40 Daring Outfits That Turned Heads At The MTV VMA Awards

The first MTV VMAs took place in 1984, and attendees had to follow one rule on the red carpet: that there weren’t any rules, of course. That freedom’s endured for the award show’s more-than-three-decade history. And it’s resulted in some of the wildest getups in fashion and pop culture history. We’re talking dangerously sheer dresses, cowboy costumes, frocks made of raw meat… you get the picture. Keep scrolling for crystal-clear visuals of all 40 of the most daring outfits to ever appear on the VMA red carpet.

40. A new nude

At first glance, Paris Hilton’s 2004 VMA dress seemed like a frilly, sparkly number fit for a socialite like her. But on your second look – perhaps a spit-take – you’d realize that a whole lot of this dress is totally sheer. With strategically placed embellishments, though, she kept everything just about covered enough.

39. Cher-ing a lot

The working relationship between Cher and designer Bob Mackie is transcendent. Fans of hers will know that he’s dressed the songstress for decades, draping her in sequins and sheers that stun every single time. So when she showed up at the 2010 VMAs in a Mackie-designed, 1980s-inspired getup, it was instantly iconic – just like everything else Cher does.

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38. Getting it white

In 1999 Jennifer Lopez started a relationship with Diddy, and fans of the pair couldn’t get enough of their eye-catching style. The most memorable moment during their time together was arguably the 2001 Grammys, when J.Lo wore her infamous V-neck Versace gown. But this all-white ensemble for the 2000 VMAs is a close second.

37. Belting it out

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Leave it to a supermodel to make an impression on the red carpet. Cindy Crawford turned heads – and probably dropped some jaws – when she showed up at the 1992 VMAs. She rocked a rough-edged Versace look with multiple buckles and straps, as well sheer fabric to make it even more risqué.

36. Light bright

Taylor Swift tends to change her style with every new album she releases. When Lover came out in 2019, she ditched her Reputation-era serpents and dark hues for a lighter, softer style. Her sequin-covered Versace look at the VMAs that year quite literally reflected this change.

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35. The right fluff

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Coco Chanel once famously gave the following advice to help women obtain her effortless, classy style: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” We assume that Pamela Anderson didn’t read that quote before attending the 1999 VMAs in sequined pants, a corset and a fluffy, oversized top hat.

34. Making a point

When we see cone-shaped bras, we think of Madonna, of course. Not only that, but nearly 30 years after the singer wore Jean-Paul Gaultier’s iconic creation on stage, the style is still inspiring others. Take Cardi B, for example: she wore a similarly shaped exposed undergarment as she traipsed the 2017 VMAs red carpet.

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33. Kim-oh-no

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Busta Rhymes arrived on the 1997 VMAs red carpet in a cherry-colored, intricately patterned kimono. Underneath, he wore a solid red pair of pants and matching shoes. Twenty years later, Cosmopolitan named it as one of the most outrageous outfits ever to waltz down the red carpet. But the magazine also felt that the “kimono… should have never seen the light of day,” though that’s an opinion that’s very much up for debate.

32. Nightie on the town

Sofia Coppola’s purple nightie was clearly too pretty to keep hidden in a bedroom. So, she slipped the sheer garment on top of some underwear and headed to the 1995 VMAs. And, with that, she made (MTV award show) fashion history.

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31. Bella Hadid

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Talk about abs-olutely stealing the show. That’s what Bella Hadid did in the midriff-bearing dress she wore to the 2019 VMAs. Calling her garment a dress is a stretch, really – it looks more like a form-fitting skirt and bandeau attached to one another with suspenders. No matter what it is, though, the model pulled it off with ease.

30. Spaced-out silver

There’s something otherworldly about Lenny Kravitz’s outfit from the 1993 VMAs. The jumpsuit-esque silhouette made of shiny silver fabric does make him look like an outer space explorer. And the fact that he’s holding the iconic MTV Moon Man really hammers home that extraterrestrial vibe.

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29. Stringing us along

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Speaking of space, Amber Rose had very little wiggle room in the daring number that she wore to the 2014 VMAs. Her outfit consisted of very strategically gathered and strung chains that covered her just enough. That left the rest of her skin on display as she sauntered down the red carpet.

