Few celebrities ever achieve the legendary status of Tina Turner, which she rightfully earned through her impressive multi-decade career. The late singer, who passed away on May 24, 2023, inspired generations of fans, both on and off the stage.
The iconic musician was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, in Brownsville, Tennessee, and eventually became known as Tina Turner when she began singing with Ike Turner in the late 1950s. The duo, who married in 1962, released hit records, performed on live TV and toured in both the U.S. and abroad throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. During this time, Turner developed a signature look that was as instantly identifiable as her raspy voice; one that included lots of sparkle and lots of leg (the singer-songwriter once shared that the reason she favored short skirts was because they allowed her to really move onstage).
The pair finalized their divorce in 1978; Tina Turner later revealed she had suffered years of domestic abuse from her ex-husband. By the late ’70s, she had embarked on a solo career, and with the new period in her life came even bolder sartorial choices, thanks in large part to designer and costumer Bob Mackie, who was introduced to Turner through Cher. With Mackie, Turner cemented her unique style, working more beads, fringe and leg into her look (and occasionally switching things up with edgy leather and animal prints), during a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.
Turner’s public appearances became less frequent in the later years of her life, but the Grammy Award-winner made a few notable exceptions. She was regularly in attendance at Giorgio Armani fashion shows and events until 2018, and she attended the opening night of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical on Broadway dressed in her trademark sparkles. In celebration of the rock ‘n’ roll icon, Observer looks back at Turner’s greatest stage looks.
1964, Performing as Part of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue
During one of her earliest performances in Texas, Turner wore a dazzling gold column gown with matching heels.
1964, Performing as Part of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue
Though Turner was somewhat conservative with her hemlines in the early ‘60s, the flame-like glitter accent on this white dress was a sign of bolder things to come.
1969, New York City Performance
By the end of the ‘60s, Turner had made minis a part of her look, noting that they gave her more freedom to move onstage. Fringe detailing also helped to showcase her high-energy choreography, as it moved right along with her through every pony step and shimmy.
1971, On Stage in Amsterdam
While touring abroad, Turner opted for this disco-inspired mini with an asymmetric hem and feather detailing.
1971, Performing at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles
For a live performance in Los Angeles, Turner opted for a two-piece mini, connected by columns of rhinestones.
1975, Tommy Premiere
Turner wore a look fit for a movie star when she attended the New York City premiere of the film Tommy in 1975. The singer traded in her mini skirt for a floor-length hem, but kept the sparkle with a sequin-accented blouse that featured a plunging neckline, and draped a plush fur coat over her shoulders.
1975, Performing in Yugoslavia
This zebra patterned dress, designed to swing from side to side as she moved her hips, was one of Mackie’s early creations for Turner.
1977, on Stage
Turner’s early solo years proved to be her flashiest, exemplified by this nude, fringe-accented mini, accessorized with pleated lamé wings. Mackie recalled that the fringe was actually constructed from chain in an effort to make it more durable than the typical beaded trim, which wouldn’t stand a chance against Turner’s onstage moves.
1979, on Stage
Another standout from Mackie, this red and gold flame number remains one of Turner’s most memorable (and most recreated) ensembles. In addition to rhinestone embellishments throughout, the bespoke design included a separate orange-feathered back-piece for Turner to wear while making her stage entrance. Turner, who once noted that she did her own makeup and wig styling for her shows, matched the costume’s fiery aesthetic with red nails, lips and hair.
1984, TV Performance
By the early ‘80s, Turner’s wardrobe transitioned into more of a rock ‘n’ roll style, as seen here in this all-black ensemble, complete with leather pants.
1985, Live Aid Benefit Concert in Philadelphia
Turner made a memorable appearance alongside Mick Jagger at the Live Aid benefit concert in Philadelphia. This time, Turner turned to couturier (and good friend) Azzedine Alaïa for her leather mini skirt and bustier combo, which was accessorized with fishnet stockings, black heels and a voluminous blonde mullet, which become a signature part of her ‘80s look.
1985, Private Dancer Tour
While on tour for her Grammy-winning solo album Private Dancer, Turner went back to her roots in a showgirl-inspired mini, covered in white feathers.
1986, The Prince’s Trust All-Star Rock Concert
Ahead of her performance at The Prince’s Trust benefit concert for in 1986, Turner met the then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana in a slightly more demure take on her signature style, with a knee-length skirt, blazer and pearl necklace. When she hit the stage to join singers including Paul McCartney and Elton John, Turner kept the pearls, but went back to her preferred mini.
1986, Receiving Hollywood Walk of Fame Star
Turner received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1986, and for the occasion, sported a strapless dress in a bold, multicolor print that was peak ‘80s. To complete the look, she paired a pearl necklace with gold hoops and stacks of gold and silver bracelets.
1987, Break Every Rule Tour
The singer’s onstage looks in the ‘80s and ‘90s featured plenty of denim, like this pair of high-waisted jeans, which she wore with a white top and black blazer for her Break Every Rule world tour.
1993, What’s Love? Tour
More than 20 years after she donned her first mini dress, Turner prepared to hit the stage at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall in a fringe-trimmed silver mini—and a much shorter hairstyle.
1995, GoldenEye Premiere
Just before embarking on another tour, Turner headed to Europe for the release of the James Bond film GoldenEye, for which she sang the theme song. She wore an elevated take on the black pantsuit for the occasion.
1997, Wildest Dreams Tour
Designer Wayne Scot Lukas worked with Gianni Versace to create this sparkly, black lace-trimmed standout slip dress for Turner’s Wildest Dreams tour.
2005, The Kennedy Center Honors
As one of the evening’s honorees at the 28th annual Kennedy Center Honors, Turner opted for a more demure look, with an ankle-length white lace frock. She left the minis to Beyoncé, who wore a wore a vintage Bob Mackie flame dress when she performed a rendition of “Proud Mary” as a tribute to Turner.
2008, Grammys Performance
Just a few years later, Turner joined Beyoncé onstage at the 2008 Grammy Awards. The duo dressed in coordinating shimmering looks as they performed a duet of Turner’s hit “Proud Mary.”
2008, Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour
Bob Mackie was back for the costuming for Turner’s eleventh and final tour, marking her 50 years in the music industry. The longtime collaborators decided to repurpose some of Turner’s most well-known pieces, while also dreaming up entirely new designs, for a tour wardrobe that included majorly glam moments, like a red-beaded mini dress and a gold-trimmed evening gown with a thigh-high slit.
2011, Giorgio Armani Milan Fashion Week
Following her final tour, Turner was a regular at her friend Giorgio Armani’s runway presentations. The music icon stole the show when she attended the Fall 2011 collection in Milan, wearing a unique navy number with a blazer and pants.
2018, Giorgio Armani Armani Privé Haute Couture
Turner wore beaded separates (presumably Armani) and delicate gloves when she sat front row at the 2018 Armani Privé Haute Couture show in Paris.
2019, at Tina: The Tina Turner Musical in New York City
Though she’d announced her retirement in 2009, Turner continued to stay busy in the following years. She published her second memoir in 2018, and served as executive producer of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, which was inspired by her life. For the show’s Broadway premiere in 2019, Turner wore a glittering floor-length gown, and surprised the audience during curtain call when she joined the cast onstage, and delivered a heartfelt speech.