Whitney Houston entered the scene in the late 80s as America’s sweetheart and newly minted success story – the uncontested queen of female pop music vocals. Then in 1990, with the debut of her third studio album “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” Whitney got unapologetically cool and tough. She teamed up with music legends L.A. Reid and Babyface making the crossover into R&B music. She also teamed up with stylist Barbara Dente, which led to some of her best looks ever.
The I’m Your Baby Tonight video changed Whitney’s image for good. Instead of Barbie pink dresses, blond crimped wigs and candy-colored glitter lipstick, Whitney strutted confidently in ripped high-waisted jeans and an oversized chocolate-colored leather jacket.
She flexed her androgynous, and slightly rebellious, muscle paying homage to styles and icons that came before her: old Hollywood glamour, 1960s Motown (the Supremes), and Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.
A few things I learned from Whitney in this video.
Leather Jackets Heat Up Any Look
Paired with jeans, a simple t-shirt and boots, Whitney looks effortlessly stylish. She even dared to wear brown leather, which is so underrated.
The Power Suit Lives On.
Whitney channeled Marlene Dietrich in the 1936 movie Blonde Venus. In one part of the video, she sauntered around, had an awkward hand-touch moment with a guy, and twirled a cane. Her faithful solo earring still dangled as she made her way through the crowd. What’s also notable here is that she’s covered up (in an incredible double-breasted white suit), thus setting a precedent for artists like Janelle Monáe and Jessie Ware, who indulge in menswear to make sure you’re not distracted by their bodies and you’re actually listening to their artistry.
Wearing One Earring Takes Conviction.
Not everyone possesses the charm and audacity to pull this off. Whitney worked it here. It’s sort of like Michael Jackson’s one glittery glove: you’ve got to show real intent, otherwise people will be asking if you lost your other earring all night long.
Sequin is Classy. Period.
Which in this case, is a form-fitted dress that hits just below the knee. We can only assume Tina Knowles dubbed this video onto VHS to study later, then turned this into the inspiration for Destiny’s Child’s matchy-matchy outfits. Whitney set a few girl group rules here: never have the same hair as someone else, if you’re wearing the same outfit, color differentiation is key, and the person of importance is always in the middle. While we’re on this frame, let’s talk boas…
Feather Boas were so cool in the 90s.
Whether you were a drag queen, or a tween who thought excessive feathers would boost your premature sexual prowess, boas – in any color – were the epitome of glam.
Funny Face is a seminal fashion film and was well referenced in this video and beyond.
Whitney’s black turtleneck-leggings-white socks combo was inspired by the 1957 Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire musical, Funny Face. Audrey’s look from the Parisian beatnik club scene where she prances around with two guys and a big smile on her face was recreated. The Gap followed in Whitney’s footsteps in 2006 with an ad for their black skinny pant. And Beyoncé did the same thing in her video for “Countdown” in 2011. Props to Whitney for blazing the trail.
Breaking the mirror was the icing on the cake for me.
When Whitney said she’d be his baby tonight, she meant it. How cool would it be to look in multiple mirrors and see yourself in multiple looks at one time? Genius!
Whitney Houston would’ve been 56 today. Though she’s gone, she left us with enchanting melodies and iconic fashion moments like the ones in this video, which cemented her place as the ultimate icon in my Book of Style.
Happy Heavenly Birthday to the legend, Whitney Elizabeth Houston.