28. Masked and multicolored

Lady Gaga’s not one to dress subtly at the VMAs – we’ll have more on that later. For now, though, let’s focus on one of her looks from the 2020 ceremony. After winning the award for Best Collaboration – an honor she shared with Ariana Grande for their tune “Rain on Me” – Gaga collected her statuette in a bright pink gas mask and psychedelic frock with spikes that resembled a lionfish.

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27. If it ain’t broke…

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It may seem like Jessie J’s bedazzled crutches, gem-colored tights and a boot were part of some avant-garde fashion statement. But before the 2011 VMAs, the singer fractured her foot and so had to update her red-carpet look. Prior to the ceremony, she told MTV.com that she was going to “pimp out [her] crutches,” and it looks like that vision became a reality.

26. Grilled cheese

Katy Perry in a leopard-print gown with a slicked-back high ponytail? There’s not much ground-breaking about that outfit. But the songstress makes our list because of what’s happening with her teeth. Yes, the “Firework” singer showed up to the 2013 VMAs with a full grill on her pearly whites.

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25. In this skin

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Jessica Simpson’s 2005 VMA look combined everything that we loved to wear at the turn of the millennium. Over shorts, she wore a flouncy lace blouse, a waist-cinching belt, an exposed bra and, of course, dramatic smokey eye makeup. Personally, we’re okay with it taking a few more decades for this kind of fashion to come back into style.

24. Fringe fest

By now, you’re realizing that there’s no dress code on the VMA red carpet. So, a set of fringe-covered, sunset-hued and turquoise-accented get-ups for a girl group was never out of the question. That’s why Destiny’s Child wore that very combination to the 2001 VMAs in New York City.

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23. Stuff of legends

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Who says MTV doesn’t play real music? The 1991 VMAs featured famed guitarist Steven Van Zandt and Bootsy Collins, a legend in the land of funk music. Both icons understood precisely the event they were attending, as evidenced by their colorful, bright and bedazzled outfits.

22. Mixed messages

Some say Fergie wore this strange outfit to the 2006 VMAs as a reference to the album she’d dropped that year: The Duchess. But that collection was inspired by London, and we’re seeing much more of an Irish vibe in her getup. It could be the tiny green tie or the cute hat that makes us see leprechauns, not London.

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21. Going for the gold

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Cut-outs on the modern-day MTV VMA red carpet are hardly a new fashion choice. Case in point: MC Hammer’s 1990 look, which featured a shimmering gold blazer with tear-shaped swatches sliced out. If that wasn’t enough, the rapper wore glitzy, matching pants to bring the whole look together.

20. Butterfly Beyonce

Beyonce had a good night at the 2016 VMAs, and we’re not just talking about her stunning fashion choices. The electrifying singer brought home eight gongs from the ceremony that night. Now, back to that dress – she raked in all of those awards in a seafoam-and-sheer gown with dramatic, butterfly-wing-esque shoulders.

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19. Suspending our disbelief

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Miley Cyrus isn’t known for her subtlety, and that applies both to her memorable performances and fashion choices. So when she showed up at the 2015 VMAs in this daring, silver, space-y getup from Atelier Versace, we doubt anyone was surprised.

18. Leather weather

The 2001 VMAs took place in New York City on September 6. The average temperature in the Big Apple at that time of year is about 75° F. But despite the heat songstress Alicia Keys showed up in a head-to-toe leather outfit. She probably didn’t care about the discomfort when she brought home a moon man of her own, though.

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17. Cowboy classic

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Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road” topped the Billboard charts for a record-breaking 19 straight weeks and broke ground for country-rap. So someone had to give the guy a moon man. And the rapper showed up to accept his award in an outfit worthy of all his accomplishments: a bright red cowboy getup, of course.

16. Blue it

Only at the MTV VMAs would an attendee think, “I should pair my bralette top with my hair.” But that’s precisely what appears to have crossed Gwen Stefani’s mind before attending the 1998 ceremony. And, if that wasn’t enough, the singer wore a skirt over her jeans and plastered her body in henna tattoos to boot.

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15. TLC: Tiny Leather Clothes

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Can you guess the inspiration behind TLC’s matching outfits from the 1999 VMAs? The group’s members – Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes – wore head-to-toe leather. But Billboard claims they got the idea for their look from mermaids, of all things.

14. A truly cropped top

Crop tops today skim the navel and show off just a bit of belly. But the 2000s were a different beast, and wearing a midriff-baring top meant showing off, well, the entire stomach. Christina Aguilera embodied that trend at the 2002 VMAs, with an incredibly tiny top and a very low-rise skirt.

