Cher: The Goddess of Disco

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Cher on the cover of Time Magazine, March 1965
Cher on the cover of Time Magazine, March 1965Photography by Richard Avedon

A three point guide to the sparkling style of music's doyenne of ageless glamour

Ever since Cher stepped out in 1965 alongside Sonny Bono, knocking The Beatles off the number one spot with “I Got You Babe,” we have been captivated by the statuesque performer. She remains the only living artist who has had a number one hit every decade since the 1960s, and over all that time she has defined ‘Glamazon’ – an otherworldly chanteuse, dressed in feathered headdresses, sparkling jumpsuits and floor-skimming bell-bottoms. 

First there was Sonny and Cher, and then there was simply Cher, the mononymous Queen of Disco. We have watched her spin down the highway in a svelte catsuit and roller-skates in her 1979 Hell On Wheels video, while the 1998 club classic Believe found her irridescent in a feather headdress for a record-breaking seven weeks at the top of the UK charts. Her outfits on film are similarly outlandish: the pastel crab-shell corset in Mermaids, her sultry noir look in Moonstruck, or her fishnetted flourishes in Burlesque. 

"I think the longer I look good, the better gay men feel" — Cher

Her flamboyant style hasn’t wavered over time – indeed, it’s often hard to believe how much time has gone by. "I think the longer I look good, the better gay men feel," she says. Brave, defiant and often utterly outrageous, she forever embodies the spirit of disco. Aesthetics aside however, her greatest assets continue to be her strength, honesty, and wit. “Until you’re ready to look foolish,” she says, “you’ll never have the possibility of being great.” Here, we break down her iconic style in a three-step guide.

Bob Mackie
If one man can be credited to helping guide the flamboyant style of Cher, it is Bob Mackie. After becoming friends in the early ‘70s, Mackie quickly became responsible for Cher’s extravagant wardrobe of glittering jewel-emblazoned bodysuits, beaded chain tops and towering headdresses. Mackie worked exclusively with Cher during The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour between 1971 and 1975, and later on her solo gig, The Cher Show. Her sheer, sequin-studded tops and barely-there dresses were extremely risqué for the decade, causing raised eyebrows from the Television Standards Department. 

Mackie also aided Cher’s red carpet appearances, with notable mentions including the feather and crystal embroidered gown she wore to the Met Gala in 1974, and again the following year on the cover of TIME Magazine (shot by Richard Avedon), or the golden gown and Art Deco headpiece designed for the 1978 Disco Convention. "It's not like dressing a regular person; it's like dressing a crazy goddess," said Mackie. "Sometimes she's an Egyptian goddess, and sometimes she's a biker chic goddess."

Flare and Flair
Whether sequin-embellished, striped or classic denim, Cher rarely strays from a bell-bottom flare. Along with Sonny, she is credited for popularising the style in America during the 1970s by wearing them on her television show, and she quickly became a poster girl for the expansive cut. Incidentally, another look that we can credit to Cher is the square nail manicure, which she originated during the 1970s. 

In the early days of her career, Cher was repeatedly thrown out of venues for her outlandish dress sense. “People were constantly trying to punch Sonny out because of the way he looked,” she remembers. On their first visit to London, they were thrown out of the Hilton. Cher was dressed in one of her “pride-and-joy outfits. It was red, white and blue striped bell-bottoms with an industrial zipper with a big ring on it.” It was on this trip to London that she bought her first fur coat, from iconic Kings Road shop, Granny Takes a Trip.

The hair
Cher’s waist-length, high-shine hair has remained a constant throughout her remarkable career, and even warrants its own Tumblr account. There is also her incredible selection of costume wigs. “I love wigs, and always have,” she says. “They are so low maintenance. It just makes it easier to change my image.” Cher reportedly has a wig room in her Malibu home to store her crowning glories, which range from blunt bangs and straightened locks to extravagant perms.

Memorable styles include her triangular perm when performing with Tom Jones in 1976, or a bedazzling Cleopatra wig, complete with glittering threads. Often, her hair has been used tactfully to hide her modesty during some of her more risqué costume appearances.

“There hasn’t been a girl like Cher since Dietrich or Garbo,” states Bob Mackie. “She’s a high-fashion star who appeals to people of all ages… she can stand there in the wildest garb and get away with it… she has a sense of humour about her clothes as well as a sexy, glamorous feeling. It’s a good influence.”