Ronnie Spector was the original “bad girl of rock and roll.” Throughout the 60s, the Harlem-born vocalist rose to international prominence as one-third of The Ronettes, alongside her sister Estelle and cousin Nedra. And, together, the trio dominated the decade’s rock landscape. In 1963, the group’s infectious pop single “Be My Baby” rose to the top of the Billboard charts, inspiring Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson, in the process. By 1966, The Ronettes were opening for The Beatles. (Two years prior, The Ronettes had hired The Rolling Stones as their opening act). To say that Ronnie was the frontwoman of the 60s would be an understatement, to say the least.
Like The Ronettes’ R&B-pop sound, Ronnie’s (and her bandmates’) style epitomized the glam-garçonne look of the era. Think boxy pantsuits, glitzy wiggle dresses, bouffants and a winged cat-eye. Today, Ronnie and The Ronettes’ fashion choices reverberate through pop culture. Alongside The Supremes, they also set the standard for girl group dressing. At the turn-of-the-millennium, we saw reflections of the group’s coordinated ensembles in the wardrobes of TLC and Destiny’s Child. In the aughts, we gleaned Ronnie’s iconic beehive ‘do (and tough-yet-tender vocals) in the likes of Amy Winehouse. Here, in celebration of what would have been Ronnie’s 79th birthday, we look back on the late R&B legend’s most iconic outfits of all time.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
With The Ronettes, 1963
Ronnie grew up in Manhattan’s Washington Heights where she spent her childhood singing with her sister Estelle and cousin Nedra at family gatherings. By the late 50s, the trio founded the group that would become The Ronettes, performing at local bar mitzvahs and sock hops before securing a residency at New York’s Peppermint Lounge (the storied birthplace of the Twist) and signing with Philles Records. Here, the year of signing their star-making record deal, the group are photographed in their signature flanked pose wearing a trifecta of cropped, doubled-breasted pantsuits, typical of the era’s Mod style.
Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns
With The Ronettes, 1964
Along with their Mod wardrobe, The Ronettes were known for their signature beauty look: thick, black cat eyeliner. Since the group’s heyday, the look has become a signifier of rock-and-roll cachet and, over the years, has been adopted by the likes of icons Françoise Hardy, Alexa Chung and Amy Winehouse.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Backstage at Lunch with Soupy Sales variety show, 1965
And speaking of Amy Winehouse, in 1965, The Ronettes pivoted from their signature bouffant hairdo for a televised performance on variety show Lunch with Soupy Sales, opting instead for a trio of full-out beehives updos. The rest is history.
Performing on The Big T.N.T. Show, 1966
The Ronettes set the standard for the next half-century (and counting) of pop music when they released “Be My Baby” in 1963. In addition to becoming an instant classic (and topping the year’s Billboard music charts), the song has had a massive and long-standing impact on pop songwriting. Since its release, the track served as inspiration for influential musical acts including The Beach Boys, The Beatles and Lana Del Rey. Here, in one of the group’s most iconic televised performances, The Ronettes perform their signature single wearing a trio of the era’s space age pantsuits.
After touring with The Beatles in 1966 and solo in 1967, The Ronettes decided to part ways. Here, during the group’s hiatus (Ronnie briefly reformed The Ronettes with two new members in 1973), the frontwoman was photographed off-stage and off-camera wearing a very late-60s ensemble: denim cut-offs and a knotted shirt.
Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage
Performing solo on stage, 1977
With the Ronettes in the rearview, Ronnie Spector embarked on a solo career. In 1971, the singer recorded her debut single, “Try Some/Buy Some” with George Harrison in the legendary Abbey Roads Studio. By the end of the decade, she was singing Bruce Springsteen-penned anthems and performing with the E Street Band. Here, on stage in 1977, the singer wears a canvas jumpsuit, unzipped to the navel.
Photo by Tom Sheehan/Sony Music Archive via Getty Images
At a photo shoot in London, circa 1977
Throughout the 70s, Ronnie’s style became less “glam” and more “garçonne.” Here, during a promotional photoshoot, the singer wears a fitted tee, stovepipe jeans and striped suspenders. A far cry from the Mod of The Ronettes, but perhaps even more fitting of rock and roll’s original “bad girl.”