Gwen Stefani posing in red lipstick

Gwen Stefani’s style philosophy always erred on the side of "because why not?" A ska tomboy at the nascence of her career, Stefani once rocked casual SoCal-girl overalls and a short bob, per The Things. After her band No Doubt’s career-making No. 1 single "Don’t Speak" achieved massive radio success (per Billboard), the music superstar began spicing things up with bindis and space buns, such as in her famous 1998 MTV Video Music Awards look, via PopSugar. Stefani revealed in a 2019 Vogue video, posted on her Instagram, that ex-boyfriend and No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal’s mom inspired her stylistic choice. Kanal’s mom, who is Indian, stirred Stefani’s sartorial imagination with "her bindi and jewelry and these beautiful fabric dresses," the singer said. "So she gave me a lot of bindis, and I was just like hey, what’s up, boom."

Even after playing one of Hollywood’s first platinum blonde icons Jean Harlow in the 2004 Oscar-winning biopic, "The Aviator," Stefani kept her personal style fresh and evolving. After winning the 2019 Fashion Icon People’s Choice Award, Stefani said in 2021 that fiance Blake Shelton was behind her age-defying good looks. "I look back… at pictures of when I first started kissing Blake, and I look the best I’ve ever looked in my life," Stefani told The Daily Telegraph.

However, as with all fashion risk-takers, some of Stefani’s choices did not go over as well as most. Keep reading for some of the singer’s most controversial outfits throughout her career.

The bindi was Gwen Stefani’s first fashion controversy

Gwen Stefani in bikini top and bindi

Gwen Stefani, while a definitive style icon, has been consistently criticized for one particular perceived offense — that of cultural appropriation through her clothing. She first came under fire for rocking the ubiquitous bindi she wore throughout the 1990s, such as at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. A Hindu religious symbol worn by South Asian women, the bindi has been a common fashion accessory on the foreheads of many other (non-Hindu) Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman and Selena Gomez, per The Cut. Stefani did it first, though, and she did it everywhere — sporting the dot on red carpet events as well as music videos for her band No Doubt’s hit singles’ music videos like 1995’s "Don’t Speak" and "Just a Girl."

"I was just so unbelievably fascinated by Indian culture in particular because Tony Kanal [No Doubt’ bassist and Stefani’s ex] is Indian," Stefani said in a Vogue video per her Instagram, attributing Kanal’s mother with gifting her the first bindis. "His mom would come down the stairs… dolled up with the bindi and jewelry and these beautiful fabric dresses with patterns and gold," Stefani described.

While Vice commented in 2018 that Stefani "commercialized the sacred decoration" in the ’90s, Stefani’s intimate connection with practicing Hindus likely explained the relatively mild backlash (this was also pre-cancel culture discussions). Moreover, by No Doubt’s lead single "Ex-Girlfriend" off their 2000 album, "Return of Saturn," Stefani had ditched the forehead adornment completely.

Did Gwen Stefani accessorize Japanese culture?

The Harajuku Girls posing with Gwen Stefani

If Gwen Stefani’s 1990s bindi habit didn’t attract enough negative heat, her Harajuku Girls era certainly did the trick. In promoting 2004’s solo album "Love. Angel. Music. Baby." it was apparent Stefani was in love with Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku District. Appearing everywhere for performances alongside Stefani was an entourage of female Japanese backup dancers, who always coordinated their eclectic outfits with Stefani’s. Explaining the fascination to WWD (via Us Weekly), Stefani claimed the Harajuku District’s edgy and expressive street fashion evoked memories of her own thrift-shopping adolescent self. "Having that connection as a little girl and my personal obsession with fashion… I got [to the Harajuku District] and I was like, ‘What was happening? I should be Japanese,’" Stefani divulged.

As FemeStella pointed out, the Harajuku Girls themselves were the real focus of the controversy. In a 2005 op-ed, Salon slashed down the singer’s use of her dancers, asserting that Stefani — in showcasing her love for Harajuku fashion — merely "barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women." Comedian Margaret Cho responded with greater nuance in a 2005 blog post, writing that while the Harajuku Girls were at least "a measure of visibility" for Asian women, their Japanese schoolgirl look was "like blackface."

Never having apologized for such uses of her dancers, Stefani maintained to Time in 2014: "There’s always going to be two sides to everything. For me, everything that I did with the Harajuku Girls was just a pure compliment."

Gwen Stefani love Chola culture

Gwen Stefani’s 2004 "Love. Angel. Music. Baby." album era was the cultural appropriation gift that kept on giving — or at least, so said critics who weren’t finished after accusing Stefani of ripping off Japanese street fashion with her backup dancers, the Harajuku Girls. For the album’s hit single "Luxurious," Stefani paid homage to Southern California’s "chola" look in a music video centered around a Mexican-American community.

