LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 01: Singer Madonna is photographed in 1983 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by George Holz/Contour by Getty Images)

The Madonna Look: The Early Years of a Superstar

Desperately seeking the '80s style that defined the pop music star.

When Madonna first shot to national fame in 1983, her clothes got almost as much attention as her songs. A complex mélange of off-the-shoulder T-shirts and ragged tank taps, rosaries and rubber bracelets, denim and lace, the early "Madonna look" was a snapshot of the Manhattan club scene dropped onto MTV. And underneath it all was Madonna's almost overwhelming star power. Former Sire Records executive Michael Rosenblatt remembers experiencing that even before her first album hit. "We would walk down the street and people would just stop and gawk," he told Rolling Stone in 2013. "This is before she was famous. She just had that look and that vibe.... We’d walk into a restaurant and people would stop eating and just stare." Now, in celebration of Madonna's 60th birthday (August 16), a look back at a young singer and dancer who stopped traffic — or at least dinner.

1978: A studio portrait of future American pop singer Madonna tilting her head to one side while wearing a cotton camisole and a headband, New York City. Her dark, shoulder-length hair is crimped. She had just moved to New York City and was studying dance. (Photo by Michael McDonnell/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Michael McDonnell/RETIRED/Getty Images NEWCOMER Madonna Louise Ciccone's origin story goes like this: Born in 1958 to a big Italian Catholic family in Bay City, Michigan, she dropped out of college at the University of Michigan in 1978, flew to New York, and, as legend has it, told a cab driver to take her to the middle of everything. So, he dropped her off in Times Square. Above is a studio portrait from that year. 1978: A studio headshot portrait of future American pop singer Madonna looking upwards, wearing a white shirt with a dark tie, New York City. She is wearing a headband in her dark, crimped, shoulder-length hair. Madonna had just moved to New York City and was studying dance. (Photo by Michael McDonnell/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Michael McDonnell/RETIRED/Getty Images CITY GIRL Another shot from 1978. A trained dancer looking for work, Madonna posed for art classes and held down jobs at places like Dunkin' Donuts. Much later, she’d recount in a Harper’s Bazaar essay how desperate that first year was: "I was held up at gunpoint. Raped on the roof of a building I was dragged up to with a knife in my back, and had my apartment broken into three times. I don't know why; I had nothing of value after they took my radio the first time." Still, she remained stubborn and resilient. "I was defiant," she wrote. "But it was hard, and it was lonely, and I had to dare myself every day to keep going." American singer Madonna, New York City, Spring 1979. She has recently moved to New York City to study dance. (Photo by Michael McDonnell/Archive Photos/Getty Images) Michael McDonnell/RETIRED/Getty Images HIGH HEELED Madonna in 1979, with a Joan Jett-style mullet. 1979: American pop singer Madonna leaning on a vanity table with a lipstick tube in her mouth as if it were a cigar, New York City. She has short dark hair. (Photo by Michael McDonnell/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Michael McDonnell/RETIRED/Getty Images CIGAR BREAK Playing with her lipstick tube in 1979. American singer Madonna in a loft on Canal Street, New York City, December 1982. (Photo by Peter Noble/Redferns/Getty Images) Peter Noble/Redferns BEDROOM EYES In a New York loft in 1982. Madonna — who'd begun singing and writing songs — was a regular at the legendary nightclub Danceteria, a creative home base for the emerging downtown scene. She played her first live show there in 1982, singing "Everybody" with three backup dancers. Her demo caught the attention of Seymour Stein at Sire Records, who signed her to a contract. LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 01: Singer Madonna is photographed in 1983 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by George Holz/Contour by Getty Images) George Holz/Contour by Getty Images CROP TOP Producer Reggie Lucas was brought in to work on her debut album, which hit stores in 1983. "Most of the people around Madonna at the corporate level did not get her and for the most part did not like her," he told Rolling Stone in 2013. "You could see them recoil from her bohemianism. Everybody thought she was crazy and gross. I would never say she was a punk rocker, but she used to wear little boys’ shorts, and white t-shirts with holes in them, and then she had little ring things in her ears." Studio portrait of American musician and actress Madonna (born Madonna Ciccone), New York, New York, September 1983. (Photo by Curtis Knapp/Getty Images) Curtis Knapp/Getty Images WRIST WRAP Madonna in New York in 1983. Studio portrait of American musician and actress Madonna (born Madonna Ciccone), New York, New York, September 1983. (Photo by Curtis Knapp/Getty Images) Curtis Knapp/Getty Images CLOSE UP A surprisingly unadorned portrait from 1983. American singer Madonna in New York, 1984. