You would have no idea these timeless looks were from the ’80s and ’90s.
If you take style as seriously as we do—and thereby spend as many hours scrolling through fashion-related social media—you’ve no doubt stumbled across more than a few images on Instagram or Pinterest that depict the musician Sade, both her onstage looks and her off-duty ensembles. The catch being you may not have immediately realized that these images were not from today. In validation of her personal style’s timeless appeal, her sartorial choices are just as lauded today as they were decades prior—perhaps even more so.
A precursor that should shock no one, the Nigerian-British creative studied fashion design at Central Saint Martins before ascension to stardom. The effortless, sensual sound so renowned in her music first bloomed in what she wore. The singer rose to prominence in the early ’80s, so her personal style is a snapshot of the best of fashion of that decade and those closely following. She toned down the fads of the era—oversized shoulders, ’90s minimalism—through her styling choices, creating looks you could easily wear today. In an illustration of sartorial expertise, Sade relied on stylish basics like tailored trousers and crisp shirting—not to mention, the girl knew her way around a ballet flat—to temper down louder items.
One of her biggest strengths was the ability to reinterpret iconic fashion ideas by injecting them with a modern, personal spin. Her stage looks often riffed on traditional, fantasy-inducing ensembles like the matador’s outfit composed of a cropped bolero jacket and high-waisted pants or a figure-hugging Cheongsam. Sade toyed with denim-on-denim combinations à la the Canadian tuxedo and experimented with a peekaboo lace number. Not taking her historical references too literally, the singer-songwriter asserted her ownership of these looks of storied pasts with her own personal touch. She relished in slicked-back hairstyles, red lipstick, and hoops—a look which is eerily familiar today.
“The ubiquitous winter uniform of New York’s coolest girls—sleek turtleneck, gold hoops, high-waist trousers, red pout—didn’t just emerge from a vacuum. No, it was the ‘Smooth Operator’ singer’s onstage uniform in the early ’80s,” wrote Marjon Carlos for Vogue. Her personal uniform extended to encompass even more than those items alone. Onstage the singer constantly revisited an ensemble consisting of one of her beloved oversize menswear-inspired white shirts tied at the waist worn with a pair of jeans—another popular pairing of the current era.
Though she had perfected a consistent, individual style, Sade still knew how to push the envelope onstage and experiment with new pieces. She donned an embellished set featuring an ab-baring crop top and sheath skirt or her aforementioned lilac Cheongsam. The key to her access was rooting her experimentation in her comfortable go-tos—a lesson we would all do well to learn.
A.N.G.E.L.O. Vintage Cult 1990s Bead-embroidered Velvet Effect Bolero
We definitely categorize the selection of a bolero jacket as one of those go-big-or-go-home situations. This velvet embellished number is deeply fabulous, and since it’s not trendy per se, you can keep it in your closet forever.
Prada Wool Short Vest
If you’re looking for a slightly toned-down version of the aforementioned bolero, we think this tailored red Prada jacket is to die for. Style with jeans (and red lipstick, of course) for an everyday look.
Acne Studios Suiting Trousers
Sade would be the first to tell you there’s no end to how you can style a pair of black trousers. Try yours with a cropped bolero, an oversize button-down, or simply a figure-hugging turtleneck.
Everlane The Pima Micro-Rib Turtleneck
No closet is complete without a fitted white turtleneck. If you’re looking to wear yours like Sade, pair it with gold hoops and black high-waisted trousers.
Missoma Gold Medium Plain Claw Hoop Earrings
We’re guessing most of you already have more than a few pairs of gold hoops in rotation, but here’s a pair if you’re in need. The investment is foolproof—we’ve yet to find a look they don’t complement.