At 40, Kim Kardashian West Has Truly Become a Fashion Icon

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Few celebrities have undergone a fashion transformation as dramatic as Kim Kardashian West’s. The star, who turns 40 today, has evolved her tastes to match the sweeping changes in her professional life. Moving from reality star to beauty mogul and criminal justice advocate over the course of two decades in the spotlight, Kardashian West has skillfully rebranded to reflect the multi-faceted nature of her current position. The girl who wore a Hervé Leger bandage dress better than anyone may be gone, but a sophisticated woman with an eye for vintage and fresh designers has emerged in her place. 

In the beginning of her career, Kardashian West kept up with the look of Los Angeles in the early 2000s. Then a stylist, she helped to dress close friend Paris Hilton in the latest designer gear while cultivating a sexy and trend-focused look for herself. In an era of it-bags and logomania, Kardashian carried glitzy Louis Vuitton purses and wore monogram-covered swimwear to chill poolside with Hilton. Her attire was equally attention-grabbing on the red carpet: the figure-hugging Dolce & Gabbana lace-up dress she wore to E! ’s summer splash party in 2005 was representative of the slinky attire she wore with ease. 

The premiere of Keeping up with the Kardashians in 2007 propelled Kardashian West and her entire family into the spotlight. Moving from the periphery of fame and onto the front-page gossip blogs meant another style upgrade. By 2008, the star was wearing gilded Thierry Mugler at the Spike Awards and becoming a fashion week regular. She also added goddess gowns into her repertoire, showing another side of her persona with pared-back looks like the crimson floor-length Gustavo Gadile number she chose for Los Premios that year. 

Kardashian West was an early adopter of Instagram in 2010, and her choice to share her outfits and life on social media helped to change the nature of celebrity fashion. It wasn’t enough to look nice in a paparazzi shot or at a big event. Stars now had to regularly share glimpses into their closets, behind the scenes moments from the getting ready process, and an endless stream of #OOTDs. The shift was difficult for many established stars, as privacy was still a concept in those days. But the digital evolution was second nature to Kardashian West and her family, who quickly discovered that social was a new way to monetize their style. 

Of course, Kardashian West’s most significant transformation coincided with the start of her relationship with Kanye West. In West, she found a person even more invested in aesthetics than she was. The couple stormed the gates of the fashion world. Whether they were backstage at the show for West’s eponymous line, walking the Met Gala steps in meme-inducing Givenchy, or posing on the cover of Vogue, “Kimye” became a force within the industry. It amped up Kardashian West’s wardrobe. Soon she was wearing multiple designer looks per day and mastering the pre-planned paparazzi stroll in pieces from Rick Owens, Balmain, and Balenciaga. 

Since then, Kardashian West has expanded her business empire with KKW Beauty and SKIMS, in addition to studying for the bar exam and lobbying for criminal justice reform. A mother, businesswoman, and front-row fixture, she dresses in Dior suits, an endless array of Birkins, and Yeezy heels. Her platforms serve as a showcase for newer designers—Maisie Wilen, Mowalola Ogunlesi, and Awa Stelter and Stephanie Gundelach of OpéraSPORT among them—and epic throwbacks from Jean Paul Gaultier and Azzedine Alaïa. 

If ever there was any doubt of Kardashian West’s credentials, she put them to rest this year at Vanity Fair’s annual Oscar party. A vision in Alexander McQueen’s iconic “oyster dress” from his spring/summer 2003 collection, she raised the bar for afterparty attire. The look, a Christmas gift from her husband and sourced from the legendary Los Angeles vintage store, Lily et Cie, was a luxury coup de grâce that underscored the best elements of Kardashian West’s perspective. Sure, she wears designer outfits, but what separates Kardashian West from the scores of expensively-dressed reality stars who’ve followed her is her appreciation for fashion as an artform. At 40, she’s cemented her place in pop culture, and she’s done it with style. 

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