Icons Who Ignited Fashion

9 Game Changers from MOMA

Header: Audrey Hepburn Wearing The Classic Men's White Shirt; Landing Page: Marlon Brando made the Motorcycle Jacket Cool in the Film, "The Wild One"

BY: Claire Connors

Of the 111 pieces in the Museum of Modern Art‘s newest exhibition, ITEMS: IS FASHION MODERN?, the nine below are so ingrained in our consciousness that we don’t even think of them as the game changers they once were.

The white t-shirt? Who doesn’t own at least three (thank you, Hanes, for always selling us a troika of cotton goodness). But when James Dean donned one as outerwear rather than underwear, oh, boy! The fashion rule was forever broken…and we never felt the same again about a hot guy in a short sleeved shirt. Pair that with the iconic 501 Levi’s jeans, and you’ve got the bad-boy look every guy has attempted to wear, but few as well as our sexy rebel without a cause.

James Dean wearing jeans and a white t-shirt in the film, "Rebel Without A Cause"
James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause”


Speaking of breaking the fashion rules, the modern leader of that pack—and the creator of dressing casually chic—was none other than Coco Chanel. With her motto, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury,” she literally freed women from corsets, banning them from under her looser fitted clothing and allowing women to breathe freely, some for the first time. Chanel helped usher in the “new look” in terms of skirts, creating the impeccable pencil skirt, raising hemlines from floor-dragging to easy mid-calf lengths and making the garment in a stretch jersey with—horrors!—pockets! Just add numerous strands of those perfect Chanel pearls and the look was complete.

oco Chanel photograph by Many Ray in 1935 wearing Maltese Cross cuffs by Duke Fulco di Verdura.
Coco Chanel Wearing Pearls & Maltese Cross Cuffs- Photo by Man Ray, 1935


Chanel also made it fashionable for ladies to go to the beach and wear the classic Breton wool sweater originally worn by the fishermen from Brittany. Today, there isn’t a closet in France that doesn’t have at least one of these striped shirts hanging in it.

Audrey Hepburn wearing a Breton wool sweater originally worn by the fishermen from Brittany.
Audrey Hepburn Wearing the “Breton Striped Shirt”

We can’t officially say Coco endorsed the ballet flat, but the easy footwear, made famous by former ballet dancer/actress Audrey Hepburn, works perfectly with Chanel’s casual style.

 Former ballet dancer/actress Audrey Hepburn, made the ballet flat famous
Audrey Hepburn Wearing the Infamous Ballet Flat

Hepburn was one of the first women to wear a classic men’s white shirt, making men’s wear a trendy look for fashion-forward women.

Style Icon Audrey Hepburn Makes the Classic Men's White Shirt a Staple in every women's closet
Audrey Hepburn Wearing The Classic Men’s White Shirt


Hepburn also helped make Chanel’s Little Black Dress a necessary staple in every woman’s closet. Even today, almost a century later, you can’t go wrong when wearing the versatile LBD.

Actress Audrey Hepburn made it cool to wear a little black dress
Audrey Hepburn Modeling the Perfect “Little Black Dress”


Finally, there is the motorcycle jacket. Created in 1928 by Irving Schott, he named the leather zipped jacket the Perfecto, after his favorite cigar. And when Marlon Brando slipped into his rugged scene-stealing garment for the film, The Wild Ones, it was, indeed, Perfecto.

Bad boy Marlon Brando Made the Motorcycle Jacket Cool in the film, “The Wild One”