FEATURE: We’re in Fashion! The Role of Image and Fashion in Music



We’re in Fashion!


 PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest 

The Role of Image and Fashion in Music


PERHAPS it is less prevalent now but, traditionally, there…


has always been a link between fashion and music. Yesterday, on BBC Radio 6 Music, it was their ‘T-Shirt Day’. The point behind it was to celebrate the noble and community-driven spirit of the band T-shirt. Of course, it is not all about bands: plenty of solo artists find their faces/images embossed onto a T-shirt. I wonder whether we still associate music and fashion the same way as we did years ago. Most artists have merchandise and, if they are savvy, will print out T-shirts/clothing for fans and gig-goers. It is a great way for artists to accrue revenue and subsidise their expenses. I know a few acts who have their own look: whether that is a clothing choice or make-up; a brand that is unique to them. I was fascinated by T-Shirt Day as it meant listeners came forward; sharing their snaps of all (band) T-shirts and memories attached to it – a song from that artist was played in return. I have an old Jeff Buckley T-shirt and, although it is faded beyond recognition, it is a treasured item. I have a Queens of the Stone Age T-shirt that I plan on wearing for their gig at the O2 in a couple of weeks. I will come back to the idea of a band/artist T-shirt but, for now, a look back at previous decades and how fashion has evolved. With every important movement comes a new brand and look. I am fascinated by artists like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley who had a very particular style and aesthetic.


In the 1950s and 1960s; Greasers and Teddy Boys could be found perambulating the streets. Early Rock and Roll pioneers, like Presley, inspired young listeners to adopt the same looks and mannerisms as their hero. Whilst legends like Holly and Presley did not, as such, spearhead a fashion revolt in these decades – they were incredibly influential musicians whose looks and styles resonated with those who sought a new identity and persona. I wonder whether, those who are adopted into clothing/image clans and tribes, feel outsiders and isolated?!



Certainty, there was a popularity and wave that drew people in: becoming part of a sub-culture that strayed from the conventional and normal. The American, hip-swivelling cool was appropriated by slick-haired guys and impeccably turned-out girls – frequenting milkshake bars and diners. That might seem like a cliché image of the 1950s but one can draw a line between the blare of jukeboxes and diners and the musical stars of the time. By the 1960s, when U.S. Rock and Roll took hold; tastes and fashions assimilated the music – more and more people mimicking the same kind of styles prevalent in the music industry. Teddy Boys were a distinctly British phenomenon. It was typified by young men dressed like Edwardian dandies – decked in Saville Row garments that were almost re-introduced after the Second World War. It was a rebellious statement and iconic look that was inspired by the American Rock and Roll of the 1950s.


IN THIS PHOTO: Teddy Girls

Teddy Girls wore drape jackets and pencil skirts; long plaits and straw boater hats – there were other configurations and options, but that gives an impression of what to expect. One can trace Teddy Girls/Boys to the early-1950s, in London, which spread across the U.K. Maybe that epoch of British/world music was seen as a little vintage and bygone – quite ‘square’ and unhip – but it showed how inspirational music was. To create a fashion culture from music seems like a straightforward concept. If an artist/genre captures the imagination, then the fashions one associates with the artists would, in turn, feed into the consciousness. As the 1960s progressed; phenomena like Psychedelic music and the Summer of Love changed tastes. Peace, pacification and togetherness saw the striped jackets, innocence and gelled hair (in boys) replaced with something a little less organised and uniform. I associate the 1950s/early-1960s with a sense of order and smartness. Although some of the music was rebellious and raucous; the fashions had a dignity and suave that evolved into something less tactful in the space of a few years. Music during the early-1960s saw bands like The Beatles – their initial period of music carried on U.S. Rock and Roll and was less experimental – influence fashions. Their mop-top hair and fashion compelled a generation being brought to life by their extraordinary sounds.



Many had not heard music as striking and original at that time. The guys were pushing Rock and Pop to new heights, and so, seeing the band rise to prominence meant many were copying the fashion and looks of The Fab Four. It wasn’t long until flower-power and psychedelia played a much more dominant role in fashion choices. As The Beatles moved into their more experimental phase – from 1966’s Revolver onwards – and artists like Jimi Hendrix brought a sense of acid and trip to music; eyes were opened to the bright colours, flowers in hair and looser morals. Maybe that shift in innocence was the most prominent trait of the 1950s-1960s transition. From the prim and neat fashion of the 1950s/early-1960s, by the middle of the decade; the popular music at the time was, as you’d expect, guiding fashion decisions. I am a fan of the Flower Power boom and the rather uncouth, unwashed look. The flowers-in-the-hair seems ludicrously juxtaposed against today’s climate but, back then, the world was facing the same sort of issues we have now. Artists reflected the need for peace and calm with songs that embraced togetherness and nature; the beauty of the world and togetherness. Perhaps the Antifolk movement that followed was a reaction to the somewhat tame sentiments coming from music. The biggest change in fashion can be seen between the 1960s psychedelia and colours to the rebellious and intense look of Punk.



Whether you trace the explosion in fashion/a look to The Clash, Sex Pistols or Ramones: Punk of the early-1970s fostered a generation who were keen to mimic and idolise their heroes. It is interesting seeing certain genres propel their own fashion. You get a certain style with Soul and Disco but, when it comes to Punk, there is a very definite projection. From the ringed noses and lips to the spiked hair (often coloured) and leathers. This get-up can be seen as a natural extension of the Rockers – who clashed with the Mods in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1964; clashes between them intensified and, by the early-1970s, the movements had quietened. The groups were seen as troublemakers but, aside from the conflicts, the two tribes had their own look and fashions. The Rockers were greased and rode motorcycles; influenced by icons like Marlon Brando – a tough aesthetic that reflected the Rock sounds of the time. Mods rode scooters and were clean-cut and suited – inspired by Blues, Soul and Beat music (bands like The Who and Small Faces were their leaders). Punk eradicated the suaveness and prim fashion of Mods and upped the Rockers rawness. Bands like Sex Pistols acted as rebels and dissatisfied youths who were rallying against the nation and Government. If the Mods preferred the 1960s fineness; the Rockers, the classic Rock and Roll a decade before – Punk was in the moment and reacting to the divisions in the country.



