// by Gemma O’Sullivan //
Pushing boundaries of fashion as far as possible, David Bowie was a revolutionary zeitgeist who could turn his hand to almost any look.
Mod, hippy, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, Bowie went through more dramatic style reinventions than any other musician in history. With his transformations he brought about cultural shifts, changing what it meant to be a popular rock star. He pushed boundaries and always managed to radiate tastemaker cool, shaving eyebrows, wearing towering heels, and sporting a bright orange mullet.
Bowie was music’s greatest chameleon, changing his look with every new release or tour, playing with costume and alter egos. Other artists had experimented with taking on roles, like The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but no-one has ever lived their personas in the way Bowie did. He gave depth to every character he created.
A rock-star-come-alien was created for the album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’. Bowie’s sexually ambiguous Stardust persona, most notable for flaming orange hair, is one of the most enduring and iconic images in popular culture. Wearing a skin-tight bodysuit, Stardust caused a sensation when he appeared on Top of the Pops in 1972 for a performance of ‘Starman’.
Stardust was followed by Aladdin Sane, depicted on the 1973 album of the same name with a red and blue lightning bolt painted on his face, which has become the staple of many Bowie costumes since. He created another persona in 1976, the Thin White Duke, an extension of Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien which Bowie portrayed in the sci-fi film, ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. A much sharper dresser than Stardust, the Thin White Duke appeared in a sharp suit, white shirt and loosened tie, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
Bowie could refashion himself into whatever he wanted, and both sound and vision were of utmost importance to his enduring allure. A prime example of how clothes are a way of projecting self-expression, he showed how fashion was a powerful tool of communicating individuality. By promoting the challenging of conventions and freedom in costume, he introduced both androgyny and sexual fluidity into the mainstream, giving generations of teens permission to play with their own identities.
Take a look at some of Bowie’s most iconic looks:
1. ‘Life on Mars?’ music video (1971)
Ice-blue suit designed by Freddie Burretti
2. Aladdin Sane tour (1973)
Design by Kansai Yamamoto
3. Performing ‘Rebel Rebel’ on Dutch television (1974)
Open shirt, red trousers, and his famous Ziggy Stardust haircut
4. Station to Station tour (1976)
As the Thin White Duke persona, who sung of intense romance whilst feeling nothing
5. Pierrot costume from ‘Ashes to Ashes’ music video (1980)
Pierrot costume by Natasha Korniloff