10 Fashion Icons for Real Women


fashion designer Coco Chanel working on a dress in 1959

In 1927, French fashion designer Coco Chanel debuted a simple, elegant crepe de Chine black sheath that has become the "little black dress" millions of women the world over count as a wardrobe staple. Merci, Madame Chanel!

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10 Fashion Icons for Real Women

Whether you have a signature style or are still searching for one, chances are you've been influenced by these fashion icons. Because let's face it, even if you weren't old enough to be a "Material Girl" during Madonna's pearls and lace era, her wardrobe still set the tone for most of the '80s and -- like all the women who made our list -- continues to influence what you pull off the rack today. One thing sets these style mavens apart from the crowd, though. They didn't just dress well; they dressed for the rest of us. See who made the list, beginning on the next page.


Sarah Jessica Parker at fashion event

Whether she's playing Carrie Bradshaw or simply being herself, Sarah Jessica Parker always looks great.

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10: Sarah Jessica Parker

The costume designers behind Carrie Bradshaw of "Sex and the City" fame surely must get some of their inspiration from Sarah Jessica Parker, the actress-turned-fashionista who plays the fashion-forward character. From glamorous to funky, classic to outrageous, she has become modern style icon with a chameleon-like quality.

One of our favorite looks (but who can choose, really?) is Sarah Jessica's ability to pair a darling lingerie dress with a boyfriend blazer and skyscraper heels. Of course, it's hard to argue that she doesn't also pull off a jeans-and-UGGs look with great aplomb, too. Whatever her style of the day, we'll be watching as she reinvents herself again and again -- whether it's as perfume purveyor or fashion designer.

fashion model walking down runway

You don't have to be a runway model to wear the wrap dress. Its shape and construction is very figure-friendly.

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9: Diane Von Furstenberg

Diane Von Furstenberg didn't invent the wrap dress, but she made it oh-so-right -- for all of us. During the 1970s, she pushed this figure-flattering (no matter what the state of our figures) design out of the realm of sportswear and into that of timeless silhouette. In fact, the wrap has been known to add curves where there are none and to hide inches where there are a few too many. What's not to love?

The wrap dress is a wardrobe staple today. Wear it to work by slipping on a tailored jacket and modest pumps or to dinner by swapping buttoned-up accessories for a flirty shrug and high heels. And that's a wrap!

Royal Style

Princess Diana set a fashionable tone during her 1980s reign; now the late royal's daughter-in-law Kate Middleton carries the torch. Officially known as the Duchess of Cambridge now that she and Prince William (the Duke of Cambridge) are married, her dignified outfits run to the proper but still manage to incorporate trends. Thank goodness we can "copy-Kate" her suede boots and Burberry plaids, no matter what side of the pond we're on.

8: Michelle Obama

First lady Michelle Obama's fashionable sensibilities are as much everywoman as American royal. She makes our top 10 not only for mixing off-the-rack outfits with those of designer darlings but for the way she pulls the two extremes together.

Mrs. Obama may wear a $148 dress from White House Black Market for one appearance and a one-of-a-kind Maria Pinto dress for the next. We especially like that she's (more often than not) touting American designers who are definitely worth a second look. Her penchant for high-low dressing is inspiration for the rest of us; after all, who doesn't want to dress to the nines without creating a personal budget deficit?

Jennifer Aniston walking down street

Jennifer Aniston's style is effortlessly cool and comfortable -- and is totally doable by the rest of us.

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7: Jennifer Aniston

Sure, there's the hair. Like '70s style icon Farrah Fawcett, Jennifer Aniston's trademark locks defined a generation. And while it's admittedly easy to let talk of Aniston's timeless 'do overshadow what she wears, that would be a shame. Anniston's approach to her wardrobe is one we'd all do well to emulate: uncluttered, casual and feminine.

We especially like her girl-about-town style, which is typically well-fitted jeans and T-shirt topped with a tailored jacket or perfectly draped scarf. It's timeless -- and within all our budgets (can I get an "amen!"). Just start with a straight-leg jean, a basic form-fitting blouse or tee and one (we repeat, one) accessory. And don't forget to rock the high heels. Meow.

Fashion Foundation

The word "bra" entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1911 and has been part of our fashion vocabulary ever since. After all, with its ability to lift, separate and push in all the right places, the bra is undoubtedly a girl's best friend. Today, we even have bras that reportedly detect cancer and double as heart monitors. Now that's progress.

6: Coco Chanel

It's not always easy to pinpoint the moment a mainstay is born. But then we don't always have Vogue at our fingertips, either. In 1927, editors of American Vogue published a Coco Chanel design featuring a simple, elegant crepe de Chine black sheath and predicted the look would become a uniform. How right they were! To this day, nearly every woman in America has a little black dress (and maybe one for every season) at her fingertips.