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13. Cape-tivating

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Jared Leto attended the 2017 VMAs alongside his 30 Seconds to Mars band-mates. But the musician-actor made sure he stood out from the pack – and could be seen from space – in his completely sequined, knee-length cape in shades of blue, green and red.

12. Harajuku nightmare

Rolling Stone deemed Nicki Minaj’s outfit the “most confusing” getup seen at the 2011 VMAs. It noted that the rapper was influenced by Japan when she selected her strange, pastel outfit. Beyond that, though, they didn’t quite get it, pondering, “Is her get-up a tribute to Metropolis, the stuffed animal aisle at Toys ‘R’ Us, or something else entirely? She even taped her mouth shut – rendering her literally speechless. Well, so were we.” That makes three of us.

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11. Tanked it

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On the 1995 VMA red carpet, Dennis Rodman slipped into a shimmering camisole and juxtaposed the delicate top with bulky, baggy jeans. Some hated the look, but V magazine named it one of their favorite looks in the show’s history. It lauded “the NBA’s most fashion forward player” for his “coolness off the court” at the VMAs and beyond.

10. My only anemone is myself

We have to be blunt: Pink’s fluorescent locks at the 2000 VMAs really made her head look like a sea anemone. Things didn’t get much better from the neck down – the singer paired her rose-colored strands with a floor-length fur coat, gold halter and shockingly low-rise jeans. We’d rather watch from the couch in our sweatpants.

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9. Not feeling blue at all

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Shiny, skin-tight blue fabric from head to toe? Matching hair ties? A thick layer of eyeshadow and a huge hoop earring? There’s only one person who could put all of this together and look amazing: Prince. He blue it out of the water for the VMAs in 1999.

8. Know what I jean?

Once upon a time, boy bander Justin Timberlake dated the princess of pop, Britney Spears. The pair went on to attend the 2001 American Music Awards in – wait for it – matching denim outfits. It was perfect once, and Katy Perry proved at the 2014 VMAs that greatness like that could, indeed, be repeated. She and her date, hip-hop star Riff Raff, donned head-to-toe denim in honor of the 00s’ favorite couple.

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7. Give ’em shell

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If you watched the VMAs in 1999, there’s no way you don’t remember Lil’ Kim’s outfit from that year. The rapper wore lilac from the top of her head to her toes, but her look wasn’t too precious. Instead, she famously wore a shell applique over one half of her chest to give her just enough coverage for a cable TV award show.

6. Two-piece for a newly minted one-piece

Mariah Carey was fresh off of her divorce from Tommy Mottola when she attended the 1997 VMAs. With her simple, sultry fashion choice, though, the conversation changed – and everyone was talking about her revenge outfit instead. It’s hard to believe after seeing some of the other entries on this list, but Carey’s two-piece was once regarded as being among the most controversial gowns of its decade, too.

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5. Sultry Spears

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It’s no secret that Britney Spears is a VMA icon – she’s danced with snakes, kissed Madonna and taken home moon man after moon man. That’s why we love her muted look from the 1999 ceremony. The sheer fabrics, feathered cuffs and sequined skirt make a statement – but on the person who’s going to smooch the queen of pop on a public stage, well, it’s a lot more demure.

4. Branding via ballgown

When she walked the red carpet at the 2001 VMAs, Macy Gray had something to tell the world: she had a new album coming out. But rather than speaking those words to the press and to the public, she decided to just… wear them. As you can see, her dress straight-up told everyone to expect a new album and when.

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3. Material girl

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It’s hard to believe, but this was the first time Madonna wore something that really got people talking. Yes, the famous “Boy Toy” belt wrapped around her white, sheer frock created even more buzz around the pop star, who was making her VMAs debut that night in 1984.

2. Curves on the carpet

On the list of most iconic VMA looks ever, you’ll always find Rose McGowan and Marilyn Manson walking into the 1998 VMAs. The actress’ dress left her completely exposed at the front and, well, more or less the same from behind. And her then-beau paired his cherry-red locks with a matching leopard-print jacket. Me-ow.

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1. Meat? Feet? Sweet!

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We said we’d get back to Lady Gaga, and here she sits at number one on the list. The 2010 VMAs saw the pop star wearing a dress, headpiece and shoes all made of real, raw meat. Somehow, she managed to make it look kind of glamorous – we just feel bad for whoever had to sit next to Gaga and smell the aroma of animal protein all night long.

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