Taylor Swift's New Aesthetic Is Giving Us Clues About Her Upcoming Album

The pop star loves to tie her look to her sound.
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Taylor Swift through the ages. Photo: Getty Images 

Taylor Swift through the ages. Photo: Getty Images 

There are a few givens we all share in life: We are all born, we all die and we all know that when Taylor Swift changes up her style, a new album is imminent. She's a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, but she'll never win awards for subtlety (see: any of her liner notes, the Rep era's snake motif). If you've visited her Instagram lately, you'll have noticed she's adopted an entirely new aesthetic (R.I.P Bleachella. You won't be missed). So what does this aesthetic mean for her new album? As a devotee – one who is obsessively counting down to April 26 – I'll take you through each of her styles (excluding Harry). 

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Taylor Swift

Swift's eponymous debut album was released 13 years ago this October. (Feel old yet?) Both the album and her style at the time can be summed up with two words: twangy teenager. We're talking sweet babydoll dresses, spaghetti straps and every second outfit paired with cowboy boots. Red carpet appearances were defined by dresses that wouldn't look astray at junior prom – or in a Disney movie.

Fearless

Fearless still leaned into that country aesthetic, but now with added sequins! So many sequins. The album reflected much of the same: country, with hints of pop for that crossover appeal (think: "Love Story," "You Belong With Me"). For her first headlining tour, she relied heavily on sequined slip dresses with a knee-high black boot. The red carpet also showed off her affinity for sparkles — but with thigh-skimming hemlines, perhaps foreshadowing the "good girl faith and a tight little skirt" to come later. For her day-to-day wear, she adopted feminine floral prints, but with not nearly as much devotion as she would in future eras.

Speak Now

Both her third album and its accompanying aesthetic were an amalgamation of her previous styles, with hints of what future eras would bring. Speak Now showed Swift's conflict between clinging to youth while dealing with challenges of adulthood – with a wee bit of cattiness thrown in. The girlishness of this record was reflected in her sweetheart necklines, pastel palettes and chic schoolgirl looks. Even when she started implementing bohemian touches throughout her wardrobe, she still managed to keep it sweet and delicate (sorry, had to!). Her flirting with more mature looks came around the same time as Vogue gave her blunt bangs, and she sacrificed her tightly ringed curls to a straightener.

Red

And now we come to what should've been Album of the Year — yes, I am very much team Red Deserved a Grammy. Red was a time where her entire look was decisive and well-thought-out, even though it had huge contrasts. Let's not forget: This is a country/pop album with hints of dubstep, of all things. Her look varied between America's Sweetheart and America's Sweetheart All Grown Up.

America's Sweetheart saw the emergence of retro-Taylor, with a heavy rotation of high-waisted shorts, oxfords, tea-length skirts, both in day-to-day wear and in her tour wardrobe. ModCloth dresses and bikinis were consistently paired with a bold red lip. America's Sweetheart All Grown Up, however, saw a smokey eye paired with plunging dresses and pantsuits.

1989

Another new album, another new haircut. 1989 saw Swift mature musically and drastically chop her hair to a chic bob, reminiscent of "The Karlie." This was her first pure pop album, much of which was made in close collaboration with Jack Antonoff, and her look reflected this. This era's aesthetic was defined by her abdomen — and her commitment to getting it captured as often as possible. Sky-high heels (often in unnecessary scenarios, like post-gym) were paired with crop tops and coordinating mini-skirts. Her affinity for crop tops and co-ords also extended to her tour wardrobe; one can only conclude she has a lifetime deal with double-sided tape.

Reputation

Here's a new fan theory for you: Anna Wintour heard Reputation before the rest of us and acted accordingly. This may explain why she put Swift in a much edgier look for the May cover of Vogue — she was giving us a hint (or a warning, depending on what you thought of the album). The Met Gala outfit she wore for "Manus x Machina" was another instance of foreshadowing as to what her post-"Kim & Kanye debacle" record would sound like. A metallic tiered mini-dress, courtesy of Louis Vuitton, was proof the old Swift was dead, and a new, grunge-chic Swift was poised to take her place.

Ahead of the release of "Look What You Made Me Do," Swift wiped her whole Instagram, only to post three videos of a snake poised for attack. The snake was symbolic of the darker (for Swift) album, complete with profanity, an emphasis on just how much she likes to drink and a whole song dedicated to sex.

With this edgier sound came a matching aesthetic that was a massive departure from any of her previous eras. She ditched the pastels, instead opting for distressed sweaters and denim in a much darker palette. Camo and flannel were also on heavy rotation. If Faith Connexion made it, Swift wore it.

Step into the Daylight and Let it Go

Taylor Swift at the Time 100 Gala in 2019. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Time

Taylor Swift at the Time 100 Gala in 2019. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Time

Now here we sit, awaiting a pastel colored countdown. Unlike the Rep era, we've been inundated with red carpet choices, Instagram posts and a Time magazine cover hinting what's to come.

The first sartorial marker of this new era was the whimsical, pastel Stella McCartney gown she wore to the BAFTA afterparty. Since then, we've seen her in an extravagantly ruffled Gucci dress on the cover of ELLE and something more than a poem to accompany it. The Time Gala gave us a look (and a pose) that could've been straight out of the "Love Story" music video: A romantic, cotton-candy colored gown with billowing sleeves, perfectly color coordinated shoes and a gilded floral headband.

Her outfit for Gigi Hadid's birthday party, even though it appeared the theme of the event was denim, also inexplicably gave us another Romantic Swift look, with a flouncy, floral Zimmerman dress. I'm guessing that because the look featured a heavy, checkered power blazer is why it was relegated to her Instagram stories as opposed to the grid — can't disrupt the theme, after all!

Sarah Kucharski, Taylor Swift style expert (she's the solo brains behind Taylor Swift Style and its accompanying Instagram), feels that "We're in for a very frothy, ethereal era for the most part," comparing Swift's kaleidoscope palette to "Molly Ringwald '80s prom." However, she's noticed a dichotomy in some of the Instagram activity, thinking that some of the posts feel very laid-back California cool — almost embodying the return of uber high-waisted '90s mom jeans, raw hems and Adidas Superstars.

So, how will the aesthetic narrative Swift's currently weaving reflect throughout her next album? "Taylor's music and her style are correlated methods she uses to talk about her life," Kucharski says. "Her life experiences always come out in her lyrics and I think it's clear that she's in a very happy place now and she wanted her style to reflect that." Kucharski's guess is that Swift will stick around the pop circuit again, but perhaps with a more chilled-out, acoustic feel incorporated throughout. "Sunny, in love and stories from a wiser and experienced Taylor who continues to observe and survive the fickleness of fame," Kucharski explains.

As for me, I'm thinking that we're going to get a soft-pop synth album. She's the happiest she's been, and she's in the longest (and the most private) relationship she's ever had. I think instead of her signature sassy one-liners, we're going to be getting a whole lot of soft lyrics. Or perhaps she's just messing with us, and all the pink, sequins and tulle hint that she's going to release a line of Taylor Swift Barbies. I'll buy whatever she comes out with either way — I told you I was devoted.

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