Why Taylor Swift Needed an Edgy Style Transformation

Taylor Swift, 2015
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Taylor Swift attends the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Aug. 30, 2015 in Los Angeles.

It’s not uncommon for stars to retreat from the public eye and re-emerge transformed, but few have done it as often and as successfully as Taylor Swift. Because as the entire world is collectively holding its breath in anticipation of Swift’s first single to drop in nearly three years while obsessively deciphering the six (mostly) cryptic photos and serpent videos she posted in place of her newly scrubbed feed, it’s kind of crazy to think this is the same person who made her debut as a country music pop star. Or that this is the same person who used to dress up in a tired parade of too-perfect retro-prep outfits for post-gym pap shots.  

Still, it came as a shock when she introduced never-before-seen edge via her Vogue cover shoot for the May 2016 issue. Shot by photographer duo Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Swift was outfitted in uncharacteristically cool, futuristic looks, provided by the likes of Proenza Schouler, Marc Jacobs, and Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane, complete with Vetements boots (a far cry from her platform pump days) and deliberately mussed, choppy platinum blond strands. 

“Going through different phases is one of my favorite things about fashion,” Swift said in the Vogue cover story. “I love how it can mark the passage of time.” Was she hinting at something here? Because her looks thereafter adopted the same aesthetic, like the cutout python Louis Vuitton design she wore to the Met Gala that year, styled with black lipstick(!) and bondage-like knee-high sandals; or her IDGAF street style, which consisted of slouchy tees, grungy plaid, and frayed cutoffs.


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Kissed by an angel --???? @taylorswift #reputation

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And after a quiet 2016 and an even quieter first half of 2017, it looks as though Swift’s newfound edgy transformation is here to stay—and it might be all Mert & Marcus’s doing. She tapped the two fashion photographers (who run in the cool, high-fashion circles, having worked with both niche outlets like Love and Interview magazines to luxury houses like Dior and Louis Vuitton) to shoot her latest album cover—a departure from anything she’s put out. No wind machines or vibrant gowns snapped in motion or cutesy, coy expressions or nostalgic Polaroid filters. Taylor Swift 4.0 is tough, and if you didn’t get that through her slicked hair, hard stare, chain choker, and baggy knit, then maybe you did through the black-and-white rendering, Gothic font, and digitally collaged print. We mean, girl’s got a reputation.

Perhaps Mert & Marcus played a major influence in Swift’s new outlook. Or maybe they didn’t, and Swift knew she needed to pivot to keep her fans guessing. Either way, we’re hoping this might signify the beginning of a new (and edgy) partnership.