Editor’s Note: Delving into the archives of pop culture history, “Remember When?” is a series offering a nostalgic look at the celebrity outfits that defined their eras.
They say rain can be a sign of good luck. And it certainly was – in hindsight, at least – for Diana Ross when a torrential rainstorm struck during her televised Central Park performance on the evening of July 21, 1983.
To this day, the show is considered among the decade’s most epic live performances, and was perhaps Ross’ most memorable appearance. It was also, possibly, the shortest concert to make such a long-lasting impression.
Ross had been performing on an open-air stage for less than 30 minutes when lashing winds and heavy showers began pouring over her and her fans, leading the singer to cut the evening short.
But that half-hour forever sealed Ross’ reputation as a pop diva and style icon. Wearing a tight-fitting orange sequined jumpsuit with a cape billowing behind her, she looked nothing short of showstopping as she – literally – stopped the show and urged the crowd to slowly leave while continuing to sing.
When Ross reprised the show at Central Park the next day, she stepped on stage in a striking purple jumpsuit (pictured top) that had as many sequins as her orange number the evening before.
These were two of the many, many brilliant stage looks flaunted by the Queen of Motown that helped make the jumpsuit – usually of the glittering and skin-tight variety – a dazzling sartorial choice for female artists ever since.
Ross had long shown a proclivity for one-pieces: In the 1970s, after leaving the Supremes to pursue a solo career, she made a habit of donning bold, gutsy jumpsuits for performances and fashion photo shoots (there was also the shiny one she notably wore in the 1975 movie “Mahogany”). She often alternated them with dreamy dresses, exaggerated ruffles, tulle confections and spangled bodysuits.
Uniquely personal and always over the top, the singer’s glammed-up wardrobe helped turn her into an instantly recognizable figure in the industry – and jumpsuits played a central role.
They were a sign of the times: From the late ’60s to early ‘80s, everyone from Halston and Christian Dior to Oscar de La Renta and Yves Saint Laurent crafted their own version of the jumpsuit. Any celebrity worth their salt had one – or more – in their closets. Think of Farrah Fawcett, Cher, Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger, but also ABBA, and plenty of male performers, too: Elvis, David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury.
The appeal of the all-in-one is easy enough to grasp. Women loved them as liberating garments that defied the male gaze – something that felt especially relevant in the midst of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Men (the creative, liberal, hippie ones, at least) meanwhile liked jumpsuits for their gender-fluid, stereotype-breaking possibilities. They were anti-establishment, they were comfortable, and they made “cool” incredibly easy to pull off.
Ross wore them like a second skin on stage. In the ’80s and early ‘90s, as the jumpsuit reached its golden years (and was declared “the ballgown of the next century” by American designer Geoffrey Beene), so too did the soul singer’s embrace of it.
In 1991, she wore a golden, glittery and strapless jumpsuit for a gig at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington. Four years later, at Super Bowl XXX, she sparkled in a purple one-piece that she paired with a gold foil coat (one of four outfits that night) during her half-time performance – before exiting, full diva-style, via helicopter.
It’s little wonder that so many of Ross’ successors have replicated her shimmering style. Take the Lanvin jumpsuit worn by Rihanna on her Diamond World Tour in 2013, or the tasseled one-piece she donned at a 2016 VMA after-party. Then there was Beyoncé’s “disco ball” Vivienne Westwood jumpsuit, which she paired with a cape (very Diana Ross), and the ultra-tight Versace catsuit she wore on her 2018 On the Run II tour. And not to mention Kelly Rowlands’ numerous metallic jumpsuits, including the sparkly showstopper she wore for Queen Bey’s 35 birthday.
There was also Lady Gaga’s strapless black jumpsuit from the 2016 Victoria’s Secret show, and the dazzling one-piece she wore for her performance of “Shallow” at the 2019 Grammys, as well as J. Lo’s many glitzy jumpsuits over the years.
They all owe a debt of gratitude to Ross, whose own daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross, has also sported the look time and again, looking as glam as her mom on each occasion.
With Diana Ross recently announcing her first album in 15 years, set for release in September, here’s hoping she delivers more jumpsuit magic as she returns to the stage. Minus the rain, that is.