The next decade or so saw the emergence of eccentric beauties. Julia Roberts, with her almost too-plush lips and coltish legs, was an instant smash in Pretty Woman. The movie was an ode to consumerism: The shopping-spree scene in particular, set to music, pushed not only the idea of pleasurable capitalism but the mantra of style as a transformative vehicle. Through the power of clothing, Roberts’s character—and Roberts herself—went from invisible to captivating almost instantly. Madonna, too, emerged in the eighties in Desperately Seeking Susan. An ode to Madonna’s East Village–centric, lingerie-model-meets-biker-on-top-of-a-wedding-cake sense of personal style, the movie propelled the Material Girl toward superstardom. Madonna has gone on to reinvent herself as everything from an S&M bondage vixen to an Italian neo-realist pinup, but like first love, the initial iteration of cinematic Madonna—ripped stockings, black bra, short skirt, see-through top, dozens of bangles—is the most enduring.
Every action has a reaction, and in the nineties, clean, streamlined stars like Gwyneth Paltrow reigned. With her Upper East Side breeding and her lanky skinniness, Paltrow was an overnight sensation with the fashion crowd, gaining notice in a couple of costume dramas—Emma, in which she managed to look svelte even in Empire-style gowns, and Shakespeare in Love, for which she won the Oscar for best actress. Like icons of old, Paltrow also dressed off-camera, along the way becoming a muse for such designers as Stella McCartney. In fact, Paltrow’s major style status has arguably outstripped her acting career: While she appears in many ads, she no longer scores leading roles in movies.
A similar fate, albeit with a darker twist, has befallen Lindsay Lohan, who began acting as a child. Although talented and very pretty, she has been the victim of a devastating (and very American) combination of drugs, alcohol, reckless behavior, and what seems to be an excess of plastic surgery. After starring in Mean Girls in 2004, her future looked bright, but despite her sense of style, Lohan, who idolizes the icons of the past, has not absorbed their lessons: It’s always been work plus style that makes you a star—not rehab.
In the past decade, Angelina Jolie has become a legend—due more to her gorgeous, sultry looks and sex-bomb-meets-saint persona than her sense of style. Though Jolie seems to regard fashion as frivolous, a new generation of American actresses has emerged in the past few years that views fashion as a mix of fun and self-expression. Jessica Chastain is a style chameleon who transforms herself from androgynous to superfeminine with a mere flip of her red hair; Emma Stone is naturally gamine, a charming mix of schoolgirl and sophisticated. Rooney Mara’s lovely girl-next-door-ness was completely subverted last year in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Overnight, she became a style icon, with her almost-alien looks made even more vivid by the movie.