A definitive guide to Charli XCX’s style evolution

From True Romance

 to Charli, a dive into the XCX sartorial canon.

September 13, 2019
A definitive guide to Charli XCX’s style evolution Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

A discussion of contemporary pop music without Charli XCX is laughably incomplete. She's a harbinger of innovation for the genre, and her body of work feels teleported from the future. Pop stars are unique figures in that their persona is worshipped just as vigorously as their music, and Charli has that I’m-all-in, life-of-the-party, see-you-when-the-sun-rises vivacity on lock. Part of her success is due to her daring sense of style, as Charli’s looks have evolved tremendously throughout her career — each era leveling up her innate XCX power. In honor of her new album Charli, we're here to chronicle her sartorial journey, from spunky club kid to high fashion apotheosis.

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True Romance

 : The Infancy

For better or for worse, one’s early twenties is marked with fashion adventurism. We play around with our hairstyles, wonder if we can pull off chunky accessories, and develop a uniform that will leave us baffled in approximately three to five years. Charli traveled this road with us, demonstrating a fearlessness that would become the common thread in her style evolution, and her earliest looks are best encapsulated in the wild, crimped locks and clubwear on the True Romance cover.

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my first ever album True Romance was 6 years old yesterday. I remember when I first signed my record deal when I was 16 I just thought kaboom that’s it - I’m gonna be huge like Britney Spears. Of course that can still happen for artists and its undoubtedly an amazing journey but it definitely didn’t happen for me like that. I was “a slow burn/long game/fucking trek” however you wanna put it. I remember having the conversation with my label about putting I Love It and Boom Clap on this album, having them be the lead singles and I said no no no. I wanted this to be something different, unique and exactly what I was feeling at that point in time: a little shy, bruised, unsure of who I was, but ultimately still pretty sure I wanted to carve my own lane out and do my own thing. if I’d put those songs on this album things might have been so different for me now. Firstly maybe those songs wouldn’t have played out the way they did, maybe they would have come too early or all of the magic ingredients might not have been all there to make them “hits” or maybe they would have dwarfed me and my personality and led me down a road where I was more willing to entrust others to make decisions for me (I’ve definitely toyed with that at points in my career and 4 years ago I realized IT JUST NEVER WORKS FOR ME). I am so proud of this album and all the people I made it with but particularly @arielrechtshaid and @justinraisen, two of the first people I ever really met in LA. I still know them now and they’re still equally as amazing and special people. When I make my music now (from number 1 angel onwards really) there is so much similarity to me between my recent work and true romance. I feel more sure of myself than ever before but like back then, I still feel like an outsider. Whereas it used to bother me, I embrace it now. I embrace my constant underdog status; I embrace the fact that I LOVE pop music; I embrace the fact that yeah, I might occasionally write a banger but I’m also extremely experimental with the music I release, i straddle two worlds and I enjoy it because I’m good at it. Thank you to everyone who’s been there since day 1. I love you 💕

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Sucker : Flirty Fatale

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Sucker-era Charli was seminal in her style evolution, bridging the gap from grungy club kid to today’s futuristic glamour looks. Charli began playing with feminine silhouettes and a signature red lip on her own terms, at one point wearing a shimmering, puff-sleeve dress with a thick, metal choker that spells out S-E-X. Seeing Charli live makes it’s clear she was born to be on stage, and this era found her developing an exciting tour wardrobe — like a full-body zebra print catsuit — and laying the groundwork for iconic tour fits in the future.

Vroom Vroom : Party Girl Rising

“Vroom Vroom” is the type of song that sends parties into a beautiful state of frenzied recklessness, and we’re better for it. The EP that shares its name marked a shift in Charli’s sound, as she began working with Scottish PC Music producer and soon-to-be frequent collaborator SOPHIE, the pair setting out to create pop music that sounded like it was on steroids. Her style also followed a similar trajectory, cementing her spot in the party girl hall-of-fame; Charli championed her “Lavender Lamborghini, roll up in a blue bikini” lyrics by making swimwear an outfit staple, while also dipping her toes into a more fashion-forward mentality with maximalist prints and funky footwear.

Number 1 Angel

 and Pop 2 : When Classical Glam goes Intergalactic

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The era following the Number 1 Angel

 and Pop 2 mixtapes showed Charli harnessing the full potential of XCX sensibilities. She’s at her most versatile, graduating to a sleek bob with hot pink ends to keep things interesting and rocking a cyber fit and a sweeping, tulle gown with the same energy. Charli began working with stylist Rebecca Grice in late 2017, and it was a perfect match. Grice understood Charli’s over-the-top aesthetics and elevated her looks into an I-Don’t-Give-A-Fuck type of glam. The two have a prolific relationship and worked together over several career milestones — Grice styled the Pop 2 tour wardrobe, single covers, and Charli’s first Met Ball appearance earlier this year. Ultimately, there’s a confidence that shines through in Charli’s style choices in this era. Charli knows now what her fans have understood for years — that she’s potent with star power.

Charli : Full Speed Pop Icon

Leading up to the release of hew new album, Charli was going through it. “Sometimes I just want to quit everything,” she vented on an Instagram post. “Sometimes I wish I was only a songwriter, not an artist — so I could give my songs to other artists to sing. And then maybe more people would hear them and connect with them. I don’t really understand how music works, nor do I really care to but sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era.” Although it was a departure from the Charli-core brags of being “fucking iconic,” it was the type of vulnerability behind why she has droves of devoted fans, or “angels.”

Charli is a new type of pop star — one that’s real and truly herself, even on her low days — and the Charli era is already shaping up to be her brightest — Charli feels like she can be accepted at her most authentic self, and it shows through her style. With the help of Grice, she’s established herself as a popstar with an expansive sartorial wheelhouse. A polished gown with alluring slicked back hair hits just as hard as chartreuse alien femme-dom get-up. Charli even does early-aughts nostalgia her own way, pairing a Paris Hilton-approved rhinestone choker with a commanding Cuban Link chain and bold, packed on blue eyeshadow. She can oscillate from look to look with ease and we love it, because the thing about being authentic is that everything looks good.

A definitive guide to Charli XCX’s style evolution