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12 of the wildest, most iconic looks from the VMAs

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From Pamela Anderson’s pink fluffy hat and corset combo to Britney’s yellow snake moment

The MTV Video Music Awards (aka the VMAs) always promise some notable fashion moments, along with iconic performances and memorable memes to light up the TL as the biggest names in the music industry come together.

Tonight’s VMAs, presumably, will be no different, although some changes have had to be made to deal with the coronavirus situation, with performances taking place outdoors across New York City to a limited or completely non-existent audience (have no fear: there will still be a red carpet, if the VMAs Twitter is to be believed).

Those that are actually attending tonight’s events (which air at 8pm EST, or 1am UK time) will also have the pretty hefty task of topping 2019’s offering, which had some iconic looks on display courtesy of Lil Nas X, Lizzo, and FKA twigs, to name just a few.

But right now, we’re looking back beyond 2019, and delving into some of the VMAs’ wildest and most unconventional looks from years gone by. Strap in. 

ROSE MCGOWAN’S ‘SCANDALOUS’ DRESS, 1998

Appearing beside her cheetah-print-suit-wearing then-fiancé, Marilyn Manson, Rose McGowan secured her place in the sartorial history books in this completely see-through black mesh beaded dress. The outfit, which was widely condemned by the press at the time, has also gone on to gain a deeper, more poignant meaning, with McGowan calling it a response to the sexual assault she experienced at the hand of Harvey Weinstein.

LIL’ KIM’S ONE-SHOULDERED CATSUIT, 1999

Just a year later, Lil’ Kim took to the red carpet in a mermaid-inspired lilac catsuit accompanied by a pasty to cover her exposed nipple. The work of Misa Hylton, the stylist behind many of the best 90s hip hop looks, the outfit was playful and provocative. Especially then, when it was an even bolder move for a high-profile celebrity – a black female rapper, in particular – to wear her sexuality on her sleeve (or her lack of a sleeve, in this case).

NICKI MINAJ’S TOKYO-INSPIRED LOOK, 2011

This one made one or two “most confusing” lists back in 2011. Explaining the inspirations behind the maximalist design – which featured a hand-stitched metal dress, plush dolls, and a massive ice cream necklace – Nicki Minaj referenced Harajuku, a district of Tokyo, saying the style was something she had been “absorbing for a very long time”. Bonus points, here, for the prescient surgical facemask that she wore at the ceremony.

LADY GAGA’S MEAT DRESS, 2010

Honestly? No list of wild VMAs style would be complete without Lady Gaga’s beef ball gown. Designed by artist and fashion designer Franc Fernandez, and styled by Dazed’s former creative director Nicola Formichetti, the dress is undeniably one of the singer’s most showstopping style moments (and there have been many).

PAMELA ANDERSON’S PINK FLUFFY HAT, 1999

How do we love thee, Pammy? Let us count the ways. Or at least one of them: this corset and fluffy hat combo that the star wore to the VMAs circa 1999 (which, FYI, was a truly iconic year when it came to the fashions). So legendary was this look, Kim Kardashian West paid tribute to Anderson with a like-for-like Halloween costume in 2018. 

BRITNEY SPEARS WITH A LITERAL SNAKE, 2001

Okay, so this isn’t a red carpet moment, but it’s Britney at the VMAs. With a snake. Britney appeared with the bright yellow reptile wrapped around her shoulders during her 2001 performance of “I’m A Slave 4 U”, a moment that has since prompted tributes such as that of the singer H.E.R. (who appeared with just one of her five “noodles” at the VMAs eighteen years later).

KURT, COURTNEY, AND BABY FRANCES BEAN, 1993

In one of their last red carpet appearances together (sob), Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love rocked up to 1993’s event with cherubic baby daughter Frances Bean. J’love the juxtaposition of the Hollywood starlet-inspired gown and the baby bottle, tbh.

TLC IN ALL BLACK AND WHITE EVERYTHING, 1995

Fresh off the back of the release of Crazy, Sexy, Cool, Chilli, T-Boz, and Left-Eye assembled at the 1995 VMAs to sing a medley of some of their biggest hits. Known for consistently turning game-changing iconic looks, the three went for baggy monochromatic pants and tops finished with Crazy, Sexy, Cool branded briefs peeping from their waistbands. Calvin who?

BUSTA RHYMES AND MARTHA STEWART, 1997

We’d say name a more iconic duo, but tbh, no, we won’t wait. Hanging out with unlikely friend Martha Stewart on the red carpet, Busta Rhymes obliterated the boundaries of gender in a long, floral tunic. A special s/o also goes to the rapper’s 1999 VMAs appearance, when he showed up in this iconic yellow leather look.

GWEN’S BLUE SPACE BUNS, 1999

1999 was truly a vintage year for the VMAs, with Buffy and Willow turning up arm-in-arm, the Backstreet Boys turning the camera on the press (meta), and that Lil’ Kim look all on the agenda. It was also the year this incredible photo of Gwen Stefani hanging out with Courtney Love and fellow Hole-r Melissa Auf Der Maur was taken – and while the white-girl bindi phase was not her finest moment, there’s no denying that blue space buns and fluffy bikini combo isn’t a lewk.

KATY PERRY PAYS TRIBUTE TO BRITNEY, 2014

Proving Britney’s longstanding style influence, Katy Perry also paid tribute to the pop icon’s appearance at the 2001 American Music Awards with Justin Timberlake – clad in that double denim look – with her own outfit at the 2014 VMAs. Of course, she also needed a denim-wearing partner to top off the reference, and chose the rapper RiFF RAFF as her date. Who else?

CHRISTINA AGUILERA’S DIRRTY-ERA OUTFIT, 2002

Bikinis and chaps pretty much sum up Christina Aguilera’s Stripped era in the early 2000s – “too dirty to clean her act up,” etc, etc. – so this VMAs look wasn’t too far off the established mark. Again though, a lot has changed since 2002, and Aguilera’s attempt to shed her image as a clean, teen pop star led to widespread public backlash from Karens everywhere. Retroactively take a day off, huns.