"Homage" wasn’t the word publications like FemeStella had in mind, however. "Choosing to appropriate the Mexican-American aesthetic," it described in a 2019 article, "Stefani adopts … thinly drawn on eyebrows, thickly-lined lips, ‘wife-beater’ tank tops … and Old English-style nameplate necklaces." FemeStella also criticized Stefani for dressing up exactly like famous Mexican painter Freida Kahlo in one set-piece.

Stefani herself told MTV News that her character in the video was modeled after a Latina classmate in her Anaheim high school. "She’s this total like chola girl, white face, and she used to sit in class and put on tons of makeup. And I used to just watch her, mesmerized," Stefani described. Numerous YouTube viewers in her music video’s comments agreed that Stefani’s adopting of chola fashion and culture was an affectionate and harmless gesture. "I’m Chicano and I’m honored she used our culture," one user noted. As others pointed out, Stefani might simply be an artist intrinsically inspired by other cultures’ aesthetics. "She celebrates other cultures without losing herself. Appreciate, don’t assimilate; that’s Gwen," another user applauded.

Does Gwen Stefani adopt her partners’ styles?

Gwen Stefani onstage in fringed dress

Is Gwen Stefani culpable of letting her romantic partners influence her style? The singer told The Telegraph (via the Evening Standard) in 2000 the truth behind the pink cornrows that suddenly popped up in No Doubt’s 2000 music video "Ex-Girlfriend." According to Stefani, "the night Tony {Kanal] broke up with me I put braids in my hair." Her ex, who is Indian, had also introduced Stefani to the controversial bindi she adorned during the 1990s, per the Vogue interview Stefani shared to her Instagram.

With rocker and ex-husband Gavin Rossdale, Stefani’s look shifted again. In a 2012 Harper’s Bazaar interview, Stefani described how Rossdale purchased her first Prada dress — also "the first designer piece I ever owned." During their relationship, Stefani launched her LAMB clothing line at New York Fashion Week in 2011. Stefani and Rossdale would sometimes even coordinate outfits, as seen at the KROQ Acoustic XMas concert in 1997 wearing identical shiny blue puffy jackets and ski pants, per Vogue UK.

Since she began dating her fiancé, country music star and fellow coach on "The Voice" Blake Shelton, in 2015 (per Insider), Stefani has been wearing a lot more Western-tinged outfits. "The cowboy’s influence on her style is obvious in… her ‘Just a Girl’ show," Inquisitr noted, singling out "a jacket covered in gold fringe and a pair of cowboy boots" that Stefani posted on her Instagram. The couple that dresses alike… stays tight?

No Doubt wasn’t looking hot in their reunion music video

Gwen Stefani posing sideways with Native American hairstyle

In a musical reunion that veered off-center, Gwen Stefani and No Doubt rejoined in 2012 to release the album "Push and Shove." Its first single "Settle Down" reached the no. 34 spot on the Billboard Ho1 100 chart. Its second, "Looking Hot," wasn’t so lucky, with its music video being almost immediately deleted due to YouTube commenters’ backlash, per Billboard. With Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal portraying American Indians, they gain their freedom in the video from its "cowboy" characters, drummer Adrian Young and guitarist Tom Dumont.

"As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures," the band’s official apology read, per Rolling Stone. "Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people." The group added that they had even consulted with "Native American friends" and "Native American studies experts at the University of California" to shoot the video. Stefani continued to rock the aesthetic four years later in 2016 when she donned tribal braids, as seen in her Instagram post, to perform her single, "Misery," on "The Voice"." "You’re like the og culture vulture," one Instagram user commented.

The No Doubt frontwoman has defended her fashion’s usage of other cultural styles, offering that "you take pride in your culture and have traditions, and then you share them for new things to be created," per Femestella. It is certainly a touchy line to draw!

Gwen Stefani’s taste in fashion is ageless

Gwen Stefani in pink bodysuit

Several of Gwen Stefani’s outfits have been deemed "too risqué" for her age by some. For instance, the long-sleeved, candy-colored bodysuit — complete with fishnet stockings and knee-high boots — she wore on the 2019 semi-finals of "The Voice" was met with harsh Twitter backlash after Stefani had tweeted the outfit to her followers. "Not appropriate for semi finals! Let’s dress like a 50 year old woman!" one fan exclaimed. Another stated it more gently, "Gwen can look good in almost anything but this garish outfit is something [JoJo Siwa] would wear." Stefani’s daring ensemble did attract some fans, though, such as one who praised in a tweet "Wonderful Gwen… You are a Barbie."

Conversely, the veteran singer’s youthful dress code coupled with her flawless skin yielded compliments from fans as well. For her NBC New Year’s Eve 2020 performance, Stefani paired short shorts with a sparkly sweater, but many Twitter users noticed her ageless skin and glow. "I had to google Gwen Stefani… to prove to my kids that that beautiful woman is 50!" one fan enthused. Per her 2014 Glamour interview, Stefani has stated that "fashion is not really about age as much as it is reflecting your personality." After all, where else better in life to take such risks than the world of fashion?