What makes a beauty icon? As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the legends with real staying power are often associated with the trends, techniques, and styles they inspire. But their influence extends far beyond a signature look. As is always the case with beauty, it's more about how something makes you feel than how it makes you look. These icons make us feel—for lack of a better word—seen.
My life changed when Amy Winehouse burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s; she offered a thrilling, subversive take on '60s glamour. For the first time, I realized beauty is about more than sparkle and hairspray: It can project your inner power. Suddenly, makeup was no longer a disguise, it was armor. I finally understood that a dramatic beehive and swipe of eyeliner could become a symbol in pop culture forever.
For many of us, beauty icons hold a special place in our hearts. We all have our favorites, but when we think back on the legends with gold-star status—the ones who have truly changed us—the same people come up. Rihanna. Diana. Britney. These names immediately mean something. And their creative influence lives on through images, moments in time, and, of course, mood boards everywhere.
Ahead, Team Byrdie shares their ultimate beauty icons—now and forever.
"I didn’t always love my hair texture. I’m Filipina-American, have voluminous, medium-coarse wavy hair that was difficult to manage when I was a child. I envied my sister who had long, pin-straight, glossy hair because Asian beauty standards glorified her hair type.
"Watching the rise of Sandra Oh—while she announced the queen in Princess Diaries or as a top-tier surgeon on Grey’s Anatomy—brought tremendous joy as I learned to love my hair. Watching her on the big screen and the red carpet with hair that looked just like mine, curly and statement-making, helped solidify in my mind how Asian beauty is multi-faceted. It comes in all forms (and all hair textures). When I look in the mirror on days my hair is being sort of difficult, I run my fingers through it and think about some of Oh’s wisest words: 'It’s an honor just to be Asian.'"- Jesa Calaor, editor
"I’m obsessed with the Jazz Age, as it was a massive turning point in fashion and beauty as we know it. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of Black icons from that era (thank you, Jim Crow laws and systemic racism). But one of the few stars who managed to break through to the mainstream was Josephine Baker. In true flapper fashion, her brows were thin, her lips were bold, and her pin curls became as legendary as her dance routines. While I’m not quite ready to mimic the brows, I think of the Bronze Venus every time I pair a smoky eye with a deep lipstick."- Eden Stuart, associate editor
"Jane Birkin’s icon status is self-evident. After all, arguably the most famous bag in existence bears her moniker. Personal style aside, she’s known more for consistency than experimentation in her beauty choices. But therein lies her genius. You can’t tell me her signature bangs aren’t one of the most perfect 'undone' hairstyles of all time (I’ve shown photos of them to more stylists than I can count). Plus, she was doing 'barely-there makeup' decades before the 2010s brought minimalism mainstream.
"Her signature glam boils down to little more than a thick coat of lower lash mascara, but she knows what works for her and embraces it—something I think we can all aspire to. To put it simply, trends evolve, but Birkin bangs are forever." -Madeline Hirsch, news director
"The first time I caught a glimpse of Rihanna was during her 2005 performance of Pon de Replay on BET’s 106 & Park. From then on, I’ve been captivated by the Barbadian beauty. As Rihanna’s career continued to soar, she played around with every hair color and cut under the sun. She’s been equally expressive in her makeup choices. Her ever-changing beauty looks have always inspired me to try new things with my hair, makeup, and nails. Rihanna has helped me recognize how empowering it is to express and celebrate yourself through beauty.
"Over 16 years, the multi-hyphenate not only solidified her status as a global beauty icon but as a trailblazing mogul as well. Her brand Fenty Beauty has pushed the industry forward, sending a clear message about authentic inclusivity. Considering all she’s done thus far, and all she will do, Rihanna will maintain legend status for decades to come."- Olivia Hancock, editor
"Lauren Hutton is a '70s dream girl and my ultimate beauty inspiration. From her early modeling days (she signed with Revlon in 1973 which, at the time, was the biggest contract in the history of the modeling industry) up until now (she appeared in The Row's lookbook in 2010 and walked Valentino's fall 2019 couture runway), she's championed barely-there makeup, blonde waves, and her signature tooth gap. While I love a look, my core will ultimately always tilt towards simplicity. Her trademark is fresh, glossy skin, a tinted lip, and minimal silhouettes. She's the ultimate in effortlessness."- Hallie Gould, editorial director
"It’s hard to think of beauty icons without Diana Ross topping my list. In addition to the legendary tunes, Ross’s style has proven timeless over the years. I was barely a toddler when she was in her prime. Still, my dad—a music lover—made sure to play tons of Ross’s music and videos when I was a child. I was mesmerized then, and as an adult, I genuinely appreciate how Ross proudly took risks with style. Though her iconic larger-than-life-hair is her signature, it never boxed her in or prevented her from experimenting with her look. Still, the most iconic element of Ross’s superstardom was the confidence she displayed over the decades. All the young, big-haired girls—like me—were endlessly inspired along the way."- Aimee Simeon, senior beauty editor
"TikTok might have put Farrah Fawcett hair back on everyone's radar, but the actress's signature feathered blowout held a place in my heart long before it came across my FYP. Back in middle school, when smooth, stick-straight hair was the look du jour, I used to spend hours frying my fluffy, frizz-prone hair with a straightener. In an effort pry the hot tools from my hands, my mom would constantly show me pictures of Fawcett's big, airy curls—imploring me to give my natural texture a chance. It took a few years to give up my straightener for good, but I have Fawcett and her bouncy, volume-friendly style to thank for helping me embrace my natural waves (flyaways included). And for that, she'll always be my beauty icon." - Karli Bendlin, senior news editor
"There are so many women in Hollywood whose beauty looks have influenced my style as an adult, but if I had to single one person out, it's Miss Britney Jean Spears. I vividly remember rushing to my bedroom after buying her Oops, I Did It Again album and listening to it from front to back for weeks (months?). I repeatedly flipped through the CD booklet like it was brand new each time. I wanted to copy everything about those looks—the parted bangs and wavy hair, the hoop earrings, the heavy bronzer, the cream turtleneck-and-shorts combo... the list goes on. she was everything to my 11-year-old self.
"Thereafter, I leaned heavily into Britney's bubblegum, early-2000s style of bright colors, variations on stick-straight hair and strategic crimping, glitter, etc. It was such a carefree, fun vibe and it's no wonder we're seeing it cycle back into the aesthetics of Gen Z. Britney's style will always be iconic, as will her incredible aura that's now finally able to shine freely." - Lindsey Metrus, associate GM