Barbra Streisand undoubtedly is one of the greatest performers of all time, with numerous awards and achievements. Her fashion is no less iconic and influential. In 1964, Encyclopedia Britannica named her as one of the fashion trendsetters of the year. We have to agree with their title! Her hairstyles, manicures, signature makeup and the way she embraced her nose even when many people commented (inappropriately!) on its size were groundbreaking and her fashion ensembles were daring, creative and predated current fashion trends. Up until today Babs is still referenced by the fashion magazines and inspires both brands and individuals alike.
In celebration of her memoir “My Name Is Barbra,” out on Nov. 7, let’s walk down memory lane and have a look at some of her most iconic and influential looks that have become an essential part of fashion — and Jewish! — history.
The Leopard Outfit
In the opening scene of Barbra’s debut film “Funny Girl,” she is introduced to the audience wearing a chic leopard coat with a matching hat, designed by the film’s costume designer Irene Sharaff. This look, along with her opening phrase “Hello, gorgeous!” has become iconic. It symbolizes her diva status and femme fatale image, and solidifies her as Hollywood royalty. Yet, is it Fanny Brice who we see on the screen or Barbra herself?
The actress has been seen rocking leopard print in her off-screen appearances numerous times. In 1966, two years before the movie premiered, she went to Paris with Vogue magazine and attended a Chanel fashion show wearing a leopard suit with a hat of her own design. She said that she had been inspired by the leopard-printed pillows she had at her house. Barbra, a Broadway and TV superstar, was seated front-row with the Hollywood diva Marlene Dietrich.
She also wore a leopard suit to the first anniversary of the stage play “Funny Girl” and another leopard coat while filming her TV special “My Name Is Barbra” inside the fashion temple, Bergdorf Goodman in New York.
Barbra in a leopard outfit has been immortalized in collective memory, both for her on-screen characters and her off-screen persona.
Vogue Magazine Cover
In 1966 legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue Magazine, Diana Vreeland, sent 23-year old Barbra to Paris with photographer Richard Avedon. They attended numerous fashion shows, including the aforementioned Chanel, checked out Dior’s atelier with Marc Bohan, the creative director at a time, and shot an editorial for the American fashion bible. Barbra was modeling the latest creations by French couturiers like Madame Grés, as well as challenging the traditional norms of beauty. The photoshoot ended up being on the cover of the March 15, 1966 issue. She also appeared inside Vogue magazine many times afterwards, dressed in Yves Saint Laurent and Lanvin.
The Paris trip and backstage photos are included in the book “Becoming Barbra” by LIFE Magazine photographer Bill Eppridge, published in 2017 and revealing never before images of the young Broadway and TV star. Avedon only allowed Eppbridge to film backstage because the journalist’s camera did not make any noise and would not distract the legendary fashion photographer from the shoot. The book shows never-before-seen images of young Barbra in thrift stores, trying on mink hats to match her coat and playing around with her clothes — you can really see from the images that she was creating the foundation of her own style.
The Oscars Suit by Arnold Scaasi
The 1969 Oscars ceremony was marked by the historic tie in the Best Actress category. For the first and last time there were two actresses who got the award: Hollywood veteran Katherine Hepburn, who did not attend a ceremony, and Barbra Streisand, who received her statue for her debut film “Funny Girl.” As Esther Zuckerman writes in her book “Beyond the Best Dressed: A Cultural History of the Most Glamorous, Radical, and Scandalous Oscar Fashion,” this “marked a moment of transition between Old and New Hollywood, both spiritually and visually. Over the years Barbra’s outfit, which was unintentionally see-through, has been derided as a fashion misstep, but it’s also the mark of a 27-year-old embracing her youth just as her legend is being crystallized.”
This was also the first time that a Best Actress winner ever wore pants to accept her award! The bell-bottomed pantsuit with white cuffs and collar was designed by Arnold Scaasi, an emerging fashion designer who would go on to dress American first ladies. Even though his last name sounds Italian, it is actually his real name spelled backwards: He was born Arnold Isaacs to a Jewish family in Montreal, Canada.
After this ceremony, Barbra kept on collaborating with the designer, including for the Oscars the following year and for the modern costumes in her next movie, “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” (1970).
