How David Bowie pushed the boundaries of gendered fashion
LONDON — David Bowie, the legendary rock singer who died Sunday at the age of 69, was a powerful fashion force who catapulted androgynous fashion into mainstream culture and transcended the boundaries of gendered clothing.
During his decades-long career, Bowie's innovation and tireless creativity was not only reflected in his iconic music, but also in the trailblazing style his fans seldom managed to keep up with.
Bowie is best known as a performer who adopted and cast off a plethora of alter egos, including Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke and Major Tom. But Bowie was also the first mainstream music star to bring gender-bending fashion centre stage. Bowie's androgyny knew no bounds; from his scarlet red mullet to his piercing neon-blue eye makeup, his flamboyant makeup and experimental hairstyles revolutionised masculine fashions in the 1970s, setting trends for both men and women alike.
Bowie performed in heels; he sported dresses, blouses and crotch-hugging jumpsuits; he painted his face with neon colours and glitter, all while oozing sex appeal and nonchalance that made it impossible to see gender-bending as anything other than cool.
For Bowie, however, this rejection of conventional masculinity was not just about gender — it was about shirking what it meant to be human. "I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human," Bowie once said in an interview.
"I felt very puny as a human. I thought, 'F*ck that. I want to be a superhuman.'"
In 1970, the world first took note of the 23-year-old, long-haired, androgynous oddity from Brixton after he released his album The Man Who Sold The World. This album heavily influenced the glitter-soaked glam rock decade that followed, but the look that accompanied the album cemented Bowie as a style icon whose legacy still endures today.
Yet, in 1970, Bowie's brazen femininity was a bold and risky move. It had been a mere three years since homosexuality was legalised in the UK, and the Gay Liberation Front had just been established in response to growing concerns over widespread homophobia.
In a tribute to Bowie, British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman wrote of the extent of Bowie's style influence on youth culture during the 1970s. "My friends and I looked to David for our style inspiration," she said.
"The covers of Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Ziggy Stardust were our moodboards. Shaven eyebrows, mullet hair, pale skin, blue and pink eye make-up were all attempted with varying degrees of success."
"The 'swishy satin and tat' of Queen Bitch was our look of choice. We spent all our pocket money on skinny silk scarves from Biba, Forties tea dresses from Kensington Market, panne velvet loons from the Jean Machine, multicoloured platform boots from Sacha," Schulman continued.
Bowie's pirate-inspired ensemble — complete with eye-patch — became his era-defining, signature look. The painfully tight crotch and high-waisted body suit paired with a feminine blouse encapsulated the glamorous camp sensibility at the heart of glam rock.
Dylan Jones, editor-in-chief of UK GQ, told Mashable: "You only have to look at the wild array of designs on show at London Collections Men to see just how influential Bowie was in terms of gender fluidity. This generation wouldn't be this generation without him."
Bowie's impact on the fashion world is a significant one. During a decade of recession and discord, Bowie made fashion fun and accessible for generations young and old. He reinvented what it meant to be masculine by wearing women's clothing and makeup. The ease with which he pulled off these looks made androgyny — an erstwhile social taboo — the new normal.
BONUS: Remembering the music of David Bowie across 6 decades
Watch the video on the link on top of post.