Shania Twain has been pushing boundaries with both music and fashion throughout her entire career, and that hasn’t stopped in 2020. Whether she’s owning the red carpet or dominating the stage at her latest Las Vegas redicency, the country superstar isn’t afraid to be bold with her style.
“I have more fun with it than I take it seriously, because it’s really just about playing for me,” Twain tells Billboard. “I’m a recording artist, I’m not a model, so for me I’m playing dress-up when I’m playing with fashion.”
Twain will be celebrating her love for fashion on Wednesday (Feb. 5) when she performs a medley of her hits at the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection event for New York Fashion Week. Two of those hits are “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” which are as iconic for their melodies as they are for their fashion-forward videos.
Ahead of her NYFW performance, Twain reflected on some of her most memorable looks and how she’s paved her own lane in the fashion world — and why she thinks Lizzo is doing “everything that I would do” now.
You told Billboard on the Grammys red carpet that your fashion is “beautiful and sexy without compromising integrity.” How do you feel you’ve managed to maintain that throughout your career?
I embraced my feminity late, because I was always such a tomboy as a kid. So when I finally started making videos, I realized how fun it was to try on clothes that flattered my body instead of hid my body. But at the same time, I wanted to be sexy and still be able to look back at the footage and not be embarrassed by it, or felt like I had compromised for the sake of fashion, or for the sake of a director. It’s tricky, because it’s easy to take direction and forget about what your own limits are when you’re in the moment. You have to be clear and very strong on what that means to you, where your limits are, and what sexy means to you — and stick to that.
You were a country artist wearing crop tops and outfits in a time when they were more what pop stars would wear. What did it mean to you to express yourself through fashion in a genre that was more traditional? Was there any fear that you’d face backlash?
I always like to have a twist on everything. I need to just be able to walk my own path and do what I feel is good for me creatively. And as an artist, I never have paid too much attention to what the traditions were, especially associated to music, because that’s just limiting. I could’ve never have imagined being limited by an expectation of a music genre look and what that’s supposed to be. The stereotype would’ve been something I would’ve deliberately ignored, especially at that time.
I just did my own thing. It didn’t really matter what was expected. Doing the unexpected is a lot more interesting for a creative person, and it’s more unique. I want to be original. Art is whatever you think it is, so limiting yourself to a stereotype or some sort of boundary is a creative buzzkill.
When you first introduced leopard print into your image, did you think it’d permanently become part of your brand?
I don’t know why, but I was really attracted to it. I think it was more about just being able to wear an animal print without an animal skin that I liked about it. Animal skins look best on the animal [Laughs], but I enjoy the print, so it’s a win-win for me.
For the “That Don’t Impress Me Much” video, It was really brilliant of [designer/frequent Shania collaborator] Marc Bouwer to bring in the red colors with the bejeweled bustier and the choker. I wouldn’t have personally combined red with leopard print. I learned a lot from him taking some chances and doing things that were a little bit more unusual.
How have you been able to transform how your fashion will translate and appear onstage without repeating history or going too off-the-wall?
I’m enjoying my femininity more than ever now, even as I get older. In my shows, for example, I’m having fun with more transparent fabrics, showing more skin in that sense. When I was younger, it took me a while to just get more and more comfortable in my own skin.
I remember when I did the “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” video, the designer wanted me to wear this really short skirt, which is what I wore; the song was calling for that. But at the same time, I was like, “I never wear short skirts, I’m just going to be too shy to wear a short skirt and be comfortable giving a good performance.” The alternative was the thigh-high boot — that developed more out of an insecurity on my part, but then it became such a statement as part of the look.
I think your own fashion has to be dictated by how you’re feeling: what you want to show, what you don’t want to show, how to get around in it. It also makes you very innovative and creative about it. I’m more comfortable now with my legs than I was then — I wear more short skirts now than I ever did before. My confidence has evolved more with age.
Speaking of the “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” video, how did you come up with the idea for the black trench coat and top hat ensemble?
[Robert Palmer’s] “Addicted to Love” was the reference for that video; I took the looks and role-reversed them. It was about creating a strong female look — women have always looked amazing in business suits. That’s where the trench coat and top hat came in, and it all came together with my body type, what I was comfortable in. Marc [Bouwer] knew how to pull it together as a female — masculine, strong, feminine, hybrid look. It’s very much a hybrid of genders, and how they all belong together in fashion.
I loved that you brought the look back in the “Life’s About to Get Good” video.
We used the actual clothes, I cannot believe it. That was a squeeze, I’ll admit that. But I did it! [Laughs]
It has to be cool to see newer artists calling back to your famous looks too, like Halsey with her “You Should Be Sad” video.
It so is! And when I look back and think about how insecure I was about my body when I was younger, I was more careful and cautious about it, less liberated about it. I see the Halsey video, and I realize, “Wow, I don’t know why I was so worried about it.” I think women are feeling more liberated and less self-conscious than before, I see progress there. So it’s really fun to watch my wardrobe influences being carried over to more freedom.
Are there any other artists whose style you’re loving right now?
The coolest, hottest fashion sense I’m seeing out there right now that is just awesome is Lizzo. She walked by me at the Grammys, and I thought, “That is gorgeous!” She is just rocking beautiful clothes. She was wearing a black velvety sparkle thing, and then the other one was white and more like a ribbed sparkly thing. Everything she wore was gorgeous.
Did you see her tiny purse at the American Music Awards?
Yes — I mean, come on! You have to just love that fashion sense. It’s fun, it’s gorgeous. She’s doing everything that I would do. I think it’s beautiful, and she looks comfortable. Whatever you wear well is what works, and she’s doing that.
Lastly, why is being part of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative important to you?
We need to focus on women’s health. Self-care is becoming more of a focus in my life than ever before — I think I’ve taken that for granted. It’s a big eye-opener to realize that women have such a high percentage of heart health risks; it’s something that is not high on the awareness list of anyone, let alone women. So I’m really happy to be part of this awareness to bring it to the forefront.
I imagine you’ll be wearing something red?
I’ll be red and shiny — I’m in a sparkly mode right now. I look forward to sparkling away and bringing some smiles.