David Bowie: A style chameleon

Bowie's influence on fashion spoke to the broader idea that fashion is a cultural force, a reflection of social shifts. Photos / Supplied, Getty
Bowie's influence on fashion spoke to the broader idea that fashion is a cultural force, a reflection of social shifts. Photos / Supplied, Getty

David Bowie had tremendous style, but unlike a lot of rock stars, he wasn't known for a singular look.

He didn't wear a signature sparkly glove. He didn't send a generation of fashion lovers running to Goodwill for plaid flannel shirts and moth-eaten cardigans. He didn't launch a line of sneakers or put his name on a fragrance. But Bowie's influence on fashion ran deep because it spoke to the broader idea that fashion is a cultural force, a reflection of social shifts, a creative laboratory and a personal pleasure.

Scroll down for Bowie's fashion through the years

As a performer, Bowie used fashion as a tool for storytelling, for furthering the narratives of his music and turning a concert into a spectacle and himself into an icon. As he explored different corners of the musical world, his discoveries were evident in his costumes.

From "Ziggy Stardust" to the "Thin White Duke," fashion delineated each new chapter in his creative life.

He could be an alien-like creature with spiked red hair and no eyebrows, a fey dandy with a mop of blonde locks, a rock god in a battered Union Jack frock coat by Alexander McQueen or a dapper gentleman in a beautifully tailored suit. His shape-shifting was impressive, but so was his questioning of assumptions and norms.

He challenged definitions of gender not by wearing feminine attire, but by positioning the character he was inhabiting somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between male and female. His style was confounding and mesmerising, and it made folks think.
Later, he highlighted the elegance of rock, its roots in African-American cool. He borrowed from punk and disco, rhythm and blues and soul. And his fashion reflected that smorgasbord of influences.

If he has had any lasting impact on fashion, it was his enthusiastic and thoughtful embrace of creative daring. His choices came across as provocative, but considered. The costumes were part of a full character sketch, not just momentary titillation. He wasn't just playing dress-up. He was exploring identity.

In his wake, there have been performers who defy gender definitions, who use their sexuality as a marketing tool, who leave audiences perplexed by the sheer strangeness of their stage costumes. Surely Bowie has influenced them.

But whether it is Miley Cyrus in her R-rated circus finery created by Jeremy Scott or Justin Timberlake in his Tom Ford suit and tie, there is always the sense that the clothes are just a thin wash. With Bowie, the clothes and the music seemed inexorably connected. Each was elevated by the other. The emotion of the music ran straight through the clothes.

Sometimes, however, the clothes were quietly, confidently gracious. He wore a business suit beautifully. He wore a classic tuxedo with aplomb, especially when he accompanied his wife, Iman, to fashion extravaganzas. She was the star, the evening's focus, and he was the dapper escort.

He was not decked out as a distraction. He was not performing. Or preening. He was a rock star who was attuned to something more than just the applause.

Here we take a look back on the style of David Bowie.

1962 - 1968: Mod man David Jones


Bowie was an early adopter of the mod look. Photo / Getty
Bowie was an early adopter of the mod look. Photo / Getty

As it turns out, Bowie did not fall from space dressed in sparkles. In the 1960s, a demure David Jones was all about the mod movement, sporting tapered-leg trousers and pinstripe blazers.


1969 - 1972: Hippy in a dress

Bowie's marriage to Angie Barnett saw the pair seemingly sharing a wardrobe. At a time of experimentation with performance art and Buddhism, Bowie also dabbled in maxi dresses and flouncy blouses. He grew long locks and posed in a dress on the cover of his 1971 album The Man Who Sold the World.

1972 - 1974: Bowie goes glam

Bowie in 1973. Photo / Supplied
Bowie in 1973. Photo / Supplied

First came the haircut, the shock of red, then gone were the eyebrows to make way for a streak of lightning. Slipping a lithe figure into slick sequins, Bowie became Ziggy Stardust, arguably his most memorable persona.

It was at a Japanese fashion show that Bowie eyed the talent of Kansai Yamamoto who would create the musician's most memorable costumes.

1974 - 1976: A soulful turn

Bowie created a look inspired by soul singers such as Marvin Gaye. Photo / Getty
Bowie created a look inspired by soul singers such as Marvin Gaye. Photo / Getty

During his "Diamond Dogs" tour in the US, Bowie was enraptured by the soul sounds of Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. His newfound interest in their musical genre saw him hang up Stardust in favour of dandyish tailoring and he eventually created "The White Duke".

1977 - 1979: Slick change

Bowie goes sleek in 1978. Photo / Getty
Bowie goes sleek in 1978. Photo / Getty

On the cover of his album Heroes, Bowie has clearly ditched the powder blue dandy suiting and Ziggy sparkles. Here he enters a monochrome era of leather and quiffed blonde hair.

1980 - 1989: The new romantic

Bowie performing in 1988. Photo / Getty
Bowie performing in 1988. Photo / Getty

A dress with a toy poodle at his feet, a cyber-clown suit, the 80s saw Bowie adopt more new characters including the whimsical Jareth the Goblin King in the film Labyrinth.

1990 - 2015: Still got spark

A demure Bowie in a suit. Photo / Supplied
A demure Bowie in a suit. Photo / Supplied

There were few subtle transitions when Bowie decided upon a new look. In his latter years, he adopted more demure attire, but still sported a hint of "Stardust" on occasion.

A hint of sparkle during a 1995 performance. Photo / Supplied
A hint of sparkle during a 1995 performance. Photo / Supplied

- nzherald.co.nz

- Washington Post

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