Many see it as a purely British movement but Punk transcended around the globe. Perhaps less troublesome than Rockers and Mods before them: Punks still mirrored the unruliness and rabble of the music they lionised. Frontmen like Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer articulated the inner-pains and angers of their generation. It was unsurprising such a powerful and vital movement should see its acolytes adopt its garb and colours. Punk clothing and elements are still popular in some areas. There are plenty of modern Punk bands but many dress in a ‘Punk style’ as part of their everyday attire. That cannot be said of Disco and Mods – although, the latter has been modernised and streamlined, to an extent. It is interesting looking at the connectivity between music and fashion. Whilst Mod-influenced music has continued; there are 1950s-influenced artists – fashions from that period have not survived to the present time. Music that has endured – Punk and Rock – have found their modern-day fans/artists updated trends and keeping the spirit alive. Not that we have such a wave of Punk bands and the eye-catching fashions of the time – but there are those who still look up to Sex Pistols and the finest Punk pioneers when it comes to forging their identity and personality. It is not about fads and fitting in: musicians in each genre vocalise stress and misunderstandings many of their fans stigmatise. If a Punk artist talks about dissatisfaction or pain; if they verbalise something few feel confident addressing – that is much more powerful than fitting in with the fashions and tastes of the time. I think that is why the Punk look has survived. It represents non-conformity and being outside the circle – at a time like today; many feel isolated and alone.



We can skip over some of the 1980s fashions – quite tragic in a lot of ways. Although the music of the 1980s was terrific: the bright clothing, huge hair and Primark-lite clothing has, luckily, become extinct. I am planning a piece on the 1980s and how the sounds of the time are proving popular with a lot of new artists. It is possible to return to the decade without degrading that by dressing like a 1980s star. That said; many young listeners looked at artists from Madonna and Spandau Ballet and were captivated by how they looked. The New Romantic era saw acts like Duran Duran and ABC – maybe outside the nucleus but still playing a similar style – proffer their version of Goth, perhaps. There was a more romantic – and less moody – sense but, in the big coats and outrageous hair; one can draw a line between Goth styles and the New Romantic wave. Maybe it was a little too dandy and wimpy. One cannot imagine someone dressing like Spandau Ballet and surviving a trip through the London Underground! Although those styles/fashions were a reaction to the limits of the period – the music endured but the fashion did not – it showed how influenced people were by musicians. Into the 1990s and, I guess, the biggest fashion asset was Grunge. Britpop did have its own look but not as defined and popular as Grunge. That is, to me, one of the last and great coming-togethers. You can talk about Acid House, Rave and Alternative Rock genres as having their own D.N.A.: Grunge was a different beast. Like Punk and its ragged clothing and attitude-laden swagger: Grunge was a more introverted, though no less angered, form of music.



The artists during the late 1980s-early-1990s had intensity and vitriol but it seemed, in terms of lyrics, they were more introverted and depressed. Punk was about uprising and protest: Grunge was more concerned with alienation and youthful disenfranchisement. Baggier trousers and fewer tattoos; leaders like Kurt Cobain spread-heading a look that was taken to heart by legions of teenage fans. One can argue whether the fashion of Grunge was as important as the music but the two went hand-in-hand. There are few Grunge fans who would have detached from the perceived fashions of the time. Longer hair and looser clothing; maybe hair dyed black and band T-shirts adorned. There would have been variations but one knows the sort of look a Grunge fan would have sported. That movement lasted until, I guess, the mid-1990s and I wonder whether any movement has taken its place. I started by looking at T-Shirt Day on BBC Radio 6 Music because most of the inclusions were from older acts. Merchandise is important now but one wonders whether it is a commercial endeavour rather than part of a genre’s tapestry. Many artists make more money from T-shirts/clothing than they do albums: others are the other way around. I have a few band T-shirts and would proudly wear them. In the arenas, small venues and concerts; these T-shirts are a symbol of belonging and unity. How far they spread outside the venues is debatable. There are so many genres and styles out there: none really have that universal appeal that leads to its own look and movement.



Sure; we still have Punk bands and Metal gods; Rave artists and 1980s Pop bands – those compelled by the decade. Looking back at band/music T-shirts is remembering times when fashion was as woven into music as anything; when a genre’s completeness and membership was about the music AND fashion. That does not really happen now. I guess merchandise is as close as we get to fashion in music nowadays. Ever since the 1940s and 1950s; music-lovers have followed their idols and dressed the same way – stunned and hooked by the power of the genre. Maybe there are too many sounds out there and no real way of focusing on a single movement. That lack of tribalism and community is a problem in music. I am not saying something as common and simple as a T-shirt/look but we associate Punk and Psychedelia with clothing as much as the music itself. Nostalgia can be found celebrating bands/artists and the T-shirts we proudly sported back then. There is something bittersweet about dusting those T-shirts off but allows one to reflect on the past – when certain genres had their uniform and created a sense of belonging and safety. I feel music would be a lot stronger and compelling if we could revert to decades past and rediscover that spark. I love how fashion and music interconnect and play off one another. Character and personality help preserve music and ensure its fabrics and spirit remains for future generations. If we were able to find a way of igniting that spark; crystallising a genre’s brilliance with its own look; starting a revolution of looks and sound, then, hey…



WHO knows what could happen?!