca Jagger is known in the fashion industry for her distinct '70s style, it's no secret that her coiffed hair was just as iconic. Whether it's pinned back or slightly hidden under one of her many hats, her hair is always curled to perfection. A set of hot rollers are key in trying Jagger's signature rockstar bends out for yourself.
10. Tyra Banks
Tyra Banks is known for her model status, complimenting her doe-eyed look with long lashes and highlighter. This look is perfect for summer — and all of the other seasons, too.