Five years after releasing her smash debut album, CTRL, SZA released her lauded sophomore effort SOS late last year and is currently on a sold-out tour. The singer-songwriter’s prowess undoubtedly lies in her songwriting. Who else can make the lyric “I just killed my ex…. Rather be alone than unhappy” seem both poignant and poised to go viral on TikTok? But the star is also delivering artistic messages via her clothing. The singer has occasionally leaned into bold high-fashion this promo cycle, including wearing an ethereal Iris Van Herpen design for Time magazine and a high-slit Oliver Theyskens spring 2023 patchwork dress for the Billboard Women in Music Awards. Of course, there are still the SZA signatures we know and love: oversized jerseys, baggy jeans, varsity jackets. But that’s the magic of the singer’s style right now. Whether it’s a couture dress or casual-leaning vintage jeans, everything she wears feels as down-to-earth and authentic as her songs.
Key to SZA’s latest style chapter is the performer’s longtime stylist Alejandra Hernandez. The two first connected in 2016, when they worked together on the visual for SZA’s early-career single, “Drew Barrymore.” Since then, the two women have formed a strong creative bond. Hernandez has styled SZA for the bulk of SOS—including music videos, red carpet appearances, and even handcrafted tour looks. Hernandez, who also runs the athleisure brand Year of Ours, says an overarching focus when creating SZA’s looks is comfort. “She wants to be comfortable,” the stylist said. “Literally comfortable, but also comfortable with herself.”
To Hernandez, there is quiet power in a star of SZA’s caliber performing in arenas in an enviable array of thrifted jerseys from the ’90s and menswear pieces. “Most of the girls in her space are wearing a bedazzled catsuit or a leotard,” Hernandez says. “It’s so cool that she just wears the things she feels comfortable in any setting, regardless of what is expected of someone at her level.”
Below, Hernandez unpacks the comfort-focused fashion behind SZA’s SOS era.
Do you remember what it was like working on that “Drew Barrymore” video all those years ago?
There’s nothing that she wore back then that she wouldn’t wear now. She’s such a down-to-earth girl. I remember for that video we worked with a lot of vintage, which we got from my friend Gabriel [@Gabriel_Held_Vintage]. She wore the Dior Rasta bikini and this amazing metallic Pucci pantsuit. She wore things that she would still wear to this day. I think everything around her has changed a lot—especially five years later. But I think stylewise she’s very authentic to who she is.
What are some keys to SZA’s style that you keep in mind when you’re pulling pieces for her?
Things that I always try to have for her are big jeans, like men’s straight leg jeans. She loves varsity jackets, so I always have those for a fitting. She loves vintage, especially the 1990s and the early 2000s. So I always have pieces from those eras too. I also always have bikini tops. You’ll see in the “Low” music video, which hopefully comes out very soon. She’s wearing a bikini top with a motorcycle jacket. Oh, and big jerseys. Like with the cover of the album. We really didn’t know what she was going to wear until the day we shot it. So I had to prep everything. We tried different variations of different jerseys, but I’m so grateful I had all the jerseys I had.
How have you approached dressing SZA for this tour?
This is actually my first tour at this level. I’ve never done anything like this before. We have a lot of quick changes, and we basically design the outfits with them in mind. I remember talking to her about all the different designers that reached out and wanted to propose ideas for the tour. She basically said, I just want us to make our own thing. I thought that was really cool, because she really trusted me. So some of the outfits I even made by hand!
How did you take the practicalities of the tour into consideration when designing SZA’s tour looks?
After our first dress rehearsal, we realized some of these designs were overly ambitious for the amount of time that we had to change. So we had to simplify a lot of things. And with that being said, I had to cut up a lot of things that already existed to remake the whole wardrobe. I had my tailor, Gina, with me and some local assistants who can sew. But it was basically us cutting up a skirt and making a top out of it. The raft jacket she wears when she floats over the audience? That’s a jacket I had to hand sew. That piece didn’t exist in the wardrobe, it was gonna be worn under a skirt.
What’s been a special outfit and/or moment from this busy cycle for you?
Doing the Time 100 was a really special moment for me. I don’t do editorial usually; I do music videos and performances more frequently. That felt like such a big accomplishment, for me and for her. It was just a really cool moment to see her dance in a Iris Van Herpen dress on set. I’ll remember that moment in my heart.
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