As a young Christina Aguilera fan coming of age in the time of “Dirrty,” I was often confronted by a very complex problem: I wanted nothing more than to dress like my soot-caked idol, but were I to directly mimic her lewk, I would have been forcibly removed from my suburban middle school. Also, I was fairly certain that no store within 100 miles carried red pleather separates for pre-teens. Never was this predicament more starkly illuminated than during the VMAs, where Christina would show up each year sporting some fabulous form of “nothing, with fringe.” I still recall sitting at my kitchen table, melancholically eating an entire pepperoni pizza, wondering why god had forsaken me — why I was doomed to a life of Birkenstock clogs and Bar Mitzvah scrubs when Christina got to wear an infinity scarf as a shirt.
Years later, as an adult woman, I pity my former self, whose profound lack of imagination prevented her from living the clothing-free life of her dreams. In the year 2016, looking back at these VMA ensembles, I am no longer disconsolate — au contraire; I am empowered. I am empowered by two incontrovertible facts: 1) If these outfits had approximately 22 percent additional coverage, they would function perfectly in the American workplace; 2) The internet exists, meaning that all I need to do to create these professional ensembles is stare into its gaping maw for a time. With the wind in my black-streaked hair and the internet at my back, I set out to find safe-for-work versions of Christina Aguilera’s most gorgeously deranged VMA outfits.
The Year: 1999
How You Can Wear it to Work: Unless you are a surgeon or a police officer or a leopard tamer, you can wear this entire outfit to work. The only necessary modifications: Add opacity to your sheer leopard-print top; lengthen skirt by about five inches; ask Tommy Lee to take off his knit bucket hat.
House of Harlow has a faux-fur leopard-print coat for $328 at Revolve, perfect for draping over your head and obscuring most of your face so nobody at the office will talk to you. Poshmark has a $15 leopard-print lingerie top — complete with pink straps! — from Victoria’s Secret that, yes, right, it’s lingerie, but it’s fine. H&M’s got a $12.99 black pencil skirt, just tight enough to store all of the pencils you are going to passive-aggressively steal from your office today. And here’s a $2,179 Burberry trench coat for your work zaddy.
The Year: 2000
How You Can Wear it to Work: Let’s take a moment here to remember that this was the year Christina Aguilera got up on an actual stage with sentient truck Fred Durst, the man who would later instigate an eternal blood feud with Christina over whether they did or did not engage in sexual relations. The early aughts were trash. More importantly, though, this was the year Christina Aguilera revolutionized pants by asking the brave question, “What if waistbands just … weren’t?”
Should your place of employment require waistbands, look no further than Forever 21’s $15.99 red sateen skinny pants, which are shiny enough to distract you from the fact that you cannot indiscriminately grab your crotch all day. These $63.99 velvet Jeffrey Campbell platforms are clompy enough to use as a weapon, should the zombie apocalypse occur while you are at the office. And this is a bathing suit, but I think you should wear it to work and just see how it goes. Let me know.
The Year: 2001
How You Can Wear it to Work: These patchwork denim bell bottoms are the height of man-made aesthetics, and as such require no tweaking for a professional setting. In fact, to wear them to work would be to confirm that you are an intelligent person who believes in science and human progress. Here’s a $99.99 Free People pair; wear them to your next company-wide meeting and graciously accept the offer to become CEO forever.
On the pink-satin-midriff-exposing-corset-tied-backwards-over-a-pink-bra-with-a-belly-chain front: Love Culture has a $29.95 pink satin cami that — should the mood strike you — you could effortlessly rip down the middle to expose one of the hundreds of used Victoria’s Secret pink strapless bikini tops that litter Poshmark. This $38 gold body chain from Etsy has you covered on both the neck and stomach fronts, should you ultimately decide to tear your tank top in half like we just discussed. The braids seem self-explanatory, albeit vaguely appropriative and time-consuming; it’s really your call here. Tip your cap to corporate culture with a $122 vintage patchwork beret shipped via Etsy straight from Japan. And don’t wear flip-flops to work, it’s disrespectful for some reason.
The Year: 2002
How You Can Wear it to Work: This is it: The apotheosis of Christina Aguilera’s VMA fashion. The outfit that dared challenge the blindly accepted notions of “scarf” and “skirt” and, subsequently, the notion of reality itself. What is scarf? What is skirt? What is breast? What is gravity? What is the Matrix?
You might think, “There is no way to translate this into office attire.” And you’d be right. Quit your job. Buy this $19.99 infinity scarf from J. Jill. Tie it around your breasts. Stand up to working-class subordination and the dominant ideology. Reject hegemony. Unindoctrinate yourself from the false consciousness. Buy that one Trainspotting poster. Tattoo Karl Marx’s face on your face. It is only after you lose everything that you are free to do anything. I am Christina Aguilera’s Infinity Scarf Shirt.