Taylor Swift’s 'Tortured Poets Department' Fashion Says as Much as Her Lyrics

In street style and visuals for her record-breaking eleventh album, the singer wears her heart on her Victorian sleeves.

a collage of Taylor Swift wearing pieces from her moody Tortured Poets Department era including an eclipse dress and her grammys 2024 gown
(Image credit: Beth Garrabrant; Getty Images)

Taylor Swift has spent her career world-building through her music and her wardrobe. As she sings in the opening couplet of her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, every album comes with a “new aesthetic.” With an assist from her longtime stylist, Joseph Cassell, Swift channels her project’s sound through a dress code of her own design (including Easter eggs for fans to decode). Fearless’s country chart-toppers came with fringed dresses and cowboy boots; 1989’s pop-crossover moment manifested in crop tops and sky-high heels; and when Swift retreated into the alt-indie woods for folklore (and evermore), she transformed again in willowy dresses and a cable-knit cardigan.

Last week, Swift surfaced from cosplaying her past selves on the Eras Tour to deliver the next chapter in her discography. Many wondered what a rushed artistic statement from one of the world’s biggest stars would look and sound like before it arrived. (Midnights, Swift's previous album defined by a hazy ‘70s aesthetic, only debuted in October 2022.) Nearly one week after its release, it appears her Tortured Poets' goal was to be more vulnerable than ever—with clothing to mirror how "tortured" she feels inside.

The Tortured Poets aesthetic takes a sharp turn from the glitz and shine of its predecessor, slipping into a moodier world full of shades of greige. With a stark black and white palette, corseted mourning gowns, pleated preppy mini skirts, and chunky oxfords, Swift echoes the dress and distress of Victorian literary figures who inspired the album’s lyrics—as well as a dedicated student channeling them in her present-day writing. The garters and sensuality that once let her “Bejeweled” during Midnights’ heyday (as the meme goes) get a gothic treatment for Poets. Now, Swift lands emotionally and sartorially closer to the bookish, charming morbidity of Wednesday Addams.

Taylor Swift performs her single "Fortnight" wearing a strong shouldered Victorian top

Swift dresses in a jacket inspired by Victoria mourning dress and a coordinating skirt for the first music video of her Tortured Poets era, "Fortnight."

(Image credit: YouTube)

Swift began laying the foundations for the Tortured Poets aesthetic in her 2023 street style, before fans even knew new music was on the way. Between stops at stadiums for the Eras Tour (or to cheer on NFL athletes), Swift entered and exited Electric Lady Studios throughout the summer and fall in a notedly dark academia-inspired wardrobe. The transition started with items from crisp white R13 button-ups to Reformation penny loafers and Miu Miu plaid mini skirts. Eventually, bustier-style tops by Versace and House of CB joined the mix. I imagine these pieces took a page from the late designer Vivienne Westwood, who played an inextricable role in modernizing the corset. While Swift hasn’t worn Westwood that often, her corsets channeled a similar sensuality and openness unseen in Swift’s casual outfits prior. It’s a mature translation of her life’s mission to wear her heart (or in Poets' case, her inner turmoil) on her sleeve.

Swift’s casual outfits also came in a starkly black-and-white palette, from sweet Ralph Lauren eyelet sets and flouncy, modern-day poet blouses by Dôen, to dark, gauzy tanks from Gabriela Hearst or gothic Alaïa dresses. The color scheme seemingly references the pages her stories (and those of her literary heroes) are written on; her all-black outfits convey mourning, foreshadowing songs that scatter the ashes of two lamented relationships.

Taylor Swift in New York City with Travis Kelce in October 2023

As with past style eras, Swift's street style incorporated elements that hinted at her upcoming album's material. Here, she wears a Versace corset channeling sensuality and openness.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Taylor Swift wearing a Dôen blouse with a skort

While recording at Electric Lady Studios last summer, Swift winked at Tortured Poets' color scheme with a flouncy Dôen poet blouse.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it was time for Swift to officially announce the project at the 2024 Grammys this past February, she dressed in a twisted white Schiaparelli gown and elbow-length black gloves. The look built on Swift’s street-style color palette; album listeners now know it was also the first look to visualize the scenes Swift paints in her Tortured Poets lyrics. Depending on the track in question (and there are 31 to choose from), the folded fabric references imagery of a bedroom’s tangled bedsheets or an asylum’s escape rope—two sites of her anguish.

Taylor Swift on the Grammys 2024 red carpet in a Schiaparelli gown that would become known as the first gown for the Tortured Poets Department era

Swift announced The Tortured Poets Department while accepting her thirteenth Grammy award. Fans would soon discover that her Schiaparelli gown was a wink at the album's palette and subject matter.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Taylor Swift in an asylum bed in the music video for "Fortnight"

The Grammys dress was also an allusion to the music video for "Fortnight," where Swift dresses in a similar, bedsheet-like gown while trapped in an asylum.

