A lot of people think they can be Pamela Anderson, and no one knows this better than her stylist, Rebecca Ramsey.
Reached in Los Angeles via phone to discuss Anderson’s recent looks, Ramsey suddenly shrieks with excitement. “Someone is walking by me right now in this huge fluffy hat. It is so Pam!”
She saw an even more literal homage to Anderson’s famed 1999 VMAs look at the New York premiere of Anderson’s documentary, Pamela, A Love Story. “An older woman was wearing a big pink hat, and she carried a hat box around! It was amazing,” Ramsey says.
Maybe you’ve seen the tributes, too, like the ones on TikTok, where a Pamela Anderson filter with more than 345 million views will give you her signature smoky eye and skinny brow. “Everyone keeps saying the skinny brow is coming back, but, you know, she has always had them,” Ramsey points out.
Some of the desire among young people to look like they were hand-plucked from the ’90s can be traced back to Anderson. Sure, dressing like you’re from the decade that preceded your birth has always been appealing; it feels almost paranormal, a way to time-travel and become a version of yourself that could never exist now.
But there’s a very specific kind of ’90s throwback dressing—halfway between the serious elegance of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and the eccentric playful kitschness of the Spice Girls—that feels pioneered by Anderson herself.
It’s a look that can encompass a white crop top with light-wash cutoff denim shorts or a slinky neutral slipdress with sharp kitten heels. And there’s no one who has ever pulled it off quite like Anderson, whose megawatt smile radiates the kind of confidence everyone wants.
Her style is sexy without being over-the-top, and put-together without feeling complicated. It also tends to generate the mistaken impression that being this sexy is easy: Just wear something simple that shows some cleavage and you’re done. Unfortunately, that attitude is what made people think they were entitled to Anderson for decades.
As her son Brandon Thomas Lee says in Pamela, A Love Story, “I don’t think people consider her the owner of her own image. It’s Pamela Anderson: public property.”
Ten minutes into our conversation, Ramsey and I are already raving about Anderson’s ’90s looks. Of course, there’s the pink feathered hat she wore with sequined pants and a white corset in 1999.
But there’s also her black leather bustier and mesh opera gloves from the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, and her gigantic wide-brim hat and sheer dress from the 1997 American Music Awards. What she was doing in the ’90s—creating saucy looks that were seductive and incredibly individualized without being unnecessarily serious—is what so many people think they’re doing now with fast-fashion dupes inspired by her ’90s wardrobe.
“We owe her so much,” Ramsey says to me. “The sad thing that’s come out of documentaries of women in the ’90s, though, is that it just shows how they were treated. The ’90s were an amazing time in fashion, but they were terrible in how the media treated women.”
Anderson was born in Ladysmith, Canada, and was discovered on the Jumbotron at a BC Lions Canadian football game, wearing a Labatt’s beer T-shirt. She briefly became the spokesmodel for the brewery before catching the attention of Playboy, which flew her out to Los Angeles to shoot the cover of its October 1989 issue.
She went on to model for the magazine and became a Playmate, eventually shooting more covers than anyone in the brand’s history.
In her documentary, she explains that the magazine essentially worked as her agent—they were the ones who received the call asking if she would be interested in auditioning for Baywatch, a weekly series about a group of lifeguards on a California beach. After turning down an audition 11 times, Anderson eventually gave in. Once she was cast as lifeguard CJ Parker, the show shot her to international fame.
Everyone wanted to know Anderson at the time, but no one more than Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, who flew out to Cancun in February of 1995, after she mentioned to him she would be there for a photo shoot. They met up at a club, a night she described as a “big happy blur” where they “felt invincible,” and a few days later, they were married on the beach. Anderson famously wore a white string swimsuit.
Later that year, a homemade sex tape was stolen from the couple’s home and widely distributed. Anderson said it caused the end of her career as she knew it. She became a punch line on talk shows, where male hosts felt more entitled than ever to ask questions about her body.
Nearly two decades later, in 2022, she would have to relive the pain of people profiting off her stolen intimacy with the release of Hulu’s miniseries Pam and Tommy, a show she has refused to watch and that was made against her wishes.