Elton John was honored with the Legends Award and Britney Spears wowed with a performance featuring “Baby One More Time.” And Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Will Smith, Ricky Martin, Courtney Love and Destiny’s Child all stole moments. But looking back at the 2000 Grammy Awards now, it belonged to Jennifer Lopez.
Ironically, Lopez didn’t give much thought to the green silk chiffon Versace jungle dress that she wore to the Recording Academy’s biggest award night, which was held at Los Angeles’ Staples Center for the first time.
“I really didn’t think about it. I didn’t think it was all that risque, to be honest,” she said in a Vogue video interview for the anniversary of the dress. “I was more excited that it was the Grammys. I wasn’t even thinking about the dress that much. I was just glad I had something to wear.”
But the sheer gown with a V-neck so deep that it exposed both her cleavage and belly button left little to the imagination. As she arrived with then-boyfriend Sean “Diddy” Combs, the effect of her outfit — now often referred to as simply “The Dress” — was immediately clear.
“In terms of my career, this dress really marked a moment in time,” Lopez told Vogue. “If you don’t know my music and you don’t know my movies, people know about that moment and that dress — that was it.”
Lopez didn't choose the dress until the day of the Grammys
That year, Lopez was nominated for a Grammy for “Let’s Get Loud” in the best dance recording category, and she was in the midst of filming The Wedding Planner with Matthew McConaughey, so she didn’t have much time to properly find a dress.
“I was on the set and I had to have my fitting for the Grammys on the set,” Lopez remembers in the Vogue interview. “My stylist at the time, Andrea Lieberman, had a bunch of stuff, but nothing really special — it was a bust.”
Lieberman said she would try to pull more options the day of the Grammys — Lopez was doubtful but agreed. “She came with like three dresses — I’m very spoiled now, people come with a thousand dresses when they come to do a fitting for me — but that day there were two or three dresses,” she says.
The choices were a white one, the green one and another one that she had tried on previously in her trailer on set, which she already said no to. Lopez remembers: “I tried on the green one and when I came out, everyone who was there was like, ‘That’s the dress!’”
She wasn't the first person to wear the dress
Lopez breathed a sigh of relief — at least she had something to wear, but it wasn’t so easy. “Andrea, my stylist, was like, ‘No, you can’t wear it!’” she says.
As it turned out, the dress had been worn before — in fact, several times. It had made its debut on the runway in Milan at Donatella Versace’s Spring/Summer 2000 collection in October. And Donatella herself had worn the dress she designed to the Metropolitan Museum of Costume Institute Gala, better known as the Met Gala, on December 6, 1999. Although it was slightly different and didn’t have sleeves, it was clearly the same design.
The following month, Spice Girl Geri Halliwell also donned the Versace dress to France’s NRJ Music Awards on January 22, 2000. But Ginger Spice’s long blonde locks covered much of what the dress was meant to reveal.
Sandra Bullock had worn an offshoot of the design in a different color — more of a burnt orange-red mix — at the VH-1/Vogue Fashion Awards on December 5, 1999. In short, Lopez would be the fourth celebrity to wear the dress in three months.
But they were down to the wire, so Lopez simply said, “This is what we’re going to wear!”
When Lopez walked onto the stage, 'there was this murmur in the crowd'
Arriving in downtown Los Angeles, Lopez was just excited to arrive at the Grammys as a nominee again. Her boyfriend Diddy was immediately a fan of the look. “Just wow,” he said recalling the look to Entertainment Tonight in 2017. “I thought it was gonna really change the game as far as for her and fashion.” As she stepped out of the car with him, she quickly realized he wasn’t the only one with that kind of reaction.
“When I got to the red carpet, it was really crowded and we were trying to get through and all of a sudden, everybody just started moving so that we could pass through,” she said. “There was this little buzz in the air, people started yelling and screaming… [there was] something extra about it.”
The singer-actress was escorted backstage and told to go straight to the stage where she presented with actor David Duchovny. “When we walked out on stage, there was this murmur in the crowd,” she remembers. “Everybody started clapping and I was smiling, trying to be normal.”
