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style on the street: makeover

Girl gone glam

Vermont rocker Grace Potter arrived on the music scene in a flannel shirt and jeans. Now, growing success — and confidence — has the singer embracing her inner fashionista.

By Sarah Rodman
September 18, 2011

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“I have a feeling I’m going to be getting in some trouble today,” singer Grace Potter says with a laugh.

The frontwoman for the rock band Grace Potter & the Nocturnals is calling from a tour stop and has just seen something she can’t resist: a mall.

The Vermont native and her band have released three albums over six years, each with increasing success. That includes their celebrated 2010 effort, which features the hit “Paris (Ooh La La).”

Just as the band’s sound has evolved, so has Potter’s style. The 28-year-old has transformed onstage from hippie chick to glammed-up rock goddess. With her chic look on VH1’s Divas Salute the Troops in December (thigh-skimming minidress, sexy heels, glossy blonde tresses), Potter more than held her own alongside pop fashionistas like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj.

“I’m really proud of that night and what that did for us,” Potter says. “That was the first night the guys were wearing Dolce & Gabbana. We finally hit a prime where we found a look and a feeling that felt real to who we are.”

Potter has always been a fashion maven. But once she started playing music in college  —  a time when she wanted to stand out but be taken seriously  —  she toned it down.

“At the very beginning, it was about letting the songs do the talking, making sure that people that were at the concert were there for the music and not to see some hot girl,” Potter says of the sundresses she favored back then. “It was definitely more on the hippie bent.”

The decision to embrace her inner Carrie Bradshaw was also about the music. When the band teamed with producer Mark Batson to make their latest album, Potter had a clear vision of the project  —  from the sound of the songs to the image she wanted to project.

“I said, ‘This is going to be a sexy record, this is going to be a record that makes people want to dance, this is a record that needs to be seething with sexuality and have a swagger.’ “

The style had to follow suit.

When they arrived in California for a photo shoot, Potter laid down the law. “I said, “From now on, no denim.” It was literally a line in the sand that we jumped over,” she says. “Everyone started to define their own look and identity. I wanted a physical revolution. Queen Victoria had the Kensington system, and I have the no denim system.”

And anyone who thinks Potter’s style makeover was foisted on her by record company execs or management doesn’t know the singer, who’s currently on country radio duetting with Kenny Chesney on the sultry hit “You and Tequila.”

“If anyone ever told me what to wear at the record company, it would be a problem, and I would immediately turn around and wear the other thing,” she says. “When they signed me they knew what they were getting into.”

Fan response has been mixed.

“I thought the fans would be delighted, and, of course, not all of them were,” she says. “But I wasn’t thinking. ‘Am I going to lose fans because I’m wearing a dress?’ I was thinking about the music. If you dig through photos, you can find me in dangerous hemlines from the very beginning. (Well, not always. Potter cringes when reminded of an early band photo in which she wore a flannel shirt. “I’ll never outlive that picture,” she says.)

Potter is not only interested in wearing names but, like a true do-it-yourself Vermonter, making her own designs. She has partnered with stylist Becks Welch to create looks.

“We literally construct dresses from the bottom up,” Potter says. “We’ll draw pictures and go back and forth with each other and invent clothing rather than try and make something work that already exists. I don’t ever wear anything really straight off the rack. Hopefully, someday we’ll be able to put out a line of dresses together.”

Still, the Waitsfield native loves designer goodies.

“I’m obsessed with Gucci right now,” she says, also citing Alice Temperley, AllSaints, and Corey Lynn Calter as favorites for her onstage look.

As for accessories, Potter favors her Treesje handbag and Temperley belts but is obsessed with one Temperley necklace. “It almost looks like a piece of armor. It’s a statement piece,’’ she says. “I’ve worn her [stuff] a lot on TV. Sometimes you can wear a simple cotton T-shirt dress but just kill it with a crazy belt or necklace.”

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.