The 50 Best Dressed Celebrities of 2021
After a tough year, nothing turned the lights back on like celebrities stepping back on the scene (onto the red carpet?) following season after season of virtual ceremonies and canceled events. From Bella Hadid in gilded Schiaparelli lungs to Dua Lipa's fun retro street style, these stars came back with the energy we'd been missing. Read on for the 50 best dressed celebs who brought their fashion A-game in 2021.
It's only fitting that the face of Maison Valentino would serve one of the most memorable looks of 2021 in an elegant gown from the luxury label. As if the moment didn't already feel styled to a T, even the breeze came right on cue. Fact check: Did she bring a fan? "It was actually just the wind," says our November cover star, Zendaya. "There was no leaf blower!"
We're still not over the wool crepe Schiaparelli Haute Couture gown the model wore to an event at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Complete with a lung-shaped necklace made of gilded brass and rhinestones, the head-to-toe effect was a breath of fresh air after months of canceled red carpets.
From her breakups to her hookups (team Bennifer forever!), the singer-actress has given us tons to talk about lately. But we'd be remiss not to mention how damn good she looks in the process. Exhibit A: the steamy string bikini and caftan the star wore on a yacht for her 52nd birthday.
Stewart is no stranger to stealing a scene. And recently the actress has kept us riveted with a parade of Chanel ensembles (she's an ambassador for the brand) to promote her Princess Diana biopic, Spencer. In particular, we give this slouchy white suit set a standing ovation.
Tracee Ellis Ross
The actress is a huge fan of Bottega Veneta, and the love is mutual. The luxury fashion house sent her this feathery aqua confection, designed by creative director Daniel Lee, before it was available in stores. "It checks some major boxes for me: glamorous, colorful, and bold," says Ellis Ross. "And I know it doesn't seem like it, but it's also easy. It's jeans and a turtleneck that just happen to have feathers on them!"
She was a vision in wearable art from new label Del Core at a UNICEF event in Capri this July. "We have been searching for brands that really are pushing the industry forward," says González's stylist, Elizabeth Saltzman. "We make a deliberate point to use her platform to support all types of designers."
There's a reason why the style set fangirls over Swinton's every outfit: Her edgy, structured fits (such as these Haider Ackermann looks) delight and surprise on red carpets full of simple strapless dresses. Perhaps the closest she's ever come to being upstaged was at this year's Cannes Film Festival, when her photo op (right) with fellow French Dispatch stars Timothée Chalamet and Bill Murray, as well as the film's director, Wes Anderson, became an of-the-moment meme. We guess even fashion royalty can't compete with a great statement shirt.
"Cynthia's style is not conventional at all. It's pretty wild; there's no way to put it in a box," says the Grammy- and Tony-winning performer's stylist, Jason Bolden. But while she has help coming up with her avant-garde looks, Erivo (in Georges Hobeika Couture, here) is hardly a passive party in the process. "A lot of celebrities don't buy clothes, but Cynthia shops — she's a true fashionista."
Pfeiffer delivered a level of Zoom composure we all aspire to with a sequined Valentino bodysuit for the virtual Golden Globes. With leggy khaki trousers and a statement belt, the outfit offered just the right balance between Hollywood glamour and stuck-at-home chic. Never mind us over here, tilting our laptop screens to move our pajamas and slippers out of frame.
Dr. Biden has put a modern spin on First Lady fashion by choosing to forgo a stylist and repurposing her favorite pieces on multiple occasions. But that's not to say she's above finding something extra special for important events. On inauguration night, Dr. Biden wore an elegant ivory coat by Gabriela Hearst embroidered with the official flowers of every state and U.S. territory. As a nod to Dr. Biden's lifelong service as an educator, the piece also included a meaningful quotation sewn into the lining: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."
Since giving birth to her daughter, Khai, late last fall, the model has elevated the art of cool-mom dressing to a whole new level — it takes skill, after all, to make a graphic T, flared orange trousers, and a stroller look effortless. We can't wait to see what she wears to parent-teacher conferences in a few years.
"I get inspired by clothes with some edge or an element of danger or play to them," says Smollett. "Whether that's more cosmopolitan and clean or a little more grungy and punk really depends on the day and what mood I'm in."
