Queen of Soul and Body-Positive Icon: A Look Back at Aretha's Franklin's Memorable Style

Aretha Franklin performs at a JVC Jazz Festival concert at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, New York, June 24, 2000.
Aretha Franklin performs at a JVC Jazz Festival concert at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, New York, June 24, 2000.
Photo: Jack Vartoogian (Getty Images)

The icon we knew as Aretha Franklin was a lot of things: musical prodigy, Queen of Soul, church girl, teenage mother (and possible abuse/rape survivor), Detroit native, shade-master and legendary diva. But while all of those titles may apply, there is one we often overlook: Aretha Franklin, in her own, over-the-top way, was a body-positive icon.


Hear me out on this—because chances are, we’ve both chuckled or raised eyebrows at Aretha’s fashion choices over the years. In her 76 years on this planet, our Auntie Re-Re (because she was our auntie long before our beloved Maxine Waters) showed a penchant for major fashion moments—and her tastes were never subject to age or size.

Whether wearing a size six or “none-of-your-business,” Aretha always wore what she wanted—“age-appropriate” or “size appropriate” be damned. She was a diva who not only clearly loved to play dress up, but was unequivocally aware of her own greatness; rightfully feeling deserving of the space she took up in the world—however much space that may be.

Because we would deal.

So yes, we would get braless moments, and cellulite, and tulle, taffeta and the occasional tutu, and sleeveless dresses and spaghetti straps well into her 70s. We would get a vivid array of wigs, hats, countless furs, and handbags sometimes worn at the piano and on the mic. Aretha was the best kind of black woman—the kind many of us grew up with; she was the type of black woman who knew her own worth and dared you to tell her any different.

And due to all her IDGAF glory, Aretha was a body-positive icon long before “body positivity” was even a thing. And aside from her incredible voice and enduring catalog, if we take nothing else from the legacy of the Queen of Soul, it should be the freedom (and yes, you should have read “freedom” in Aretha’s singing voice) to show up in the world exactly as we are, and as we see ourselves. And to demand respect, regardless.


Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



Maiysha Thank you. Because LEWKS!!

Also because you’re you, I know you are working on a post about her ICONIC shedding of furs and other articles during performances because auntie understood DRAMA! EMOTION! and EFFECT!