How David Bowie paved the way for modern menswear – on what would have been his 73rd birthday

How David Bowie paved the way for modern menswear – on what would have been his 73rd birthday

Few figures have influenced the worlds of music, fashion and beyond like David Bowie, who would’ve turned 73 on January 8.

The musician died in 2016 from liver cancer, but throughout his career, the visuals were just as important as the music he made. Style was an integral to Bowie’s maverick personality – he was always reinventing himself.

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Menswear has seen something of a red carpet renaissance in recent years – largely thanks to people like Timothée Chalamet and Billy Porter – and Bowie’s influence can be keenly felt in this new wave of stylish dressers. Here’s how…

He was a style chameleon

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From Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Halloween Jack to the Thin White Duke, every few years brought a new Bowie character – along with a distinctive new look. The Londoner set a standard against boring dressing, because why would you stick to the same look when you can try something new whenever you feel like it?

He walked a line between masculine and feminine

Wearing heels with son Zowie in 1974 (PA)
Wearing heels with son Zowie in 1974 (PA)

Long before Jaden Smith started wearing skirts, Bowie was proving men needn’t stick to rigid gender fashion norms. He wasn’t afraid to wear high heels, loved a feminine silhouette and certainly wouldn’t turn his nose up at a skirt.

In fact, Bowie famously wore a dress on the cover of his third album, The Man Who Sold The World, and went on to consistently experiment with androgeny – which was fairly out there in the Seventies and Eighties.

Wearing a metallic tank top onstage in 1995 (Fiona Hanson/PA)
Wearing a metallic tank top onstage in 1995 (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Bowie frequently collaborated with Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto, who was responsible for many outfits from his Ziggy Stardust phase. Yamamoto told The Cut: “Today, lesbian and gay people today are gaining more rights and acceptance, but when I was working with David, that community did not have the same rights. So I found David’s aesthetic and interest in transcending gender boundaries shockingly beautiful.”

He wasn’t afraid to dress-up

A mural in Brixton of Bowie (Anthony Devlin/PA)
A mural in Brixton of Bowie (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Bowie was a master of playing dress-up – much like Billy Porter today. The glam rock of Ziggy Stardust, the iconic lightning bolt make-up of Aladdin Sane (thought to represent a split personality), the mod rock vibe of the Thin White Duke in a powder blue Yves Saint Laurent suit or the space clown costume from the Ashes To Ashes video, you can’t say Bowie didn’t commit to a theme.

Each look and character contained layers of meaning – every fashion and beauty choice appeared carefully considered.

David Bowie GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Interestingly, in a 2003 interview with Complex Bowie noted that his “fascination with clothes generally was motivated by trying to create the characters for the stage”, while in day-to-day life he was “much happier just wearing the most low-profile things that I can come up with just so I can get down the street… [fashion] doesn’t rule my life at all, fortunately.”

He played around with traditional suiting

Mixing patterns and materials in 1987 (PA)
Mixing patterns and materials in 1987 (PA)

Timothée Chalamet has stolen hearts with his unusual suits, and we wouldn’t bame him for taking inspiration from Bowie, who wasn’t averse to tailoring.  He really experimented with suiting – think loose jackets, interesting materials and bright colours.

Wearing a mint green suit onstage in 1992 (Neil Munns/PA)
Wearing a mint green suit onstage in 1992 (Neil Munns/PA)

He never said no to pattern or colour

Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust phase in 1973 (PA)
Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust phase in 1973 (PA)

The way Bowie experimented with pattern and colour would be revolutionary today.

He paved the way for modern male celebrities to mix up their colour palettes and showed you absolutely don’t have to stick to a boring black tux on the red carpet.

In 1997 with his wife, the model Iman (Lucy Husband/PA)
In 1997 with his wife, the model Iman (Lucy Husband/PA)

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