Few icons have managed to successfully reinvent themselves and maintain relevance with each passing decade (Bob Dylan, Cher, and David Bowie come to mind). The list is quite small, however, Jane Fonda - without doubt - is one of those enigmatic forces. For more than 50 years, she’s remained an iconoclast and style icon. In that time, she has taken on the Hollywood machine, stood up to the federal government, battled an eating disorder that lived with her for nearly thirty years, created a fitness empire, and redefined success after age 45, always with deep passion and a signature furosity. It’s like she’s lived a dozen lives. “I think it’s a hoot that, at my age, people are calling me a fashion icon,” she said to W.
Her style evolution (like her life) is vast. It would take far too long to track it all in depth (however, the podcast You Must Remember This does a phenomenal job if you are interested in Jane's full journey). From her bright eyed days gracing the covers of Vogue, where she made head scarves, gloves, and classic Christian Dior-style dresses effortlessly casual, to her time in Paris with Roger Vadim in shift mini dresses, smoky cat eyes, knee high boots, pageboy caps, blasé sex appeal, to the Barbarella era. This was followed by the Klute/“Hanoi Jane” period in the 1970s with a shag hair cut and turtleneck, where she is remembered (and at times vilified) as a face for the anti-Vietnam war movement and a supporter of the Black Panther Party, and an FBI target. Then there was the workout tape craze, all of the way up to her modern renaissance of today. With each incarnation, influenced by the zeitgeist of the day, Jane has shed the shell of her former self to reveal a reinvigorated, renewed identity.
One of the most notable and iconic era of Jane Fonda’s evolution is arguably her 1980’s reinvention. It's been name-dropped in rap songs, inspired modern athleisure and our fitness obsessions, earned her a small fortune, and even been an influence on fashions produced by the likes of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci; this period in Jane’s life defines how we perceive her today.
For the prior thirty or so years leading up to the 80s, Jane battled with severe bulimia brought on in large part by the body standards of the fashion and film industries, binging and purging, and then practicing ballet for hours each day.
It was at the start of 1980 when she began her recovery (enter “The Workout.") Inspired by exercise classes recommended to her by her then step-mother, she launched her own studio and began instructing classes. Then in 1982, in a striped orange leotard and leg-warmers, she released Jane Fonda’s Workout tape - selling 17 million copies, becoming the highest selling VHS tape of all time, and inventing an entirely new industry. Some argue that Jane created this brand as a lifestyle guru, distancing herself from her radical past and becoming a capitalist; it was a monumental financial and marketing success, but moreover, “The Workout” gave Jane her strength, courage, confidence, power back. Frequently she quotes Gloria Steinem saying, "empowerment can begin in the muscles."
Another - even greater - contribution to the feminist media canon also came in 1980 - the film 9 to 5. Alongside Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, Jane portrays a reserved, quaint corporate secretary in pursuit of exacting revenge on her abusive boss (in pastel hues, pussy bow blouses, and wide framed glasses... @ Alessendro Michele, we see you). It was a feminist statement in the form of a quirky screwball comedy with a kickass anthem of a theme song. Fonda’s wardrobe in the film has gone on to heavily inspire Michele’s Gucci, while her heavy hand in the workshopping, production, and overarching message of the film have gone on to serve as a precursor and gospel to female producers (and is reminiscent of the Time's Up initiative).
Now at 80 years old, the two-time Academy Award winner is producing some of her best work. In films like the upcoming Book Club, and Netflix’s Grace and Frankie where she co-stars again with Lily Tomlin, she’s proving life is bountiful for women of all ages, and that the lives, stories, and complexities of older women are stories worth being told.