Thanks to long-running host Carrie Underwood, the Country Music Association Awards doubles as a fashion show.
At last year’s ceremony, the superstar donned a whopping 11 different looks, with the help of stylist Marina Toybina. Underwood returns to host for a 12th year on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ABC — this time without usual co-emcee Brad Paisley — and expectations for her high fashion are, well, high.
“She’s that girl that made it and fell into Hollywood very easily,” says celebrity stylist Jeni Elizabeth Bianco, who worked with Underwood early in her career while running the personal shopping department at Henri Bendel. “She was able to adapt her style very quickly and sort of seamlessly, and you don’t see that a lot.”
So how did a farm girl from Oklahoma transform into a country-glam icon? Here’s a look at her style evolution.
Jesus, Take the Wheel
A big part of Underwood’s appeal on “American Idol” was her girl-next-door accessibility, nowhere more apparent than in her wardrobe of down-home denim and dresses.
“That’s the first page of Carrie’s story,” says Bianco. “Like, ‘Hey, we found her in a field. This is what she had in her closet.’ ”
When she was crowned the winner of the show’s fourth season in 2005, she celebrated in a leopard-print maxi.
Over the next few years, Underwood eased into a life in front of cameras by choosing dresses that were classy, sure, but didn’t exactly grab “best dressed” headlines. Her yellow Roberto Cavalli halter frock at the 2008 CMAs struck some as pageant-y, but Bianco approved of how it flattered the star’s body.
“It accentuates her waistline and pulls attention to her chest, but it’s not over-the-top,” she says. “It’s just simply sexy.”
Bibbidi bobbidi boo-tiful
By the 2012 Billboard Music Awards, Underwood was ready for the spotlight, playing with volume for a major Cinderella moment in this Oscar de la Renta tulle gown.
“It’s very fantasy,” says stylist Eric Himel, who has worked with Rachel Brosnahan and Ali Larter. “There’s a lot going on, but there’s still a lightness to it.”
Need for beads
Come 2016, Underwood was all about sophistication. At the 2016 CMAs, the singer opted for a blush Michael Cinco gown covered in Swarovski crystals, organza flowers and pearls.
This look showed that Underwood was on her way to becoming a full-blown fashionista, says Bianco: “With every red carpet, she’s learning a little bit more.”
In the past couple of years, Underwood has been taking bigger fashion risks by incorporating alternative silhouettes beyond that of the ball gown. Take the short Nicolas Jebran wrap dress that she wore to the CMT Music Awards in 2018. Bianco cites numerous bold choices here: showing off her legs, showing off her chest and even pulling off shoulder pads.
“Forget whether it’s a trend. It’s about whether your client can carry [it],” says Bianco. Or Carrie it, in this case.
Underwood, who welcomed her second son in January, spent much of 2018 evolving her style to highlight her adorable baby bump. At the 2018 CMT Artists of the Year, she rocked a body-conscious blue dress.
“This is a perfect example of her showing her curves and not being afraid to accentuate her pregnancy,” says Bianco. “Not many women have the courage to wear a mini sequin with cutout during pregnancy, never mind cobalt blue. You can’t do anything but smile looking at this photo as an example of her glowing and happiness.“
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