"I'd describe my everyday personal style as flowery prairie dress meets sophisticated suit-wearing lawyer meets grandma meets 12-year-old boy in the '90s," says Deutch.
The pop sensation paid President Joe Biden a visit in July at the White House, where she encouraged fellow Zoomers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Rodrigo twinned with the commander-in-chief in his signature aviator sunglasses and channeled Legally Blonde's Elle Woods in vintage Chanel, solidifying her status as a chart-topper, an advocate, and a style icon — impressive stuff for someone who just got her driver's license. (What, like it's hard?)
"It is really important to Viola to work with designers that speak to her as a Black woman," says Davis's stylist, Elizabeth Stewart, of the Oscar winner's process. Her West African–inspired Golden Globes look was constructed from fabrics made in designer Claude Kameni's native Cameroon. "The prints are so vibrant and strong. It felt exactly right as the way to start off awards season."
"This was the quickest I'd ever chosen an event outfit," says the actress of the Nicolas Ghesquière Louis Vuitton ensemble she wore to the brand's fragrance launch in July. "It has such a superhero-cape feel to it, so maybe that's what I needed that day."
"My personal style is ever evolving," says the actress, who is set to star in the upcoming Balmain-produced drama series, Fracture. She describes her fall fashion inspiration as a blend of The Row and Xena, Warrior Princess. "I've collected roughly 10 pairs of knee- to thigh-high boots and am starting to look at statement oversize coats to layer over corset tops, boxy dresses, and knits. I think we have to stop normalizing athleisure and be more glam — life is too short."
The fact that the iconic singer publicly received her first vaccine shot and crooned a song about it (cleverly set to the tune of "Jolene," no less) would be enough to catch our attention. But when you factor in her brilliant choice to wear a cutout-shoulder top for the jab? We're still in awe.
Taraji P. Henson
It's safe to say Henson's wardrobe has a personality as big as her own. The actress has been known to turn a capital-L Look in head-to-toe designer threads.
"Miu Miu sent me clothes to choose from, and my mom, who is my style icon, helped me mix everything to find the right look," says Dever, describing her outfit for the brand's show in February. "The backless top elevated the comfy track pants — =[;and I love anything backless."
The Grammy-winning songstress unveiled her sophomore album, Happier Than Ever, as well as a new look this summer: platinum-blond hair and glamorous high-femme designs in lieu of the neon green roots and loose streetwear for which she's known. But her splashiest style moment of the year might have been at the Met Gala, where the lifelong vegan and animal lover agreed to wear an ethereal Oscar de la Renta gown on the sole condition that the house would stop selling pieces with real fur.
Regina King knows how to deliver, be it a stirring performance or a press appearance. It helps, of course, that she and her pro stylist duo, Wayman Bannerman and Micah McDonald, have determined what looks best on her. "A cinched waist is always important," says McDonald. "We never waste a waist!" And her custom Louis Vuitton look for the Academy Awards was no exception. "The second we saw the sketch, we knew that was the only option for the Oscars," remembers Bannerman. "We have always loved a bold shoulder, and the silhouette was perfect for Regina's frame."
A true style chameleon, Pugh pulls off vibrant and funky looks (see her entire Black Widow press tour) and timeless classics (a scarlet Khaite minidress for a Cartier event in July) with equal aplomb.
Russell Wilson & Ciara
If you didn't spend the summer vicariously living through this power couple's romantic fifth-anniversary vacation in Venice, you missed out. Their (perfectly coordinated) outfits are worth going down the Google wormhole.
Some people have underwear for every day of the week; Gaga has runway-ready ensembles. The House of Gucci star made the streets of N.Y.C. her personal catwalk this summer, turning heads each time she stepped outside in everything from 9-inch platform heels to a retro Rodarte polka-dot dress.
"I tend to gravitate toward bright colors. That's just my personality type," says the poet and burgeoning fashion icon, who enthralled the fashion world in January with the canary yellow Prada coat and red headband she wore to President Joe Biden's inauguration. Now, thanks to newly signed contracts with IMG Models and Estée Lauder, she's poised for another year of inspiring style. "Fashion is such a great storytelling medium, and it connects to the content of my work — I like to incorporate symbolism and meaning into my outfits through every piece and accessory."
