But before she took the microphone and became the international pop sensation adored by millions, a young Whitney Houston was already making strides in the world of fashion, gracing the pages of multiple magazines as a teenage model.
Born in 1963 in Newark, New Jersey, Houston’s formative years were steeped in music, thanks to her mother Cissy Houston, a celebrated gospel singer, and her cousin Dionne Warwick, an established recording artist. But it was not only music that ignited the young Houston’s passion; she also had a keen interest in fashion.
At the tender age of 15, Houston launched her modeling career. Standing tall at 5’8″ with a radiant smile, she exuded an elegant, timeless charm. It wasn’t long before she got her break, landing a string of jobs with Seventeen magazine, and becoming one of the first African-American women to grace the cover of the magazine.
The teenager with the stunning good looks and brilliant smile continued to model in advertisements, as well as for other big-name publications including Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and YM (Young Miss) — all while finishing high school.
It’s quite extraordinary to think that before belting out chart-toppers like “I Will Always Love You” and “Greatest Love of All,” Whitney was posing for cameras as a pro model, captivating audiences with her smile and fashion-ready form.
But it’s not surprising that a talent like Houston’s could not remain confined to one artistic medium. In the mid-1980s, she was able to shift her focus from modeling to music — a transition that would lead her to an even larger stage where she could share her remarkable vocal abilities with the world.
The world lost Whitney Elizabeth Houston in 2012, when she was just 48 years old. Though she’s fondly remembered for her singing, the early years of young Whitney as a model are a testament to her versatility and her inherent ability to shine, whether on a magazine cover or onstage.
Those vintage photos from her teen years as a model are not just snapshots of a star-in-the-making, but a reminder of a dynamic icon whose influence transcended beyond just music.
Two future stars: Young Whitney Houston & Phoebe Cates in 1981
Young Whitney modeling a red and white 2-piece swimsuit (1981)
The model and singer modeling 80s makeup (1981)
Young Whitney Houston modeling 80s fashions: Knee-length knickers (1981)
Whitney’s trademark: Her cap (early 1980s)
Whitney Houston has a good head for fashion, so naturally, she tops it with a cap! Not just any cap, but a prized baseball cap that she swapped from an older cousin for a white sun visor.
The hat acts as a summer visor, substitutes for sunglasses, lets her keep her cool — and is cute besides. To wear with the cap, Whitney opts for bright T’s and short overalls (pictured here), easy jeans, denim skirts: anything that’s tongue-in-chic.
Whitney’s simple 80s hairstyle in Seventeen (December 1982)
Whitney’s short, naturally curly hair isn’t hard to dress up — we tied a big oblong strip of lace around her head and tied it into a frilly bow in front.
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Teen Whitney Houston modeling summer exercises in swimwear (May 1983)
Trim ‘n terrific! 4 leg-slimming exercises
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Whitney & another model boat photoshoot
Young Whitney Houston & friend in bandeau bikinis (1983)
Whitney Houston vintage Scope mouthwash ad (1983)
Whitney, the singer, getting ready for her first album (1983)
From Seventeen magazine (March 1983)
Whitney gets an all-out glow for evening, using powder and richer shades: Ready for an exciting evening, Whitney’s bedecked in strong, striking face colors — and a beaded plum sweater that complements her basic coloring as well as her makeup.
Whitney’s an unabashed night person: She loves to go out for dinner or dancing — but especially to sing. For the last two years, she’s tuned up with her mother, Sissy Houston, in New York, playing everywhere from small clubs to Carnegie Hall! (Look for Whitney’s first record, to be out soon.)
Since she’s often in the spotlight at night, Whitney takes special care to look her best. She starts with a scented bath (if she’s in a hurry, just a quick face-steaming), then makes up in lavenders and pinks, with dark liner and mascara. She also gives her nails a touch-up by filing them and adding a coat of clear polish.
19-year-old Whitney with & without makeup
Whitney Houston, 19: Professional model & singer — demonstrating how she applies makeup
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Whitney’s amazing grace: A look at her early success (1986)
From Seventeen magazine – July 1986
From a fresh-faced seventeen-year-old model to a polished twenty-two-year-old Grammy winner, Whitney Houston has experienced many style changes. But one feature has always shone through — her star quality.
A natural beauty: Whitney got her first taste of glamour as a model, often appearing in Seventeen. A natural in front of the camera, she moved with ease and expression.