See Kanye West's Incredible Style Evolution
It’s hard to imagine superstar Kanye West as a figure who stayed behind the scenes, but before 2004, when he dropped his megahit album The College Dropout, the now multi-hyphenate was known largely as a producer for the likes of Jay Z and Nas. That all changed when singles like "Slow Jamz" and "Jesus Walks" started playing on the radio in 2004.
Since then, West’s musical career has included some extreme high points like 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and most recently, The Life of Pablo. Similarly, the musician has had some major fashion peaks as well, from favoring preppy Polo Bear sweatshirts, rugby striped pullovers, and baggy jeans to his couple-coordinated ensembles with wife Kim Kardashian West.
In honor of the singer’s 39th birthday today, we look back at his most memorable style moments before his must-have bomber jackets, plush velvet hoodies, and Yeezy Boost sneakers reigned supreme. Ahead, the many lives of Kanye West’s style. Trust us, this is good.
When West first broke onto the scene with his album The College Dropout, the rapper favored preppy Ralph Lauren Polo Bear sweatshirts, baggy jeans, and statement gold jewelry affixed with a pendant of Jesus Christ. We like to call this look prep-hop.
This is yet another iteration of West’s prep-hop look with the brightly colored rugby pullover and contrasting striped Oxford shirt. Bling-y gold jewelry and his ever-present backpack completed the ensemble.
In a dramatic transformation—only a year later, we might add—West traded his preppy separates for loud red carpet attire, which included wide-lapel white tuxedo jackets, contrasting square-toe shoes, and over-the-top sunglasses. Granted, this was performance attire, but as we would come to learn later, the red carpet was always a stage for West.
Once again, West went for it in a matching three-piece lavender suit. While gold extras and oversize shades made an appearance, the musician mixed perforated white leather moto gloves and a cigar into his look.
Here, West went for more of a streetwear vibe with a graphic blue zip-up and Nike sneakers. He even sported an “it” bandana before they were a Coachella staple. But we’re guessing present-day West wouldn’t be caught dead in this.
Oh, the shutter shades. With the release of his album Graduation, West was literally always seen with these Alain Mikli-designed sunglasses. We’re guessing that every other fashion statement, including this khaki suit and red tie combo, was an afterthought.
That was quick—the shutter shades are gone! In 2008, West began to play with menswear, but naturally, he made the trend his own by incorporating bright color and graphic patterns into his repertoire. He even added a sporty sweatshirt around his waist!
Another timeless West style hallmark. The rapper adopted red as his signature color in the late 2000s. We have to give him props for sporting a crimson Moncler puffer vest while sweating profusely on stage at the Z100 Jingle Ball.
West went for a little bit of red and a lot of designer in 2009, like his Goyard suitcase and Louis Vuitton Takashi Murakami scarf used as a pocket square. West went on to collaborate with then LV creative director Marc Jacobs on this first fashion capsule collection—a line of sneakers with the house.
Something about this military cadet jacket ensemble just screams Michael Jackson to us, but West modernized the look with a white tee and distressed jeans instead of going full on King of Pop circa 1984.
Now, this is some insight into the future. West’s uniform of wide-lapel jacket, deep-V tee, baggy leather pants, and sneakers is something we would see him sporting for more formal events in 2016.
Borrowing from the boys is nothing new, but the girls? At Coachella 2011, West wore a Celine women’s long-sleeve printed silk blouse unbuttoned to his belly button with a bevy of gold chains. We just have to say it—we love this!
West loves his tux jackets, and it’s easy to see why. The formal topper can be dressed down with leather pants and sneakers.
While battling wintry temps, West showed us how to artfully layer with a fur coat, royal blue hoodie (popped out just so), a long gray T-shirt, and leather pants. This is the beginning of what West is known for style-wise today.
Though he has sworn off deep V-necks for now, West loved them back in 2013 when he coupled them with plaid shirts tied haphazardly around the waist, acid blue jeans, and chukka boots.
The matching dip-dye gray-and-white jean jacket, tee, and denim would have been enough of a sartorial statement at the 2014 Wireless Festival, but West accessorized his look with a Maison Martin Margiela chainmail mask. He continued to wear these face accoutrements throughout the year.
And we are back to stylish layers. West traded the over-the-top fur coat seen in 2012 for a two-tone bomber jacket that he paired with a plush velvet hoodie, oversize tee, and jeans.
An early supporter of Demna Gvasalia’s Vetements, West worn the brand’s collegiate-inspired sweatshirt to the Fall 2015 Paris runway show. The $800 hoodie would later sell out.
Though West dabbled with coordinating couple outfits with former flames, like Amber Rose, it’s his work with wife Kim Kardashian West that currently has the world enamored. At the 2015 Met Gala, the duo wore custom Roberto Cavalli by Peter Dundas. While Kardashian West went with a sheer lace look, the rapper preferred sultry velvet for his separates.
Just a year later, West gave the 2016 Met Gala the casual treatment with distressed jeans, a white T-shirt, and pearl- and stone-embellished jean jacket all designed by Balmain creative director Oliver Rousteing. The topper itself took longer to create than Kim’s dress. Ever the headturner, West complemented the look with light blue-colored contacts.