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images) Michael Putland/Getty Images PUT A BOW ON IT Madonna's look was her own, but she got an early assist from a stylist, photographer, and downtown scenester named Maripol. A French artist living in New York, she's credited with popularizing the jelly bracelet and met Madonna at the nightclub the Roxy one night in the early 1980s, when she asked Madonna to dance onstage in her bra. She helped style Madonna through her "Like a Virgin" phase, but when the Guardian asked Maripol in 2015 if she basically discovered Madonna, she said, “She wouldn’t like that! Let’s put it like this: She discovered me." American actress, singer, songwriter Madonna on the set of Desperately Seeking Susan directed by Susan Seidelman. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images) Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images HIDING AND SEEKING Despite having almost no acting experience, Madonna was cast in the 1985 romantic comedy "Desperately Seeking Susan" on the sheer force of her star power. As Susan, a magnetic East Village grifter, Madonna basically played herself, right down to the wardrobe, some of which the costume designer borrowed from Madonna's own closet. Director Susan Seidelman wanted an authentically New York vibe and insisted on casting Madonna even though the studio execs had never heard of her. That didn't last long: "On the first day, when Madonna walked down the street, only a few people turned their heads," Seidelman told Yahoo Movies in 2015. "By the last week of shooting, 'Like a Virgin' had dropped and we needed security." UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 01: Madonna at MTV Awards at Radio City (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images) Time & Life Pictures/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images WEDDING DAY In 1984, Madonna showed up at the very first MTV Video Music Awards in high "Like a Virgin" style, marrying her club-kid "Boy Toy" couture with the white lace wedding dress of the "Virgin" album cover. She proceeded to stun the audience, emerging from a 17-foot-tall wedding cake to sing her new tune in a performance that ended with her writhing on the stage while her dress hiked up. She later revealed that the eyebrow-raising finale was an improvisation: She'd lost her white stiletto at one point and needed to vamp on the ground while she put it back on. NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 01: Singer Madonna is photographed for People Magazine in 1985 in New York City. CREDIT MUST READ: Ken Regan/Camera 5 via Contour by Getty Images. (Photo by Ken Regan/Camera 5/Contour by Getty Images) Ken Regan/Camera 5/Contour by Getty Images I HEART NEW YORK Posing for People as part of a 1985 cover story when she was 26 years old. "I've been called a tramp, a harlot, a slut and the kind of girl that always ends up in the backseat of a car," she told the magazine about her "Boy Toy" persona. "If people can't get past that superficial level of what I'm about, fine." NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 01: Singer Madonna is photographed for People Magazine in 1985 in New York City. CREDIT MUST READ: Ken Regan/Camera 5 via Contour by Getty Images. (Photo by Ken Regan/Camera 5/Contour by Getty Images) Ken Regan/Camera 5/Contour by Getty Images WORK OUT Another shot from the People magazine story. Even during that early flush of fame, Madonna showed the discipline and focus that later observers would note. Susan Seidelman is quoted in the piece, saying, "During the nine-week shoot, we’d often get home at 11 or 12 at night and have to be back on the set by 6 or 7 the next morning. Half the time the driver would pick Madonna up at her health club. She'd get up at 4:30 in the morning to work out first." NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 01: Singer Madonna is photographed for People Magazine in 1985 in New York City. CREDIT MUST READ: Ken Regan/Camera 5 via Contour by Getty Images. (Photo by Ken Regan/Camera 5/ Contour by Getty Images) Ken Regan/Camera 5/Contour by Getty Images HEALTHY ATTITUDE Madonna herself gets the last word in the People story: "Bruce Springsteen was born to run," she said. "I was born to flirt."

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