Whitney Houston’s Music Video Style Remembered

Houston’s fashion and music videos throughout her career

Still from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “I Will Always Love You,” “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay,” and “How Will I Know?” music videos.
Photo: Arista Records/Warner Bros.

As a style blogger, it feels weird to write about the passing of Whitney Houston. Like it’s not my place or something. Culture critics like Sasha Frere-Jones from The New Yorker and Rich Juzwiak from The Daily have written beautiful, moving pieces about her legacy and the significance of her career, and knowing both of them professionally, I can testify to how heartfelt the eulogies are. After the news of her death broke, MTV aired an hour-long music video special last night, and though part of me wants to chime in about that voice, and what she did for women of color in music, the aspect of Whitney Houston’s life that we’ll talk about here is her memorable music video style.

From her super ’80s, backless, body-con getup in “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to the all-white fur coat and white flip-flops of a G’d up Whitney decrying some philandering scumbag in “Heartbreak Hotel,” the fascinating thing about the Jersey-born Guinness Record-holding multi-platinum recording artist is that despite her model body and stunning face she never fell victim to a hypersexualized image. Ever.

It’s not that she downplayed her good looks (she was always immaculately turned out) but in revisiting all of her greatest hits, it’s notable that she predominantly opted for big-lapel suits, ripped-up boyfriend jeans, oversize leather and denim jackets, knee-length skirts, and a grip of turtlenecks. With the exceptions of her early work like “I Wanna Dance…” and “How Will I Know,” Houston rarely played the protagonist of her videos (though I guess she did take a turn as the “other woman” in “Saving All My Love”). She was usually the omniscient narrator, which apparently required some sartorial gravitas. Seriously, take a minute and watch EVERY video and you’ll notice she wears a jacket or coat in a great number of them. Whitney Houston never met a matte red lipstick she didn’t like (until she discovered an appropriate dark burgundy for “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”), and nobody wore a turban or choker better. Nobody. So in honor of a style icon and a game-changer, we bring you Whitney through her music videos.

SAVING ALL MY LOVE FOR YOU (1985)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love” music video. (1985)
Photo: Arista Records

Whitney wears black capri pants and a black off-the-shoulder sweater with a bright tank underneath. This is a great example of Houston turning it out in the simplest ensemble. Easy hair, bold accessories but nothing too flashy. Watch the video.

HOW WILL I KNOW? (1985)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?” music video. (1985)
Photo: Arista Records

This is all about a gun metal gray metallic dress with not opera gloves but weird free-standing full-length sleeves and a massive hair bow. Every fashion blogger who loves a cutout and a floppy oversized ribbon owes Whitney Houston big time. Also, we have to talk about the dancer who’s wearing half a bride costume and half a groom’s tux? And the chorus of singers wearing the same gigantic blue sheet with neck holes cut out? Major. So weird. Watch the video.

A still from Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?” music video. (1985)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?” music video. (1985)
Photo: Arista Records

GREATEST LOVE OF ALL (1986)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” music video. (1986)
Photo: Arista Records

In a sleek midi-length black skirt, black sweater, and cropped leather moto jacket, we think that Whitney’s gone somewhat subdued for the opening ensemble, but at around the 1:32 mark we realize that she’s wearing a tasseled sweater that’s echoed by the gold chains of her black leather moto gloves. Boss. Then in her second set-up Whitney graces us with a spaghetti-strapped white, beaded dress with a generous slit and massive, dazzling constellation earrings set off by frosted, glossy lips. Watch the video.

A still from Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” music video. (1986)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” music video. (1986)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” music video. (1986)
Photo: Arista Records

I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY (WHO LOVES ME) (1987)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” music video. (1987)
Photo: Arista Records

It’s funny how everybody remembers the scoop-back purple body-con dress with the plastic earrings, full bouncy curls, and exceptionally ’80s makeup, but this song actually opens with a knee-length skirt suit. From there we see Whitney in her classic oversized leather jacket and jeans, and then there’s an impressive array of skintight turtleneck dresses, some exposing her midriff, others with one arm, and others still that are sleeveless. The zaniest, funnest outfit by far has to be the flouncy flamenco skirt that’s perfect for dancing and hamming it up. I love how in this video, like so many others, she DARES her dancing male counterpart to step to her because she knows how wildly out of their depths they are. She even throttles a dude while blasting him with: “Don’t you wanna dance, say you wanna dance, don’t you wanna dance?!” It’s wonderful. Watch the video.

