Cher is the kind of superstar who needs no introduction. The one-named singer, actress and fashion icon has been in the public eye for over 60 years and has had a major impact on pop culture. Her bold, devil-may-care attitude through the years paved the way for future divas from Madonna to Lady Gaga, while her impressive achievements (which include selling over 100 million albums and earning an Emmy, a Grammy and an Oscar) cemented her status as a legend whose fan base spans generations. Here’s a look back at young Cher’s famously over-the-top looks from her ’60s boho style to her sparkly ’80s glam.
Young Cher in the ’60s
Cher first came to prominence in the ’60s. Born Cherilyn Sarkisian in 1946, she dropped out of high school at 16, hoping to make it big as an entertainer, and met Sonny Bono, who was then working for famed music producer Phil Spector, in 1962.
Cher began contributing backing vocals to some of the songs Spector produced (including The Ronettes’ girl group classic “Be My Baby”), and in 1964, when Cher was just 17, she and Sonny got married. The couple began recording as Sonny & Cher in 1965, and their song “I Got You Babe” became a huge hit and one of the defining tunes of the ’60s. (Click through to listen to Sonny & Cher and the Ronettes in our list of 20 best 60s love songs.)
Cher’s distinctive look — which included her signature long, glossy black hair, heavy eyeliner and a wardrobe of bell bottoms — instantly set her apart. Her outfits embodied the turn toward youth culture-inspired fashions, as she often wore outfits with hippie or mod elements. Sonny & Cher also often dressed in coordinated ensembles, making them a truly dynamic duo.
Given what a larger-than-life performer Cher became, it’s surprising to learn that she initially suffered from stage fright. In early Sonny & Cher performances, she often looked at him, rather than the audience, as a way to combat her jitters. However, it’s safe to say stage fright didn’t hold her back, and she released her debut solo album in 1965.
While Sonny & Cher were a duo throughout the ’60s, Cher also had a number of solo albums during this time.
Young Cher in the ’70s
Cher faced some setbacks in the late ’60s, as some of her albums flopped and tensions arose in her marriage to Sonny. Things began to turn around in the ’70s, as the couple debuted their show, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, in 1971 when she was 25 years old.
The show was a hit, and the back-and-forth between husband and wife delighted audiences, while comedy sketches gave Cher an opportunity to act.
The show also helped to establish Cher as a fashion icon. Since the show featured sketches and musical performances, she had opportunities to wear a wide range of outfits, and her looks were created by noted fashion and costume designer Bob Mackie.
As Mackie recalled in a Harper’s Bazaar interview, “She would have up to 20 costumes for an hour-long show. It might be on camera for 30 seconds or 10 minutes, but she wore lots and lots of clothes so she became this amazing clothes horse. I could get a piece of beautiful matte jersey, and we could make her a dress in 10 minutes because her body was incredible to work with.”
The collaboration between Cher and Mackie became the stuff of fashion legends and continued into the 2000s. Mackie was the mastermind behind many of Cher’s most daring looks, and the ’70s was when Cher established the glamorous image that’s still instantly recognizable today.
In a Vogue interview, Mackie described Sonny & Cher’s original look as being “like New Age cave people; there they were in their fur vests and funny pants and belts.” Mackie was drawn to Cher’s exotic beauty — Cher said they had “love at first sight” — and created sexy, sparkly ensembles that made a statement.
In 1975, Sonny and Cher divorced, and Cher got a new show, simply titled Cher, which didn’t do nearly as well as The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. In 1976, Sonny and Cher’s show came back and ran for a year.
Cher continued releasing albums throughout the decade and kept wearing fun outfits. While her style started off hippieish, by the ’70s her Bob Mackie looks would help set the tone for the disco era and beyond.
Cher in the ’80s
Having established herself as a TV star in the ’70s, Cher truly proved she could do it all by becoming a movie star in the ’80s. Leading dramas like Silkwood and Mask, she showed she could do more than sing and act in skits.
She even won an Oscar for her role in the 1987 rom-com Moonstruck at the age of 41. Of course, she wore a striking Bob Mackie dress for the occasion. The dress was sheer and covered with sparkles, giving her a nearly-naked look that only she could pull off on Hollywood’s biggest night.
Two years prior, in 1986, Cher caused a scandal when she wore a Bob Mackie ensemble that included a barely-there top and low-rise skirt, a robe and a feathered headdress. The showgirl-inspired look showed off her figure and got people talking.
That year, she wasn’t nominated for an award, though she felt she should’ve been, for her role in Mask, and had Mackie design a “revenge dress” for her to wear when she presented the award for Best Supporting Actor. Onstage, she quipped, “As you can see, I did receive my Academy booklet on how to dress like a serious actress.”
While Cher’s ’80s outfits sometimes landed her on “worst-dressed” lists, during this decade her influence was deeply felt. ’80s style embraced excess — something Cher had already been doing for years at that point. The glittering, body-conscious frocks worn by pop stars, actresses and models who emerged in the era owe a major debt to Cher’s taste for more-is- more style.
Cher’s influence continues to be felt today. These days, everyone wants to be a multihyphenate, but Cher was one of the first to pull it off successfully. She’s long been a divisive figure, but love her or hate her, you have to admit Cher has always been a master of commanding people’s attention. (Click through to see some of Cher’s most over-the-top moments)
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