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Stevie Nicks style file: How chiffon and shawls created an incomparable rock style icon

Getty Images
Getty Images

A Stevie Nicks performance immediately conjures up the image of her twirling onstage - an oversized shawl extending from her shoulders into the air, layers of breezy black fabric underneath and, always, platform boots.

Those style staples have hardly changed - whether performing solo or as part of Fleetwood Mac - since Nicks first joined the band in 1974. Whether described as “witchy,” “bohemian” or “rock and roll,” it’s undeniably a look that’s instantly recognizable as Stevie Nicks.

Nicks began performing before she was even five, joining her grandfather (who was a country singer) when he sang at bars. Honing her stage presence at an early age, Nicks’ raspy and emotive voice combined with her poetic way of writing created a singing and songwriting style as unique as her fashion choices.

Stevie Nicks’ early life

(ANL/Shutterstock)
(ANL/Shutterstock)

Stephanie Lynn Nicks was born on May 26, 1948, in Phoenix, Arizona. The nickname, Stevie, soon followed, as Nicks had trouble pronouncing her full first name as an infant. Her father, Jess Nicks, was the executive producer at Greyhound Corp., which resulted in her family (mom, Barbara, and younger brother, Christopher) moving to Utah, California, Texas and New Mexico, before heading back to California when Nicks was 15.

A born performer, Nicks’ grandfather, AJ, would take a then-four-year-old Stevie to sing with him in bars - teaching her to harmonize and bringing her records. “I can remember singing with my granddad and feeling even at that young age that music was definitely going to be a part of my life,” Nicks said in Zoë Howe’s Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumours.

By 15, Nicks was taking guitar lessons, and for her 16th birthday, her parents gifted her with her very own guitar - inspiring Nicks (who had already taken to writing poetry) to write her first song.

In 1966, Nicks met Lindsey Buckingham at a church meeting where students would sing and play music. Their meeting would prove to be a life-changing one both personally and professionally. Nicks and Buckingham would go on to have a tumultuous on and off relationship. But first, Stevie would be invited to join Buckingham’s high school band, Fritz, which would eventually open for bands with members including Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

Nicks and Buckingham attended San Jose State University (Nicks majored in speech communication) but ultimately dropped out to pursue music full-time. “I think that you should get the best education you can, and then if you want to go off and be a total entrepreneur space cadet, that’s fine,” Nicks said. “But if you are called upon to take care of somebody or keep something together, you gotta have studied something.”

In 1971, the band split, but Nicks and Buckingham would start their own band together, Buckingham Nicks. Struggling to make ends meet, Nicks worked as a waitress while the now-couple worked on their debut album, which was released in 1973 to little commercial success.

Joining Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac in 1978 (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)
Fleetwood Mac in 1978 (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)

Fleetwood Mac was formed in London in 1967, by guitarist, Peter Green. The original band consisted of Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood, slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bassist John McVie (Fleetwood and McVie’s last names would be combined to give the band its name, Fleetwood Mac). The band would lose and add members over the next seven years, eventually relocating to Los Angeles in 1974, comprised of just Fleetwood, McVie and his wife, keyboardist Christine McVie.

When Fleetwood asked Buckingham to join in that same year, he agreed on the condition that Nicks was included too. And the rest is history.

(Redferns)
(Redferns)

“When I met Christine McVie I was awestruck with her,” Nicks recalled in conversation with The 1975’s Matty Healy for an interview with The Face in 2020.

“We went right into rehearsal for the record, and maybe during the first week, I said to her, ‘We have to make a promise to each other that we will never be treated like second class citizens, ever. And if we go into a room with a bunch of famous people like Eric Clapton and on and on, and they treat us like we are not as good as them, then we are just gonna say, ‘This interview is over,’ and we’re going to walk out,” she explained of how she and McVie commanded respect despite being in an industry that was male-dominated at the time.

(Redferns)
(Redferns)

With Nicks and Buckingham on board, they released the album Fleetwood Mac in 1975, which would go on to set a record at the time for the most weeks on the chart. The album Rumours would follow in 1977, solidifying Fleetwood Mac as one of the rock and roll greats.

Of course, Nicks would also venture out on her own. But her signature look wouldn’t change - but it would become slightly more colorful. Releasing her debut solo album Bella Donna in 1981, Nicks simultaneously remained a member of Fleetwood Mac through much of her solo work before taking a break in 1990. Six years later, Nicks rejoined the band, and has been recording new music and touring with Fleetwood Mac ever since.

The rock goddess look

Nicks in 1977 (Getty Images)
Nicks in 1977 (Getty Images)

Nicks started to create her look during her time in Fritz. Idolizing Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, Nicks would shop at the boutique the singers favored in San Francisco, Velvet Underground. Still, she created a look that was unique to her.

Nicks’ first tour with Fleetwood Mac in 1975 saw her favoring bell-bottom jeans and printed chiffon tops. But that would soon evolve into draped dresses in rich fabrics like chiffon and velvet paired with fringed shawls (occasionally a top hat) and platform boots to complete Nicks’ dramatic looks - both on stage and off.

