The universal fluorescent staining property of thiazole orange (TO) dye was adapted in order to be specific for G-quadruplex DNA structures, through the introduction of a styrene-like substituent at the ortho-position of the TO scaffold. This extraordinary outcome was determined from experimental studies and further explored through molecular docking studies. The molecular docking studies help understand how such a small substituent leads to remarkable fluorescent signal discrimination between G-quadruplex DNA and other types of nucleic acids. The results reveal that the modified dyes bind to the G-quadruplex or duplex DNA in a similar fashion as TO, but exhibit either enhanced or quenched fluorescent signal, which is determined by the spatial length and orientation of the substituent and has never been known. The new fluorescent dye modified with a p-(dimethylamino)styryl substituent offers 10-fold more selectivity toward telomeric G-quadruplexes than double-stranded DNA substrates. In addition, native PAGE experiments, FRET, CD analysis, and live cell imaging were also studied and demonstrated the potential applications of this class of thiazole-orange-based fluorescent probes in bioassays and cell imaging.