• Danny Kilmartin

A Brief History of Music and Fashion

We look back at the symbiotic relationship and history between music and fashion.

It’s fair to say that music and fashion go hand-in-hand. Once a style is noticed within the music industry, whether it’s the rise of grime or the post-punk revival, it’s safe to bet that it will be followed by a matching style popping up in the fashion industry to some degree. It’s an intricate relationship.

It’s obvious that the music industry has played a big part in influencing what style is in - some glaring examples include punk rock, grunge and the rising urban sound. All of these aesthetics were conditioned by music but seeped into the world of fashion. Music is one of the biggest influences on society and culture at large and its impact on the fashion industry is unparalleled. Every icon, from Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson to Britney Spears, has in some way or another had a part to play on the biggest fads.

We have seen many collaborations between clothing brands and artists over the course of time. Pharrell Williams became co-owner of G-Star Raw in 2016, while P. Diddy founded Sean John in 1998. Kanye West has taken his vision from Nike to Adidas while Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma collection was a roaring success. It’s all relative.

The symbiotic relationship between music and fashion can be traced back to the 1960s. Here began the shift from fashion being aimed at high society to youth society. This paradigm shift coincided with a global, cultural shift. A time of political turmoil saw the musicians of the day provide a voice to the disillusioned and disenfranchised. Music began to affect how people dressed and as people’s political views began to veer further left-of-centre, fashion became racier and more expressive.

It all kicked off in the United Kingdom, coinciding with Beatlemania and the British Invasion. Bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks were distinctive in their uniform-like approach to presentation. Mod fashion was also on the rise. Swinging London became the cultural capital of the world and with it came the invention of the mini skirt by designer Mary Quant and the rise of the supermodel with the likes of Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton filling magazines and catalogues the world over.

Of course, the ‘60s also birthed Woodstock, hippies and the peace movement, with musicians like Jimi Hendrix at the forefront of the music industry. The hippie counterculture started in San Francisco, California, spreading messages of free love, drugs and a kaleidoscopic, colourful aesthetic that came to be known as psychedelia. This saw men and women alike adorn looser-fitting clothes, bright paisley prints and tie-dye. The Summer of Love had a big impact on fashion, all kicked off by what was pushed by the music industry. The carefree nature of the music imbued itself into the style of the time. Towards the end of the decade, folk-rock began to surface. The likes of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell championed the cause of the working man and with it, its everyday wear. Denim shirts and army jackets became all the rage. The boundaries broken down throughout the course of the ‘60s are still influential to this day, with the likes of Tommy Hilfiger seeking a break from modernity to hearken back to that era.

The late ‘70s saw the rise of punk rock and with it one of the UK’s most well-renowned fashion designers in Vivienne Westwood. Westwood and her partner and future husband Malcolm McLaren arguably carved the movement themselves – McLaren being the manager of the infamous Sex Pistols. Together, they would design the outfits the band wore on stage and in public appearances and reflected the influence of their former centre of business – a bondage gear shop named Sex. PVC, leather, safety pins, spiky dog collars, chains and chokers, ripped charity shop threads were all in as well as outlandish makeup and hairstyles.

This is where the lines in the relationship begin to blur. Westwood was less inspired by the music to create her looks as much as her designs were created specifically for the scene but the genesis of the punk movement in the UK itself came from McLaren’s time spent in New York and having seen and heard The Ramones and New York Dolls, and his impetus to form, manage and profit from the transatlantic counterpart.

‘90s grunge is a huge point of discussion. In 1992, the Seattle scene went global with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam releasing platinum-selling albums and alternative rock becoming a viable commodity after bubbling under the surface for most of the ‘80s. With it came a shabby, careless approach to style. Leather jackets, flannel shirts, acid wash and ripped jeans, cardigans and oversized jumpers became the norm and Kurt Cobain an unlikely fashion icon. In both music and fashion, he counteracted the flash of the ‘80s, his penchant for thrift store lumberjack wear and the occasional drab dress at odds with the forced androgyny and misogyny of the hair metal scene and in favour of something more authentic and challenging of gender politics.

Grunge would eventually hit the catwalk. Marc Jacobs presented a show for Perry Ellis in 1992 that mixed grunge garb with high fashion. Models strode for cameras in beanies, floral dresses and silk plaid print shirts. Vogue Magazine would later run a spread featuring Naomi Campbell in the style. The unkempt slacker style would eventually die down after Cobain’s suicide and the decline of grunge but not forever. The style would resurface in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s, even being appropriated by prominent figures in the hip hop movement.

There is no doubt that music and fashion stand, grow and change together. As new sounds appear on the airwaves, our shop windows and catalogues reflect it. It’s been clear to see time and time again over the course of modern history and will be seen time and time again as both continue to develop.

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