Style Thief: How To Dress Like Janelle Monáe

Welcome to the first installment of Style Thief, where I steal the clothes off queer style icons’ backs. Metaphorically, that is. I’ll try figure out just exactly what makes queer style icons tick by breaking down their look into itty bitty bite size pieces. I get a lot of questions about how to look like different celebrities/characters, so I’m finally tackling the question “How the hell do I dress like that?”

Header by Rory Midhani


Today I’ll be stealing the clothes off one of my favorite musicians/fashion icons/android lovers Janelle Monáe. Though Monáe is talented enough that she could probably pull off a burlap sack, she known for her wardrobe of all tuxedos all the time. Monáe has explained she wears tuxedos both to pay homage to the uniforms worn by her working-class parents and to “help redefine what it looks like to be a woman.” I have a sneaking suspicion she also wears them because she knows she looks fucking dope.

MONAE AT THE BLACK GIRLS ROCK 2012 AWARD CEREMONY

The key to stealing Monáe’s look is understanding that you’re not trying to make it look effortless. This isn’t wind-swept casual “Oh this old thing” thrown together at the last minute. Monáe’s look is clean, sharp and absolutely put together to the extreme. To rock her look you have to own that you are intentionally dressing to look good to yourself and to everyone around you. Monáe’s look is perfect for any time you think you should be wearing a dress and are scared you won’t look fancy enough in pants.

At the very base of it you’ve got to go black and white. This is great because black and white look great on almost everyone. Just think of how awesome a penguin looks. Though Monáe occasionally reverses it, she usually goes for a black tux with a white shirt. It’s so classic it just feels right.
Start with that white tuxedo shirt. If you change nothing else in your outfit, a white tuxedo shirt tells those around you that you’re here for something special. Or better yet, that you’re someone special. Go for one with a half collar and a classic pleated bib. The really nice thing about tuxedo shirts is that you can often find women’s shirt (thus cut for breast and curves) in exactly the same overall style as a men’s shirt — no weird extra frills. Bonus points if you find one with black buttons.

Next, tuck thats shirt into a pair of black pants. This is the easy part since you probably already own some sort of black pants. One of the greatest things about Monáe’s look is that it’s so easily adapted for different gender expressions/fashion choices. Monáe herself even mixes it up between classic men’s tuxedo trousers, high waisted wide leg women’s slacks and pencil skinny straight leg pants. Though the classic tuxedo stripe is awesome, it’s not always that easy to find or doable on a budget.

IF YOU ALWAYS WEAR A TUX THEN YOU ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING TO WEAR WHEN YOU MEET THE PRESIDENT.

Monáe sometimes forgoes the tuxedo jacket (the tuxedo shirt actually gets the point across quite well) but I think it’s an all important feature. While this look might be more versatile without the jacket, nothing in the world says dapper quite like those shiny lapels. Monáe generally rocks a jacket that is cut to form to her waist while remaining masculine through the shoulder. Though it might seem like you’re asking for a thousand dollar price tag, tuxedo-inspired jackets have become popular enough that even cheaper stores sell them. Better yet, find an old-school tuxedo in a thrift store and have it altered. You’ll spend less money and end up with a better jacket.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you’re going to wear a tuxedo jacket, you want to ensure that your blacks don’t clash. This can sometimes be tricky if you buy the pants and jacket separately. In order to mitigate clashing fears, I suggest bringing the first purchased item with you while you’re shopping for its mate. Additionally, check the same store as often designers use the consistent black suiting fabrics throughout their collections and year to year.
Most important are the accessories. Monáe’s array of both butch and femme bow ties spring to mind. You want to buy something in black and you want to tie it yourself. Nothing looks cheaper than a pre-tied bow tie. You can get a good quality reasonably priced black bow ties at most department stores, and it’s a worthy investment that you’ll wear for years to come. For a femmier look, it is worth scoping out alternative bow tie options, including ribbon and pussy bows. Monáe switches up her tie style regularly and you might want to have some options on hand too. You can’t leave out the all-important shoes; for Monaé it’s all about the saddle shoes or oxfords. In both cases, you want to go classic and crisp with either stark white and black saddle shoes (none of that peach and tan nonsense) or an all-black menswear-style oxford. Don’t shy away from patent leather, it’s there to make your shoes really pop.

