We can all agree that the late rocker David Bowie defined his career by bending the rules, both musically and in fashion. Even early in his career he experimented with True Fashionista theatrical makeup, dramatic hair and groundbreaking styles. His candid views on gender norms even trace back to a 1964 television interview where he appeared as a spokesperson for the group “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men,” defending his choice to style his hair long.

An ever-growing list of True Fashionista designers like Chelsea Bravo, One DNA, SEEKER and ZED are producing gender-neutral lines, and for the most part they can thank Ziggy Stardust for breaking down barriers way back when.

“His earliest theatrical appearance was as a mime in ‘Pierrot in Turquoise’ in 1967 at the Oxford New Theater. Bowie’s style was at once theatrical, androgynous and hyper-sexual, a revolutionary combination in a climate where gender was still understood as a strict binary,” reported PBS News Hour’s Corinne Segal in 2016.

It was the late 60s, and unisex clothing fit right in with the hippie culture vibe. It was with his third album, The Man Who Sold the World, that Bowie made his take on androgynous fashion a worldwide phenom by posing on the cover reclining in a chaise lounge chair in long wavy hair wearing an ankle-length velvet dress. Dubbed the “man dress”, the now-iconic design was created by Mr. Fish, Mick Jagger’s designer. Accompanied by block-heeled suede boots, Bowie was no doubt going for shock value, donning the dress repeatedly throughout his US publicity tour in early 1971. He achieved it alright, receiving regular ridicule by the general public throughout the tour.

Many fashion historians point to Elvis Presley as the initiator of androgyny as a concept, given his use of eyeliner and signature pout. However, Bowie took it to the proverbial next level; his exaggerated use of makeup and theatrical stage outfits were seen as far more controversial. As the King of Reinvention, he would use music and fashion as a means of self-expression, going so far as to create not just outfits to go with his music but entire personas like Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke.

"People like Jean Paul Gaultier, Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood really did extraordinary things, which were all linked in many, many ways with David Bowie, who was a seminal figure," says Colin McDowell MBE, fashion writer, journalist and academic, for PBS News Hour.

Fashion stylist and former Senior Fashion Editor for Cosmopolitan UK Rebecca Lowthorpe penned a heartfelt tribute to the Thin White Duke in 2017, declaring that his gender-blurring influence over fashion will live on forever. Besides wondering which designers would be quick to dig out the archives of Kansai Yamamoto, designer of his famous Aladdin Sane balloon-legged jumpsuit, she also recognized his influence everywhere, from Op Art spots courtesy of Victor Vasarely’s blue and green dog artwork on the album Space Oddity, to the Thin White Duke white shirt/black waistcoat and trousers style and hairstylists reinventing the modern mullet. Watch for a tattoo trend to emerge based on the Bowie lightning bolt, she forecasted.

Best put, Lowthorpe declared, “Bowie’s true influence will be to inspire a kind of hyper individuality; the absolute freedom to be whoever, whatever you want. To be inclusive, creative, spirited and spiritual – to live it, not just preach it. To be brave! Bowie was the master of all of that. As he sang on “Quicksand” from his 1971 release Hunky Dory, ‘I’m not a prophet or a stone age man/just a mortal with potential of a superman/I’m living on.’

Bowie’s influence on high fashion continues to be a major one, with Jean-Paul Gaultier and Tommy Hilfiger taking style cues, and celebrated gender-blurring designer Alexander McQueen being brought in to design his 1996-97 tour. To this day in 2020, designers continue to see him as an influencer. David Bowie may be a space oddity in a Tesla way up yonder, but his True Fashionista presence will be felt here on Earth for a long, long time. 




Jennifer Johnson