Rock ‘n roll may be all about the swagger, but it’s also about the style. While the most musicians make a name with their music, in many of those cases it was a distinctive fashion statement that made fans take note, furthering their fascination. A certain look can define an artist’s persona, attitude and the way they set themselves apart. It’s been that way ever since the beginning, and it continues to be that way today.
While not every fashionable musician started a trend, everyone on this list reflected the era that they were a part of, from the evolving attitudes of the ‘50s, through the psychedelic ‘60s, from punk precepts to the sophisticated styles of the ‘70s and beyond. Starting from the official beginning of rock ‘n roll, here are 24 of the most influential fashion icons in music.
1. Elvis Presley
Elvis may have ushered in a musical revolution, but it was his daring look that made parents shudder with apprehension. His slicked back hair and black leather jackets earned him a reputation as the king of cool, but he was also confident enough in his masculinity to adopt pink shirts and saddleback shoes. He turned fashion on its ear. Never mind the capes, jumpsuits and bellbottoms of his later years; it’s the young punk Elvis that defined the rock regimen early on.
2. Little Richard
Any number of artists have blurred the lines when it comes to sexual suggestion (see also: Boy George, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie). But, it was Little Richard who did it first and in many cases, did it best, shocking the elders of the Eisenhower era with his towering pompadour, pencil thin mustache, garish garb and mounds of make-up. It was all about the attitude, a quality that Richard boasted of in abundance.
3. Buddy Holly
While Buddy wasn’t an extravagant dresser by any means—he maintained a respectable wardrobe comprised of stylish suits and thin black ties—his black rimmed glasses became an instantly identifiable trademark that persisted long after his passing. Geeks and nerds everywhere could immediately take heart; cool and charisma don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
4. The Beatles
turned the fashion world upside down, going from the leather look of their early days through to the matching suits with velvet collars and their collarless jackets, before evolving into the Sgt. Pepper uniforms and psychedelic styles that made such an indelible impression in their later years. Taking their cues from the haberdasheries of Carnaby Street and the King’s Row, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr commanded attention from the get go, first with long hair (although their locks were quite conservative by today’s standards), and then with scarves, furs, and the colorful accoutrements that they touted in their short-lived Apple boutique. If you want a definition of ‘60s chic, look no further than the Fab Four.
5. The Rolling Stones
Although they professed to be tougher, edgier, and far more aggressive, the Stones also made their mark as followers of fashion. Early on, it was Brian Jones who set the style, often performing in natty-looking suits before switching to kaftans, beads and bellbottoms. Drummer Charlie Watts looked dapper in the ‘70s and ‘80s, showing his penchant for tailored suits and a look that was every bit the gentleman even while working up a sweat behind the traps. Mick and Keef deserve credit these days, even as they edge their way toward their mid seventies, they still play the role of agitated rockers, Jagger with his tight trousers and short jackets, Richards with his tangle of hair, braids and bandanas. Roll on, lads. Roll on.
6. The Kinks
Granted, those red hunting jackets made a rather odd impression early on, but they did offer a signature look that got the band much needed attention. These days, Ray Davies remains a dedicated follower of fashion, opting for caps and a more conservative apparel, the look of an elder statesman with a deft delivery and astute observation.
7. The Who
Those Union Jack sport coats were the pure definition of Carnaby Street chic, but it was Pete Townshend’s gold suits and fluffy shirts as well as Roger Daltrey’s fringed jackets, mass of curls and bare chested bravado that gave The Who their presence and panache.
8. Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix was the epitome of the psychedelic showman—from his massive afro to his velvet bellbottomed trousers, multi-hued scarves, paisley prints, military jackets and the kaleidoscopic coats that boasted all manner of dazzling designs. Jimi’s stage antics aside, he was an imposing figure onstage and off.
9. Janis Joplin
Joplin supposedly never thought of herself as pretty, yet as one of the more striking singers of the late ‘60s, she was a whirlwind of color and creative fashion. She made oversized sunglasses an essential element for every self-respecting rocker (regardless of gender), and turned velvet bellbottoms into must-wear apparel. She still sets the standard when it comes to both her frenzy and flamboyance.
10. Jim Morrison
Jim’s been dead nearly 45 years, but the girls still gasp when they peer at a picture that shows him shirtless, bedecked in leather pants, beads, long wavy locks, and a look that’s both sensual and sexual. He still sets the standard for every singer aiming for seduction.
11. Iggy Pop
Iggy could never get by on looks alone, and his self inflicted wounds didn’t add to his allure. Nevertheless, his taut, bare chested, well-chiseled, leather clad look made him a punk icon before punk was even invented. Now nearly 70, this svelte superstar is still going strong, not to mention shirtless.
12. David Bowie
An androgynous image first brought Bowie looks of wonder and amazement, but it was his Ziggy Stardust persona that gained him fame. Looking like an alien from outer space, his stacked red hair, sleek spacesuit, shaved eyebrows and otherworldly expressions provided him with one of the most readily identifiable images of the early ‘70s and well beyond. He later morphed into the Thin White Duke, a GQ-like persona ready to make the upper tiers of any best dressed list. A fashion plate by any other name could never best Bowie.