It'd be a challenge to outshine the model-actress at any moment, but this lustrous copper Schiaparelli evening dress makes it downright impossible.
While most of us look to swimwear for aquatic activities, Washington opts for designer gowns. The actress did a pool photo shoot in a custom royal blue Etro dress embroidered with Swarovski crystals and a matching headpiece for the Screen Actors Guild Awards in April. "This look was a nod to Esther Williams," says the star's stylist, image architect Law Roach. "I love to reference the starlets of the past."
As one would only expect from the daughter of two '90s icons, the actress's wardrobe exemplifies cool-girl chic. We're still thinking about the blue slip and yellow block heels she wore for a coffee run over the summer, but she's equally adept at putting together casual and comfy-looking outfits for breezing around town (with or without Channing Tatum).
"What's interesting about fashion and glam at this moment is that everything has been done, so how do we remix it to be of-the-moment?" says Cox, whose own go-to for big events is a fluffy, full skirt. "I'm tall, and the right ball gown conceals the flat shoes I can wear with it. As much as I love the look of high heels, the party doesn't ever truly begin for me until they're off."
At awards shows and big events, the Grammy-winning pop star generally looks like she just walked off a Versace runway and onto the red carpet. But real fans know that Lipa saves some of her best fashion for Instagram, where she's the queen of disco-fab style in funky flares and vintage-cool crop tops.
While long brunette waves have been the actress's trademark for decades, she decided to embrace her natural gray during the pandemic. The impact on her wardrobe? "At first, I thought it would [change things]," she says. "But I really don't think it has. I wear whatever colors I feel like wearing."
"Style is visual communication, and I've got so many stories to tell," says the author-activist and creator of #DeGenderFashion. "Often the only depictions we see of gender-nonconforming people are of us as tragic failures or cartoon villains. I love being a part of creating a counter-representation, one that affirms a more expansive idea of beauty."
After a year of dressing Mulligan for the shoulders up in Zoom talk show appearances and interviews, her stylist, Nicky Yates, was elated to see the Promising Young Woman actress shine at the Oscars in a Valentino two-piece. "What was so lovely was how excited everyone was to get back on the red carpet," says Yates. "We tried a selection of looks, but as soon as Carey put on the gold Valentino, we knew it was special."
Queen Elizabeth II
We're all for a personal uniform, and the monarch's go-tos are iconic: colorful frocks, ladylike satchels, and plenty of flower-bedecked hats. While the overall vibe may seem prim and proper, don't let it fool you: The queen has no qualms about wielding a long and sharp sword (if only to cut cakes at charity events).
The Greek mythology theme of Lizzo's "Rumors" music video (featuring Cardi B) cemented her status as a style goddess and spurred fans across the Internet to call for her to be cast in a live-action remake of Hercules. She already has the shimmery toga-like dress and decadent golden jewelry ready to go…are you listening, Hollywood?
The actress's meteoric rise since her award-winning performance in The Queen's Gambit has been accompanied by a veritable lookbook of showstopping couture moments. But she may have outdone herself at this year's Venice Film Festival in a custom electric pink Dior Couture dress and fascinator. "This look pays homage to Old Hollywood's leading ladies," says Taylor-Joy's stylist, image architect Law Roach. "Anya has the innate ability to play both in the past and present."
Chloe & Halle Bailey
After years of sharing the same Instagram grid, the R&B duo started 2021 with their first-ever individual accounts. "The beauty of my sister and me [is that] we shine in different ways," says Chloe. "With our own pages, people can see how we are individually." The sentiment, naturally, applies to their personal styles as well. "I am definitely way more excited about getting ready to go out these days," says Halle. "Maybe it's a fitted dress or more jewelry — I just put in more effort than I used to."
"I want to be a catalyst for funk," says the Emmy-, Grammy-, and Tony-winning Pose actor, whose fearless fashion choices are a high point of every red carpet he walks. For Porter, no look is off-limits."I hope my fashion legacy is about setting people free from everything that blocks them from their truth."
The French screen star always looks enviably sophisticated, thanks in no small part to a closet full of well-tailored staples. But it's her dramatic black-tie choices — such as the crushed velvet Balenciaga gown she wore to this year's Met Gala — that keep us coming back for more.
For more stories like this, pick up the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 22nd.