But there was nothing mundane about it. “[It was] just one of those perfect moments: I walked out on stage and it kind of blew open and the dress was just provocative enough, I guess, to make people really interested. It’s like when Marilyn [Monroe’s] dress blew up. Even though she held it down, it was still like, ‘Oh my god!’”
Indeed, at the start of the millennium, the look pushed the envelope — and also teased the crowd just enough. “Everybody was like, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ Nothing! It was all taped down, but that was the moment that captured people’s imaginations,” Lopez says.
“I didn't know how big it was gonna be, but it was a great moment for her,” Diddy — who split from Lopez in 2001 — said. “She deserved it. She is one of the fliest out there.”
Google Images was invented to satisfy the high-demand of people searching for a photo of Lopez in the dress
The effect of the dress was felt immediately. In an age before social media culture, South Park creator Trey Parker was a walking meme in a mock version of Lopez’s look at the Academy Awards a month later on March 26, 2000. (He wasn’t the only man to try the look: Bill Hader also wore it in a 2010 episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Lopez.)
But that wasn’t it. The then text-dominated internet had gone crazy over Grammys night. “People wanted more than just text. This first became apparent after the 2000 Grammy Awards, where Jennifer Lopez wore a green dress that, well, caught the world’s attention,” former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in 2015, according to GQ. “At the time, it was the most popular search query we had ever seen. But we had no surefire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: [a photo of] J.Lo wearing that dress.”
And with the wave of J.Lo’s magic green chiffon dress, Google Images was invented.
While director of engineering and product for Google Images Cathy Edwards is fast to say it wasn’t exactly an overnight process for the search engine, which was still in its infancy at the time, she says the correlation is “completely true.” The need for it was sparked by Lopez’s dress — and it finally came to fruition in July 2001.
“It really just reflects how infinite, accessible information has really changed the world,” Edwards says, according to GQ. “Very, very few people [were] able to really experience a fashion show [prior to that], and then maybe there was some dissemination, but you had to buy a magazine, right? And you had to be the right magazine that had this dress in it. Suddenly, anyone, any time, can do these queries.”
Lopez wore a new version of the iconic dress in 2019 to celebrate the look's 20th anniversary
As the two-decade mark of the dress approached in 2019, the Google searches still remained high. “People are still doing queries for ‘Jennifer Lopez green dress,’ ‘Jennifer Lopez jungle print dress,’ ‘Jennifer Lopez Grammys dress,’ [that] sort of thing,’” Edwards told GQ.
So Versace reached out to the tech giant in advance of the 20th anniversary of the Milan fashion show where the dress originally debuted. And in September 2019 at the end of the Versace spring/summer 2020 show, a screen came on looking like Google Assistant being asked: “Show me images of Versace Jungle Dress.” Photos of Lopez wearing the dress in 2000 flashed across the screen.
Then an AI device was asked “Now show me the real jungle dress,” as a now 50-year-old Lopez appeared in an updated version of the iconic dress — arguably even more revealing than when she wore it as a 30-year-old.
“It was amazing!”Donatella said after the 2019 show, according to CNN. “The world had the same reaction: jaw-dropping. Today we live in a technological world, but back then, one event prompted the creation of a new tool that now has become part of our lives.”
“The second time I wore it and walked out there, it was such an empowering thing,” Lopez told Vanity Fair. “Twenty years had gone by, and I think for women, knowing you can put on a dress 20 years later — it resonated. It was like, ‘Yes, you know, life is not over at 20!’”
And if that wasn’t powerful enough, she ended her tremendous 2019 hosting Saturday Night Live again, and recounted her year in her monologue, walking through highlights like getting engaged to Alex Rodriguez, going on a sold-out tour, scoring her highest box office hit with Hustlers, and looking forward to performing at the Super Bowl Halftime Show on February 2, 2020, in Miami.
But her biggest highlight was none other than her greatest fashion statement. “I walked the runway in Milan wearing a dress I wore for the first time 20 years ago,” Lopez said on the live show. “Some people said I looked better now than I did then. And I‘m not bragging — that’s just gossip.” After breaking into a rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” she ripped off the conservative tux she was wearing — and revealing herself in the dress yet again.
After all, for a look as iconic as J.Lo’s Versace dress, the third time’s a charm.