Although the little black dress has experienced many incarnations throughout the years, it has wavered little from its original Chanel-inspired silhouette. Long after Chanel's death in 1971, womenswear continues to incorporate her signature details -- including a penchant for appropriating menswear elements -- and we can thank the linked "CC" logo every time we slip into an article that embodies her refined yet luxurious tastes.

Queen Latifah in cocktail dress

All hail the Queen! Latifah isn't afraid to show off her generous curves, and she looks gorgeous doing it.

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Queen Latifah makes glamorous look oh-so-easy, and that's saying something for a former '80s-era rapper. This royal starlet made our list because she's beautiful, ever-evolving and not afraid to show her refreshingly curvy figure. Plus, Latifah seems to steer clear of over-the-top extensions, too-heavy makeup and throw-away trends -- tendencies we also find refreshing.

We especially love her ability to co-opt menswear for her signature look, adapting the clothing to accentuate her fuller figure, as well as her take on jeans (she's a master at dressing denim up or down). She's even been known to pull off the donning of a cat suit. How could we not be impressed?

A Super First (We Think)

If there's anything still in dispute in fashion, it's who can lay claim to the title of first supermodel. Although she probably wasn't the first, Janice Dickinson isn't shy about taking credit. And we can't say we blame her. Dickinson's been on 37 Vogue covers, and although she turned 56 in 2011, she's reinvented herself as a television host and self-made business maven.

Since 1988, American Vogue editor Anna Wintour has steered not only the sensibilities of dear readers, but those of the industry as a whole. If Wintour puts tweed on the cover, the entire world seems to mimic the academia-turned-high-fashion look. Vogue -- whether Wintour's version or the more literal sense of the word -- has an undeniable place in nearly every woman's vocabulary. Now that's power.

The fiercely fashionable Wintour, who reportedly was the inspiration behind the movie "The Devil Wears Prada," may be known for snarkiness as much as impeccable taste. Still, when we pull an aubergine blouse off the rack in October because she featured the color in the publication's fall fashion issue, we'll tip our hats to Wintour -- if hats are "in" this season, that is.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1961

During her 1961 official visit to Paris, Jacqueline Kennedy sported an Alaskine (wool and silk) suit created by Oleg Cassini and pillbox hat created by Roy Halston Frowick.

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It's no coincidence that two U.S. first ladies made our list, and you could argue that Michelle Obama owes credit to one of her predecessors: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Affectionately known as Jackie O, she was always impeccably dressed. Whatever the occasion or stage of life, we could count on her to lead the fashionable way.

We still recall with great fondness her pill box hats, ladylike suits and A-line dresses, which seemed to capture America's affinity for a stylish first lady. After her White House reign ended in the 1960s, she traded more conservative campaign clothes for a refined look befitting the era: wide-leg pantsuits, silk head scarves and her signature oversized, round sunglasses. Then Jackie O moved on to a Mediterranean look that sported elegantly casual gypsy skirts and a smattering of equally casual jewelry. It wasn't the last of her memorable fashion trends, but it remains an example of the tone she always set: relaxed, yet elegant.

A Designer for the Ages

In the 1970s, Vivienne Westwood pioneered punk clothing design, years before the British band the Sex Pistols ever got popular. She then turned her attention to pirate-inspired garb, underwear as outerwear, and by the mid-1980s, she was single-handedly attempting to kill the oversized shoulder pad movement through tailored, royal dynasty-inspired designs. Although she turned 70 in 2011, Westwood continues to reinvent her designs -- and her own look, too.

Even if we long ago stopped wearing Madonna's signature fingerless lace gloves (hello, "Like a Virgin" video!), no worries; she has, too. In fact, if there's one constant about Madonna, it's that her style changes again and again. We're not saying she always gets it right (remember those conical bras?), but we're certain she's always got it going on.

We especially loved Madonna's "Evita" phase, in which she seemed to channel the fashionable sensibilities of this first lady of Argentina, even after the 1996 filming of the movie came to a close. Today, we continue to admire Madonna's newest looks, which aptly accentuate her athletic build.

Hollywood actress Katharine Hepburn smoking a cigarette

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Thank you, Katharine, for your closet. In it, you stocked a feminine take on men's trousers, loose-fitting button down shirts and loafer-style shoes. And while this may seem unremarkable now, years after you first hit the Hollywood screen in 1953, at the time it was nothing short of extraordinary.

Hepburn's menswear-inspired wardrobe provided stark relief at a time when the fashion industry was on a Marilyn Monroe-high, bursting at the seams with curves and kittenish appeal. Her stylish departure signaled a change for women everywhere, who no sooner noticed her style than took to replicating it on their own. Ms. Hepburn may have done more for women's comfort than anyone else since. Again, we say thank you.

Related ArticlesSources
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