Unravel the never-ending evolution of music fashion
© John Smisson
Sartorial trends in music evolve like the sounds themselves as artists and fans alike try out new ways to look iconic or terrify mums and dads. This is how music fashion has changed.
Music history is full of momentous events and far-reaching innovations – the moments that signposted new ways of doing things, changing music forever. But as with all historic moments, it's never just about one thing. Along with the right sound, at the right time, artists have always needed the right look too.
To celebrate RBMA's fashion week, from February 11-17, we've curated a selection of stories celebrating and exploring the evolution of musical fashions. So fix up, look sharp and scroll down.
Goth music and its attendant culture and fashion has endured like few other tribal scenes, influencing big-name fashion designers along thew way. That's not to say it's stayed the same, though. Since emerging as a gloomy offshoot of punk-rock at the end of the '70s, goth fashion has transformed from the vampy look of '80s goth-rock heroes The Sisters Of Mercy and The March Violets into an unexpected hybrid of dystopian sportswear known as health goth. This is the (goth) style that will never die.
Chance The Rapper's dungaree overalls won't be remembered fondly in the annals of hip-hop fashion, but ever since the genre emerged from the Bronx in the '70s it's created one classic look after another. From the early B-Boys to the heavily-inked and half-naked rappers of today, via the socially conscious black pride of De La Soul and Public Enemy, the ghetto-fabulous attire of The Notorious B.I.G., and the baggy-pants of Wu-Tang Clan, these are hip-hop's freshest looks.
Getting ready for festivals these days is hard work. Because pretty much anything goes, festival-goers are intent these days on pushing the boundaries of what's considered to be sensible outdoor attire. But it wasn't always morph suits, fancy dress and glitter boobs. Once upon a time, festival fashion encapsulated the counter-culture spirit of the day, with the easy-going hippy and grunge looks of the '60s and '90s still inspiring summer high-street styles today.
When punk landed, it became one of music's most abrasive and out-there fashion statements, inspiring designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier. But punk has always been about much more than goofy street punks with vertiginous mohawks. Punk style is as provocatively glam or nihilistic or against-the-grain normcore as its adherents want it to be. From the early androgyny of Iggy Pop and The New York Dolls to the cartoonish anarcho and skater scenes, punks wear what they want. The kids are united...
Music's loudest genre has mutated from the Big Four's thrash into more sub-genres than you can shake your devil horns at – and the genre's sartorial choices have evolved with it. Since the ice hockey hair and vests of metal's early '80s OGs, the sprawling genre has given us hair and glam metal, scary costumes, the late '90s frat-boy look, and some very dark, serious and terrifying black metal styles. Metallers might protest, but they do like to make a fashion statement.
When rave culture swept across the UK and Europe in the late '80s and early '90s, the early fashion was utilitarian – clobber you could move freely in, whether the party was in a warehouse or a field. Since then, though, rave fashion has taken a more tribal path, just like any other genre of music. From the late '90s cyber-indebted Crasher Kids, who frequented the Sheffield trance mecca Gatecrasher, to the all-in-black techno look at Berlin's Berghain, raving has required the right look… however sweaty a business it is.
Worn by the right artist at the right moment in time, hairstyles can become as iconic as album covers, inspiring the world to ask their hairdresser for the same 'do'. Whether they were a reaction against the styles of previous generations or an attempt to encapsulate the spirit of the time, The Beatles' mop tops, David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust alien mullet and punk's mohawks have all been written into the fashion history books.
Music T-shirt fashion
T-shirts have been big business for the music industry since the late '60s – and they've become lucrative for vintage dealers, too. In 2011, a Led Zeppelin 1979 Knebworth gig T-shirt sold for US$10,000. High-street shops have been selling iconic designs for a while now, and merch stalls are just as busy as the bar at gigs these days. From Vivienne Westwood’s provocative punk creations in the late '70s to Wes Lang's 2013 Yeezus shirt via Katharine Hamnett's simple declarations, made famous by Wham!, music T-shirts have come a long way.
There was a time when all musicians wore a suit, just like every other nine-to-fiver around the world. The birth of rock ’n’ roll and teenage pop culture in the '50s changed this, of course, but there's a long list of bands who stuck with the uniform concept, subverting it for their own means. From The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band get-up and The Monks' religious habits and shaved tonsures to Devo's red 'energy dome' hats and J-Pop's cutesy, kawaii-inspired garb, the band uniform remains an iconic fashion statement.
Weird music fashion
Some musicians prefer to put their hoods up and noodle away with their backs to the audience, like post-rockers Slint once used to. Others, though, express their eccentricity in more, erm, visual ways. By wearing a nappy for instance, like Parliament-Funkadelic legend Garry Shider used to when performing live. Or a bonkers, magisterial sci-fi costume with an Egyptian twist, like that worn by cosmic jazz hero Sun Ra. Whether it's a KFC bucket on your head, a raw-meat dress or just a sock on your privates, the weirder the style the better we say.
Youth subculture fashions
Bronies, grebos, romos, fraggles, seapunks and Juggalos. No, they're not alien species from Star Wars. They are, in fact, all youth subcultures with their own music and fashion. But few of these would exist were it not for elemental youth tribes like the Beats, mods, rockers, rude boys, punks and ravers – the youth tribes whose fashion inspired so many other mutant subcultures. These are the fashions of those tribes.