(Image credit: YouTube)

Swift’s outfits always form a visual mood board for the album she’s promoting, but she editorializes the fashion to an even more heightened degree in her music videos and album visuals. Take the video for “Fortnight,” the lead single compressing Tortured Poets’ tragic arc into one song, for example. Swift illustrates her distress over a relationship gone wrong with modernized Victorian fashion, like an Unttld waxed denim jacket and Elena Velez skirt that mimic mourning dress from the mid-1800s. (The pieces also seem to borrow from the closet of Swift's distant cousin, Emily Dickinson.)

The strong-shouldered jacket makes Swift's attendance at the Poor Things premiere last year seem like an Easter egg in retrospect. With this, she proves she is pop’s most avid literary student, adding pre-Victorian author Mary Shelley (whose Frankenstein informed the 1992 novel) to the list of female scribes who inspired her.

Taylor Swift wearing a strong shouldered top and an Elena Velez skirt in the "Fortnight" music video

Swift emulates a Victorian poet in the music video for "Fortnight," in an Unttld top and Elena Velez skirt.

(Image credit: YouTube)

Taylor Swift attending the Poor Things premiere in New York City

Swift attended the Poor Things premiere last December in shades of mourning black, including a gown by The Row and a fur-trimmed coat by Charlotte Simone.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Swift’s specialty as a musician is describing her own highly specific experiences so vividly that they become communal and understood by (almost) all. In this same way, her fashion in Poets feels more bare, aching, and open. While Swift's pen documents her depression, her color-leached, skin-baring outfits display it.

The most raw and undone Swift portrait fans have seen so far came with the album’s photoshoot, which plays with light and shadow, shades of tea-soaked sepia, and selective slices of skin in bedroom settings. In one image, a Meshki bustier and slip skirt mirror the intimacy of lingerie. In others, delicate, silken straps of tops and dresses from The Row, Khaite, and Saint Laurent fall off her shoulders—the dishabille reminding me of the oversized menswear coats she’d worn nonchalantly off-the-shoulder around New York City last fall. Perhaps those were a clue-in to the most sensuous and sexual lyricism on a Swift album yet. (Press play on the track “Guilty As Sin?” for details.)

A collage of Taylor Swift's outfit visuals where the singer wears a range of half-undone black tops and shirts

The looks Swift wears in The Tortured Poets Department's official imagery, released with the album on April 19, channel her new lyrics' vulnerability.

(Image credit: Beth Garrabrant/@taylorswift)

Swift isn’t new to baring her emotions, but these Tortured Poets portraits feel like she’s shedding her snakeskin and stepping into a spotlight harsher than she’s ever experienced. In response, she’s laying almost everything bare. Her album outfits evoke the freeze frame in a doorway when you’ve stepped into a room to find someone half-dressed—they’re unfiltered and exposed.

Swift is ultimately split in two through her Tortured Poets lyrics. In one song, she is the Versace-bodysuited pop star on a record-breaking tour in her “glittering prime.” In another, she is a time-flung student of Sylvia Plath, detailing a love so all-consuming it's "ruining [her] life." For the world stage she performs on, she wears a calibrated mix of couture wedding gowns, designer bodysuits, quiet luxury staples, and Free People pieces any fan could buy. This brand mix isn’t exclusive to Swift’s latest era, but it feels heightened. Swift has been so open about how caged and messy she feels on no other album. Clothing that turns dark and light, Victorian and modern, reflects the contradictions inside her.

Taylor Swift performs at the Eras Tour in a Versace bodysuit

Swift's Eras Tour wardrobe is dictated by the aesthetics of each album. Here, she wears a Versace bodysuit for Lover. On the Tortured Poets song "I Can Do It With a Broken Heart," Swift reveals how "miserable" she's felt performing through her depression.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Having effectively sucked most of the air out of the media landscape for the last 18 months, it can feel disorienting (and maybe grating) to see the latest billionaire’s club entrant style herself as an underdog. But it’s a vivid reminder that you can’t dress your way out of self-loathing or sadness. If you're Taylor Swift, you can at least channel your feelings into 31 new songs—and a moody wardrobe to go with it.

Sarah Chapelle

Sarah Chapelle is a journalist and veteran Taylor Swift style reporter. Her thoughtful, thorough, and witty approach to Taylor's style commentary has earned her hundreds of thousands of followers and critical acclaim. Her forthcoming book TAYLOR SWIFT STYLE (October 8, 2024) expands on her popular blog to provide a comprehensive and nuanced look at Taylor’s musical and fashion evolution spanning the last two decades. Pairing hundreds of photographs with extensive research and expert insights, TAYLOR SWIFT STYLE explains the ‘why’ behind the outfits―the stylish Easter eggs and deeper meanings of one the most savvy pop stars of the modern age.