We revere certain artists for their style, and the sooner that we accept that, the sooner we’ll be able to admit to ourselves that we dressed how we did because we wanted to be so-and-so from such-and-such.
In contrast to the likes of Courtney Love, Missy Elliott, or even Victoria Beckham, there were the musicians who brought unique aesthetics to the table and were overlooked in the process. Maybe we cited them as “safe,” or maybe we thought they were too much like we were (they weren’t), but either way, we bypassed them completely, and are only now realizing the impact they had.
So in celebration of the artists who dared be themselves, here’s a choice for who we deem an underrated style icon: Natalie Imbruglia, the woman who instilled an understanding that a navy blue zip-up is always a good choice. (Or more specifically: that there aren’t enough dragon graphics available on anything, anywhere.)
1. The “Torn” Outfit
Ladies and gentlemen, may I formally re-introduce you to the coolest—the coolest—casual music video outfit of the late 1990s. With her top 40 debut, Natalie Imbruglia gave us this: something literally any person on earth could wear. Something you could wear to school without breaking the dress code; something you could wear to work on casual Fridays—something you could wear babysitting on a Saturday night. (‘Sup, y’all.) Singlehandedly, the “Torn” singer and this video inspired us to briefly abandon jeans for khaki pants we could dress down with zip-ups.
Also importantly, she proved that graphics needn’t be reserved for kids’ clothes only (which was important for our tween and teen selves). After all, like a young Crazy Eyes said on this season of Orange is the New Black, dragons are cool.
Natalie Imbruglia has never adhered to gender norms in terms of style (and for that, can I get an “alleluia” and/or “amen”?), which actually fell in line with more than a few ’90s musicians (like Amanda Marshall and Jann Arden). However, through “Wishing I Was There” she delivered stone-cold gentlemen-inspired realness, courtesy of a button-up short-sleeve blouse and tie. True, it was half the makings of a Catholic school uniform, but it lacked the Britney Spears feathered hair ties (not that there’s anything wrong with those), which added a little more androgyny.
And they say Avril cornered the tie market in 2002.
3. The Razored Pixie Cut
In a world (it helps if you say this in a deep voice) where girls grew up thinking they needed long hair to be pretty, Natalie Imbruglia came along to remind us that we could actually do whatever the hell we wanted. (Or we were at least less afraid of short hair.) “Short hair” (pre-Imbruglia) was arguably equated to “mushroom cut,” but courtesy of her textured ‘do, we learned that the days of bowl cuts and post gum-in-hair rescue looks were over—we could get razored ends, and use wax to give texture, and then pair said hair with a navy blue zip up, and then hope that the guy from the “Torn” video would find us and kiss us in front of a camera too.
Or more importantly: we learned there was more than one type of hairstyle, just in time for the new
Willennium millennium. We didn’t have to be afraid anymore—short hair don’t care.
4. Newsboy Hats
In 2001, the newsboy hat wasn’t yet the go-to aesthetic for bros in the business-arts—it was still a relatively daring, vintage choice. (In fact, two years later, Keira Knightley would wear a version of one in Love, Actually, which would effectively convince me to buy several—just so everyone’s aware.) So when Natalie showed up in 2001’s video for “Wrong Impression” donning a hat with oversize earrings and newly grown-out hair, she epitomized a brand of big-sister cool usually reserved for any artist with the guts to wear leather.
See? Obviously determined not to adhere to a trademark look, Imbruglia embraced hats before we teens had the guts to do the same, taking yet another risk (and succeeding admirably), while also rebranding herself. She could still sing, she could still write, but there was a little less ’90s “edge” involved. At least in terms of her hat choices, hair, and beach-chic clothing—which also paved the way for the great Boho craze of ’04.
5. Mix-and-Match/Boho Style
And we might as well give credit where credit is due. While Sienna Miller earned kudos for the Boho trend a few years later (and hey—girlfriend did a good job), Ms. Imbruglia used the new decade to mix-and-match accordingly, following in the footsteps of Lisa Loeb, who embraced girly pieces but made them their own. Through her follow-up to Left of the Middle, Natalie used her cover art to demonstrate her eclecticism: she wasn’t following a trend or formula in the ’90s, and (as proven by the tutu and t-shirt) she wasn’t doing it 2001. She was evolving (like most humans!), and using her style to reflect her balance between the alternative and pop words.
Natalie Imbruglia actually did a wonderful job subtly encouraging her young listeners to change and evolve without making every piece an announcement. Even now, she continues to adopt trends without ADOPTING TRENDS (with big, bold letters and a light-up sign), thus proving you can try on different hats (literally), move with the times, and be yourself. (Aw.)
Although for the record, I would still kill for that dragon tank top.