Nicks in 1975 (Redferns)
Nicks in 1975 (Redferns)

“I didn't want to look like anyone else - like Janis Joplin or Grace Slick,” Nicks told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011. “That's why I never went to any of the big designers. I drew a stick figure of what I dreamed up and gave it to my costume designer, Margi Kent, who I still work with. It was a handkerchief dress with a jacket, long, droopy chiffon sleeves, and velvet platform boots. I didn't want to wear high heels.”

Nicks first started working with fashion designer and celebrity stylist, Margi Kent, in 1977, and together, the two would create her stage looks. Her initial wardrobe would consist of a leotard, chiffon wrap blouse, a few short jackets, two skirts and boots. Nicks’ platforms were especially important, as the singer is just five foot one. Made my Italian bootmaker di Fabrizio, the platform boots, which Nicks liked in shades of tan, cream or lilac, could be as tall as seven inches.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Black was the preferred clothing color of choice, paired with a series of capes and shawls - and a top hat that was found in a thrift store in Buffalo during her first tour with Fleetwood Mac, would also be added into the mix.

Nicks’ long blonde hair was also part of her look (changing from her perm in the late ‘70s and ‘80s to a polished blowout in more recent years). And the makeup was equally theatrical, especially when it came to her eyeshadow, which mimicked Old Hollywood actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. “I’d always done my eyes like that,” Nicks said in a 1977 interview of her defined crease. “To me, Marlene and Greta are just totally glamorous without people saying they were sex symbols.”

(Redferns)
(Redferns)

Nicks’ over-the-top stage persona - and especially the platforms - helped to make her stand out on stage, but it also helped control her nerves. “I needed a uniform,” Nicks told The New York Times of how her onstage outfits helped to combat stage fright. “I’ll be very, very sexy under 18 pounds of chiffon and lace and velvet. And nobody will know who I really am.”

Her signature shawl

(WireImage)
(WireImage)

Nicks’ shawl collection started early on. As a kid, Nicks wanted to be a dancer, and she would twirl around her room, emulating Isadora Duncan with her scarves.

Nicks would continue to work that ballet aesthetic into her music career. Naming Russian prima ballerina Natalia Makarova as one of the style inspirations behind her onstage look, Nicks would also make ballet stretches part of her pre-performance routine and enlist choreographers to incorporate her love of ballet into her music videos in the ‘80s.

“Over the years they’ve become really superstitious things for me,” Nicks has said of her shawls. “They’re like special good luck charms.” According to Howe in Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumours, one of Nicks’ favorite shawls is her gold chiffon ‘Gold Dust Woman’ cape that Kent designed with fringe and sequins.

They’ve also been given as gifts to her friends over the years. Always one to prioritize her girlfriends, Nicks’ crew rarely changed. Her best friend from childhood, Robin Snyder, remained by her side as her vocal coach, until she passed away in 1982.

And Nicks’ backup singers, Sharon Celani and Lori Perry, were with her even before the release of her first solo album Bella Donna, and continue to sing with her today (Perry even became her sister-in-law when she married Nicks’ brother).

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“I have my shawl vault - they’re all in temperature-controlled storage,” Nicks told Rolling Stone magazine in 2019. “I have these huge red cases Fleetwood Mac bought, all the way back in 1975 - my clothes are saved in these cases. All my vintage stuff is protected for all my little goddaughters and nieces. I’m trying to give my shawls away, but there’s thousands of them.”

In addition to passing her shawls down to friends, Nicks is also said to gift 24-carat gold crescent moon pendant necklaces to those closest to her (she is often pictured wearing one herself).

An enduring style

(Nicks in 2019 Getty Images For The Rock and Ro)
(Nicks in 2019 Getty Images For The Rock and Ro)

Today, Nicks continues to layer on the chiffon, lace and velvet, whether she’s touring with Fleetwood Mac or popping up to perform solo at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or Gucci Cruise show. But she’s not the only one rocking it.

Just as Nicks’ musical career has inspired a new generation of artists (think Harry Styles and Lennon Stella), her signature style has become a source of inspiration too - especially when it comes to the runway.

In 2012, then creative director Hedi Slimane presented his debut designs for Saint Laurent’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection. The classic ‘70s silhouettes in a mix of chiffon and lace had a bit of rock and roll edge that drew more than a few comparisons to Nicks.

Saint Laurent Spring/Summer 2013 (Getty Images)
Saint Laurent Spring/Summer 2013 (Getty Images)

Rodarte, Chloé, Coach and even Michael Kors have all sent Nicks-inspired designs down the runway. But no designer has perhaps been more influenced by Nicks than Anna Sui. In addition to favoring layers and patterns (always with a rock and roll edge), Sui created an entire collection in tribute to the singer in 1997 and even named Nicks as her “ultimate muse” in an interview.

Still, no one does it quite like Stevie.