Punk, grunge, glam—there has long been a link between fashion and music. And there have long been artists who have linked their looks to their work, supporting their artistic output in ways that are as much an extension of their concept as album art. The Beatles used fashion to transition through their musical eras, as have Elvis, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. But no one changed the game quite like David Bowie. The way he embodied his work—crafting personae that leapt from the album on to the stage—was revolutionary. While he has been praised over the years for his creative fashion sense, and his ability to reinvent himself, his biggest success in both of these areas came from how he evolved his style in tandem with his musical shifts, and never left a detail unaccounted.
As Bowie’s musical style shifted away from glam rock, so too did his fashion. With Young Americans in 1975 his look featured tailored suits—an important part of his Thin White Duke character that emerged a year later with his 1976 album Station to Station. Though completely different from the notable characters that came before it, the Duke was still perfectly articulated through fashion, even if it seemed simple at first glance. Bowie himself described the character as “a very Aryan, fascist-type; a would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all but who spouted a lot of neo-romance.” With bleached blond hair, and white shirt/black trouser combination devoid of any warmth, the Duke’s personality was easily communicated because it was well-developed and intentional.
In a way, all clothing is a costume. It’s our way of portraying ourselves to the world as we want to be seen. Naturally, those in the public eye take things a step further, not only ensuring that we understand their message, but also entertaining to an audience. But what fans can see through looking at Bowie’s clothes is not only the growth of a musician, of a writer, of an artist, but also that of a regular man, simply portraying his ideas, and his work, as he wanted it to be seen. Of course, he was a musical genius. Of course, he was a fashion icon. That he connected the two is why he will be forever be remembered as a legendary artist.