Barbra insists she had no idea that the pantsuit, which she chose over “[a] lovely but conservative dress,” would be transparent under all the lights and flashes at the Oscars ceremony. Yet it stirred a scandal and is still considered one of the most provocative looks in the Oscars’ history. Years later, the “naked” dress became a signature look for Cher and a favorite red-carpet style for Met Gala attendees.
“Hello Dolly!” Golden Dress
In 1969 the last musical of the Hollywood musical era “Hello Dolly!” premiered. It was the most expensive musical ever made, with a budget of $25 million, and reportedly it almost emptied the pockets of 20th Century Fox Films. One of the most costly parts of the film were the costumes, designed by Irene Sharaff.
Barbra’s golden dress, weighing more than 40 pounds, made of sumptuous material with one pound of 14K golden threads, gemstones and Swarovski crystals, in which she makes an effective entrance for the performance to the “Hello Dolly!” title song, is one of the most expensive gowns ever created for a film! According to the Ultimate Fashion History, the dress, the matching embroidered shoes and the cost of the craftsmanship involved cost around $53,000 — taking inflation into account, today that would be approximately $100,000!
“The Owl and the Pussycat” Movie Poster
The use of hands as a fun element in fashion was introduced by Elsa Schiaparelli back in 1920/1930s and were a part of her fashion vocabulary, along with her involvement with the surrealists movement. However almost 50 years later, in November 1970, when Barbra’s fourth film “The Owl and the Pussycat” opened in theaters, the movie poster for the film turned out to be quite scandalous because of the strategic placement of hands on the lingerie she is wearing in the film. The look was designed by costume designer Ann Roth. Just like the movie itself — where Barbra plays a call girl/model/wannabe actress and audiences were surprised to see a woman swearing, performing nudity and using the f-word — the poster was a shocker. It had to be airbrushed for newspaper ads and the hands were removed.
Today, this look not only appears pretty innocent but its influence is seen all over the media, most recently with Beyonce’s outfit on her Renaissance tour: a body suit, with trompe l’oeil prints of hands hugging her body, created by Loewe.
“A Star is Born”
In the film “A Star is Born,” which premiered in 1976, Barbra’s costumes came from her own closet — which only proved her fashion star power. Barbra’s character Esther Hoffman wears bohemian dresses, bell-bottoms and peasants shirts popular in the 1970s, while on stage she rocked men’s suits made by Brioni.
Three months before the premiere, Barbra, along with Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the City Council and the mayor’s fashion advisory committee, hosted a film preview and a fashion show at the Warner Bros. Burbank Studios. She told the audience, “It was really fun to use some of my shmattes in the film. I still love those $20 Venice flea-market numbers.”
Barbra took her character’s style off screen, wearing a black tuxedo and a bowtie to the New York premiere of the film. As a matter of fact, she still rocks men’s-fashion-inspired ensembles for red carpets and public appearances decades later.
Accessories Queen: Hats, Furs and Handbags
Vintage paparazzi photos document Barbra in fur coats, hats and with her designer handbags: a total queen of street style before it was even a phenomenon.
Barbra famously loved wearing furs. Starting from the thrift store finds in New York City and documented in “Becoming Barbra,” her success led her to becoming a face of Blackglama fur company in 1969, where she became part of their campaign titled “What Becomes A Legend Most?” with other divas of her time. The campaign was shot by Avedon, who as you’ll recall had already photographed Barbra for Vogue Magazine.
She also boasts a great hat collection! From the top hats in her TV specials, elaborate feathered hats in the costumed movies, boiler hats, turbans, pillbox hats, bandanas and head scarfs, berets to wide-brim hats epitomizing the 70s glam — there isn’t a style that Barbra hasn’t rocked and made her own. In a still from the movie “What’s Up Doc?” where Barbra is wearing a newsboy hat, she became a poster girl for this style of hat and her photo is used all over the fashion magazines whenever the hat comes back into fashion.
She has also been photographed with the Gucci Jackie bag that was designed in the 1950s. The purse was named after Jackie Kennedy, who loved the style and made it her own. The bag was reissued in 2021 by Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s former creative director, and today is loved by Harry Styles. Barbra, always a bit ahead of the trends, carried it in paparazzi photos back in 1969.
As we can see, Babs has always had an original personal style and rocked memorable looks. She made them her own with great flair and chutzpah. The merging of her on-screen characters and off-screen persona make her a true style icon and someone to emulate. The next time you put on a leopard outfit, look at yourself in the mirror and say “Hello, gorgeous!” just like Babs taught us.