Top 15 Unforgettable U.S. Style Icons

The USA is a young country and like most toddlers and teenagers, it can be rebellious, self-centred, arrogant and challenging of the status quo: All the ingredients for rip-roaring style and they have it in spades.

The land of plenty has given us the most popular item of clothing in recent history – jeans, as well as its constant companion, the t-shirt. 

Celebratory Pants (297 / 365)

Levi's Jeans, Photo Casey Fleser, Flickr

When Levi Strauss put out the now famous closet staple in 1873, it was designed for miners and the working class. The humble t-shirt was constructed for similar purposes (see post The Basic T-Shirt, Never Fade Away.)

Popularized by films of the ’50s and stars like Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean and Marilyn Monroe, these pieces took on a life of their own with the emerging baby boomer population coming of age and with the help of a little  music movement we like to call rock’n’roll which, just happened to take the country by storm.

Elvis Presley swaying his hips in a pair of dungarees, guitar strapped to his chest and a sneer that would launch the genre around the world, was a kind of “@#$% you” to the establishment back in the day. And what teenager doesn’t want to raise the middle finger to their parents’ moral constructs, at least once?

The timeless, classic combination of jeans, t-shirt, leather motorcycle jacket, a pair of Chucks, all topped with Ray Bansis still the uniform of choice for rebels without a cause.

With the youthquake movement of the ’60s taking hold, American youth, both male and female, firmly embraced denim and contributed to a world-wide phenomenon which, really, has not been paralleled. Flash-forward to 2014 and denim sales are in the multi-billion dollar category.

But the US style history certainly doesn’t end there. Colliding influences have come from New York high life to the rugged mid-West, to the more laid-back cool of Southern California tomboy/girls.

American designers are an eclectic bunch and have taken on the challenge of catering to all these divergent groups with visions ranging from the ladylike, the business woman, the preppy,  the surfer girl and the modern-day hipster. And that’s just for starters.

Not shy to borrow from their cultural ancestors (this is a land of immigrants, after all) designers have pilfered from a variety of sources and continents, but end up producing in a very US-way.

Some examples, past and present, include Oscar de la Renta for a European-influenced elegance; Bill Blass and Donna Karan known for luxe style in ready-to-wear for the working woman; Ralph Laurenwho created a lifestyle brand around the clean-cut, Ivy League preppy; Calvin Klein for a pared-down, simple elegance; Perry Ellisand Marc Jacobs who ushered in youthful irreverence and attitude; relative newbies like Proenza SchoulerAlexander Wang, andThakoon – just to name a few.

So, here’s to the U.S. of A.! You have given us Ray Bans, Converse, tomboy style, jeans, t-shirts, tank tops, military chic, the hippie/bohemian, preppy style and minimalism, to name just a very few contributions to the fashion world.

Like teenagers we just can’t ignore, we have watched and followed.

Below is a list of 15 of the most unforgettable, U.S. style icons. 

1) Elvis Presley for mixing t-shirts, jeans and moto jackets with rock'n'roll.

Elvis Presley - 8 Classic Albums Plus Bonus Singles

Photo Brett Jordan, Flickr

2) Jackie Kennedy Onassis. As the First Lady she was prim and sophisticated. As Jackie O. she was streamlined chic and is still referenced to this day.

  Jackie Kennedy Onassis in a 1966 Cadillac Limousine

 Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Photo Jim Jordan from Dave S., Flickr

3) Talitha Getty brought bohemian, hippy chic to the fore and was a precursor to Sienna Miller style. Please see AboutawomanAboutagirl for full slide show.

4) Diana Ross for her flamboyant disco diva looks.

  Diana Ross & Luther Vandross

Diana Ross with Luther Vandross, Photo, ImagePros, Flickr 

5) Model/designer, Tina Chow mixed luxe with low in the '80s and brought androgyny to high fashion.

 Tina Chow-Model

Tina Chow, Photo Tiina L, Flickr

6) Diane Von Furstenburg gave us the wrap dress which is now 40 years young and going strong. Don't you have one?

  1970s glamour diane von furstenburg

 Diane Von Furstenburg, Photo CutandChicVintage, Flickr

7) Lauren Hutton, '70s super-model known for her tomboy, All-American style. She still inspires J.Crew and the Olsen twins in their design for The Row. 


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