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” music video. (1987)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” music video. (1987)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” music video. (1987)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” music video. (1987)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” music video. (1987)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” music video. (1987)
Photo: Arista Records

I’M YOUR BABY TONIGHT (1990)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight” music video. (1990)
Photo: Arista Records

This time we’ve got a brown leather jacket and thoroughly distressed light jeans with torn knees. Then, Ms. Houston wears a glowing white suit with a matching fedora and cane and dances her way into a beaded “Dreamgirls” dress and ends with blunt Audrey Hepburn bangs, cropped trousers, and another black turtleneck for the “Funny Face” finale. Watch the video.

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight” music video. (1990)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight” music video. (1990)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight” music video. (1990)
Photo: Arista Records

I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU (1992)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” music video. (1992)
Photo: Arista Records/Warner Bros.

The styling on this video is perfect for its restraint. Seated in a pinstriped, peak-lapel suit jacket and slacks, the look here is all about a smokey eye and a red lip. At no point does it attempt to compete with the beautifully bonkers stylized costuming of The Bodyguard (hello, beaded headdresses), which is the perfect tack to take so that when her eyes snap open to belt the MONSTER chorus all we see is her open mouth and all we hear is GOD. Watch the video.

I’M EVERY WOMAN (1993)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” music video. (1993)
Photo: Arista Records/Warner Bros.

A very pregnant Whitney wears a demure black turtleneck and flared pants. The only outfit change is into a scoop neck dress with an empire waist and choker. The added style Easter egg is the presence of label mates TLC dancing their faces off in throwback oversize denim goodness. I just want to make a note of how rad it is that Whitney’s completely comfortable in her own skin. As she should be because she is glowing. Watch the video.

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” music video. (1993)
Photo: Arista Records/Warner Bros.

A still from Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” music video. (1993)
Photo: Arista Records/Warner Bros.

HEARTBREAK HOTEL (1998)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “Heartbreak Hotel” music video. (1998)
Photo: Arista Records

I love this video. First of all, Faith Evans and Kelly Price. Second of all, the song is amazing and maddeningly ear-wormy. Third of all, girl is wearing a full-length white fur coat, white pants, and WHITE CHANCLETAS. Can we discuss THAT? I don’t know why but I find that so thoroughly gangsta. Watch the video.

A still from Whitney Houston’s “Heartbreak Hotel” music video. (1998)
Photo: Arista Records

IT’S NOT RIGHT BUT IT’S OKAY (1999)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” music video. (1999)
Photo: Arista Records

Ooh, boy. This one was a doozy. You knew exactly what she was talking about in her personal life and she definitely ain’t playing. In a floor-length leather bustier dress with a train, AND A METAL CHAIN, Whitney turns it out with a massive, glistening, acrylic choker, shiny assassin’s haircut, and a deep burgundy lip. She also sings to an assemblage of seemingly scorned ladies who look like they’d go to war for her. Watch the video.

A still from Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” music video. (1999)
Photo: Arista Records

IF I TOLD YOU THAT (2000)

A still from Whitney Houston’s “If I Told You That” music video. (2000)
Photo: Arista Records

OK, my favorite thing is how Whitney Houston and George Michael are fully battling toward the end of the video. It is everything. Also, George totally rocks bizarro full-on Alexandre Dumas-steez “Three Musketeers” facial hair and pulls it off. Whitney wears a velvet fur-trimmed jacket, a single sleeve silk shirt, thick belt, and giraffe-print, bias-cut, knee-length skirt. Better to combat dance with. Watch the video.

A still from Whitney Houston’s “If I Told You That” music video. (2000)
Photo: Arista Records

A still from Whitney Houston’s “If I Told You That” music video. (2000)
Photo: Arista Records

THE NATIONAL ANTHEM AT SUPER BOWL XXV (1991)

Whitney Houston singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV. (1991)
Photo: Getty Images

While this doesn’t qualify as a music video, Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem during the pregame show at the Super Bowl XXV while a bazillion fans waved flags was a big deal. This was during the Persian Gulf War and Whitney wore red, white, and blue high-waisted retro warm-ups, Nike leather Cortezes, AND a white headband-turban hybrid. Backed by a full orchestra, the soaring, triumphant voice embodied the patriotism felt by all who watched.

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