As for jewelry, Monáe keeps it, unsurprisingly, classic. Although she’ll bust out the occasional chain broach linking her jacket lapels, she is much more likely to wear nothing but pearl stud earrings. This simplicity is important because it allows your outfit to remain neat. Almost as if your wardrobe (and your life) is a tightly regulated machine.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Janelle Monáe’s look without her signature pompadour. Though it seems like Monáe’s hair would be really complicated and specific to style, there are actually a multitude of ways to achieve it with all sorts of hair cuts. As with any complex hairstyle, I think it’s best to find the perfect Youtube video. Here are just a couple of the best pompadour/Janelle Monáe hair videos out there:

So there you have it. Keep everything classic, monocrome and polished perfect and you can strut your Janelle Monáe stuff wherever you please.


If there’s a queer style icon you’d like to see stripped down in Style Thief, send me an ASS message, ask on my formspring, or tweet me @Ohheyitslizz

Profile photo of Lizz

Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at Autostraddle.com. She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

Lizz has written 274 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. Thumb up 10

    Please log in to vote

    Ok. So 30 minutes later, I have determined that I do not have the hair product and hair equipment needed to do an Asian pomp with my thick hair. I have, however, determined I can rock a Flock of Seagulls hairstyle if life ever demands it.

  2. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    I love this so much! Just “discovered” Monae a few weeks ago after seeing her speech at the BET awards and wow she is amazing. After seeing what an incredible woman she was, I searched for her music, and you know, her voice is banging! So happy to see her style being spread through gayland :)

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          I have the biggest possible crush on Janelle Monae. She just seems like a beautiful person inside and out and like someone that I’d totally want to date. My friend has met her (he was her introductory act once or whatever the correct term is) and said she’s actually quite shy (which she’s admitted in an interview). I already guessed that, she seems like an introvert, she has that ‘deep’ness to her. But the shyness just makes her even more attractive. She’s a true artist in every sense of the word. I adore her, the musical art she produces and everything she represents.

  3. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    This was great! I especially loved the hair tutorials with attention to a VARIETY of hair types! Thanks for being inclusive Autostraddle! It’s what keeps me coming back :)

    • Thumb up 1

      Please log in to vote

      I wanted to include even more but at some point I didn’t want the article to be 90% video. But I’ll keep that in mind in the future and always try to include a few whenever awesome hair is awesome.

  4. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    You guys, I met her! She performed with Fun. at the venue I work at. I was leaving the booth walking towards backstage as she passed me when she happened to trip rather violently on a step. Her super dapper hat flew into the row I was walking down so I picked it up and handed it back to her while asking her if she was okay. She was a bit shaken but totally fine and basically tried to make it up as though the step grew up out of the floor just to trip her. It was actually quite adorable and she thanked me and that was that. Then she performed and it was super amazing. The end.

  5. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I’m sorry, I know the kind of comment I’m about to write is frowned upon down here for no reason. But I think the suit makes her absolutely unattractive. She does not have a boyish figure. She has hips. That’s not cool with a tuxedo if you’re not wearing heels. And what she says about wearing the suits to pay homage or something.. that’s a lie. I have a feeling she’s just not comfortable with her own body and tries to disguise it in suits. Lots of suits. To me she just looks like someone who is faking it.

  6. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    So I don’t really understand how anyone could feel comfortable “stealing” her look when she has explicitly stated that her entire look is an homage to her working class roots. She grew up poor, which you stated, but the subsequent hand-waving away of working-class problems is kinda making me uncomfortable? It’s a uniform for a reason, much more than a fashion statement.

  7. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    Oh god, I love her.
    The first concert I ever went to had her in it, it was amazing.
    It was an Of Montreal concert, and she opened/did some songs with them, it was amazing. I think it was the Variety Playhouse, heh.
    She painted a naked woman while she was singing, which was rad. She was so gooooooooood.

  8. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    Oooo yes! I love Janelle Monae’s style. It’s absolutely gorgeous. I feel like she’s a modern, female, classed up David Bowie. My style icons tend to be fifties/sixties early British rockers, and I feel like she fits so well into that too.

  9. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    These are quotes from her about her style and where it came from (taken from this article, which was about the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! awards – http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/11/janelle_monae_talks_about_being_a_former_maid_and_why_she_still_wears_a_uniform.html):

    “When I started my musical career I was a maid, I used to clean houses. My parents—my mother was a proud janitor, my step-father who raised me like his very own worked at the post office and my father was a trash man. They all wore uniforms. And that’s why I stand here today in my black and white and I wear my uniform to honor them,”
    “This is a reminder that I have work to do, I have people to uplift, I have people to inspire”
    “And today I wear my uniform proudly as a Covergirl,”
    “I want to be clear young girls, I didn’t have to change who I was to become a Covergirl, I didn’t have to become perfect because I’ve learned through my journey that perfection is the often the enemy of greatness. Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes other uncomfortable.”

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.