Amrit Virdi examines the fashion evolution of Nickelodeon actress, turned pop princess, turned musical theatre starlet, Ariana Grande.
To those that aren’t diehard fans of her, Ariana Grande’s fashion may be of no notice. However, her carefully chosen looks match each musical era of hers, and have defined her evolving style.
Ariana Grande rose to fame after playing ditsy side-character, Cat Valentine, in Nickelodeon’s ‘Victorious’, which led to her garnering more success than the show’s lead. The now 29-year-old has stylistically come a long way since her children’s TV days, and has made some impactful and long lasting trends in the process.
When you think of Nickelodeon, bright colours, fun, and any form of vibrancy bringing children’s fictional worlds to life comes to mind. So it is of no surprise that Grande’s ‘Victorious’ alter ego, Cat Valentine, embodied the stereotypical ‘teenage American high school girl’ through her fashion choices.
From 2010 to 2014, Grande bleached her hair bright red to achieve Cat’s iconic look. Although she has since spoken out about regretting this decision, when paired with the character’s fashion choices, it did bring her personality to life, and also signified the importance of fashion in television.
Cat Valentine’s pastel looks embodied in spaghetti strap camis and floaty day dresses made way for Ariana’s image during the run of her first album, ‘Yours Truly’. Released in 2013 during the star’s red-head era, it was often tipped as the album Cat Valentine would have made if she were a popstar. Churning out classic bubble-gum pop songs such as ‘Honeymoon Avenue’ and ‘The Way’, Grande truly embodied a a pop princess, and her Cat Valentine inspired style helped with this. This also saw the emergence of her iconic high ponytail, which has seen an evolution within itself over the past nine years.
It is natural that as you grow up, your style changes with you, so a shift away from her cutesy, girly image came of no surprise to anybody. 2014 brought with it the end of ‘Victorious’ and its spin off show ‘Sam and Cat’, and of course there were people who criticised Grande for starting to express her own fashion choices, rather than being restricted to her character’s style bubble.
Even in her music video for ‘The Way’, Ariana’s style maturity shone through as she ditched the red hair for her natural brown, which coincidentally fitted with the sleek but sexy aura around her next era, formed around her second studio album, ‘My Everything’.
Released in 2014, the album brought with it a completely new era of fashion for Grande. Pastel prints were ditched for knee high stiletto boots, with sultry black outfits and an air of maturity, along with the iconic kawaii cat ears, being the statement takeaways from this time.
As she marked it as a clear break away from her Nickelodeon days, there are some memorable looks from this time that scream ‘pop princess… but mature’. It also showcased Grande’s versatility to pull off different styles. From the intergalactic, everything glitter aesthetic of ‘Break Free’, to the monochrome, classy aura around ‘Problem’, Ariana brought her music to life with creatively crafted music videos.
Her red carpet looks of the time also emphasised her assuredness in her fashion as a young woman. 2015 marked her first Grammy nominations, where Grande graced the red carpet in a white Versace dress with silver sequin detailing. Yet elements of ‘Cat Valentine’ and her former ‘girly’ style peeked through, namely with her 2015 American Music Awards look, a black minidress detailed with white and pink floral prints, along with pink frills – something which came back during her ‘sweetener’ reincarnation years later.
‘My Everything’ still reflected Ariana’s easing into the pop world, yet follow up album ‘Dangerous Woman’ symbolised Ariana’s true emergence as a stylish, powerful, and indeed ‘dangerous’ woman in pop. The kawaii cat ears were ditched for latex bunny ears, as Grande used her songs, and her emphatic fashion, to make a statement against the press who labelled her solely by her romantic relations.
Along with more stunning red carpet and tour looks, the era brought with it something which may be Grande’s longest-lasting trend. The high ponytail got even higher, and threaded with blonde highlights, and the knee-high stiletto boots were paired with a classic oversized hoody. Whenever she was papped out and about, this would be her go to look, as she had a seemingly endless supply of different hoodies and sweaters.
I’m not saying that Ariana ‘pioneered’ this trend, but her celebrity influence certainly played a part in increasing its popularity, as even myself and my friends would try to emulate this look back in the mid 2010’s. There were even reports that searches for ‘oversized hoodies’ on Vera Wang and Burberry’s website went up by 130% in 2018, after she was spotted in particular looks by these brands. It also serves as a nice reminder that celebrities are not dolled up for the red carpet all the time, and do have looks achievable to recreate at home.
Following the tragic 2017 Manchester bombings, Grande took some time away from the spotlight. Upon her 2018 return to public life, she donned blonde hair and a colour-dominated fashion, all of which coincided with the themes of albums ‘sweetener’ and ‘thank u, next’, which sought to bring light into tough situations that listeners may be going through.
These themes particularly shone through in the music video for her comeback single ‘no tears left to cry’, where we saw the high pony ditched for a low one, and pastel colours, floaty dresses, and skirts dominate her wardrobe – a sign of what was to come over the next year or so.
A special mention also has to be given to Grande’s 2018 Met Gala look, which is one of my favourite ever looks to ever grace the Met Steps. Inspired by her anthemic hit single ‘God is a woman’, Ariana wore a Vera Wang ball dress, screenprinted with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The nude underlining of the dress contrasted beautifully to the blue detail of the screenprint, and was intrinsically topped off with a matching veil atop her newly blonde hair. If this wasn’t perfect promotion for ‘God is a woman’, I don’t know what is.
A year later, the ‘sweetener’ tour saw Grande show a more playful side to her fashion, as neon pinks, oranges, reds, and purples, as well as miniskirts and bralettes dominated her onstage wardrobe. Solidifying her popstar status, it seemed to be her last hurrah in the industry given her recent switch to beauty and musical theatre. Grande’s onstage wardrobes have set trends for rising popstars to follow, with Sabrina Carpenter and Olivia Rodrigo donning similar looks on their headline tours.
The ’sweetener’ tour era stylistically seems to be Ariana’s last embark on the teen-pop world, as her 2020 record ‘Positions’ truly transitioned her into a more stable adulthood. Being engaged, and now married, and going through some truly traumatic events, Grande’s fashion seemed to reflect this and brought with it a refined, yet still suggestive, maturity.
A hint of this shift was also presented at the 2020 Grammy Awards, where one of her most stunning looks was shown to the world. Ditching the 2019 awards and the chance to wear a Cinderella-style Zac Posen dress, due to creative differences over her performance, Grande clearly made her presence known the year after through her fashion. The star graced the red carpet in grey tulle Giambattista Valli dress, paired with a blonde high ponytail and long gloves. If a record of her best looks was to be made, this would without a doubt be up there.
After this, the go-to high ponytail was well and truly ditched, along with the iconic cat and bunny ears. Ariana seemingly embraced ‘60s glamour for the album cover photoshoot, and her big beehive hairdo paired with a green mini skirt and crop top represented her stylish but maturing look. Even dressing as a president in her music video, it seemed that her fashion reflected her awareness of her role as a powerful woman.
Nowadays, Grande has kept out of the direct spotlight, and snippets of her fashion can be seen on Instagram or on television, thanks to her brief time as a judge on ‘The Voice’. Her heavy winged eyeliner has been replaced for minimal makeup, and the bright colours and frills have been swapped for neutral leather looks. Still maintaining an element of girliness with the odd frills and bows however, her true ‘Yours Truly’ roots are still there in a refined and classy manner.
Being one of the most influential women in music right now, Ariana Grande’s simple yet maturing style is without a doubt one which will set steadfast trends for teen popstars to come.
You can read more of Amrit’s work via her portfolio, amritvirdi.journoportfolio.com, or by following her Instagram @thevinylwriter.