Prince's Fashion Expanded the Notion of Masculinity

Prince's Fashion Expanded the Notion of Masculinity

Remembering a fashion legacy as revolutionary as his music.

Remembering a fashion legacy as revolutionary as his music.

Text: Jacob Seferian

Few dispute Prince's status as a musical innovator, but the late rock star also expanded the horizons of men's fashion.

Male shoulder pads, eyeliner, and ruffles enjoyed a heavy rotation in the '80s, but for many glam rock acts, these served more as a provocation or gimmick. Prince's commitment to flamboyance was a genuine form of expression. Wearing heels in what, at first, might've been an attempt to add some height to his slight 5'3" frame, developed into a lifelong exploration of fashion.

"Would you let me dress you / I mean, help you pick out your clothes before we go out," he sung on "If I Was Your Girlfriend." A track in which he begs his lover to share with him a level of intimacy she might with a female best friend. On the surface it's tongue-and-cheek, but the lyrics also offer an interesting take on gender dynamics within relationships. The same subtle gender play can be seen in his style.

Polka dots, fringe, you name it and Prince probably wore it. Nothing was too feminine for the late singer, and soon his eccentric outfits became synonymous with his stage persona; a show in and of themselves. Can you think of Purple Rain without seeing those studded shoulder pads?

But while his fashion turned heads, it was also subversive. His success is proof that the mainstream can accept different iterations of masculinity. And while many have debated Prince's orientation, none questioned his sexual prowess (perhaps because he sings of it so explicitly in his catalogue). Operating in the Reagan Era, where queer men were demonized for their deviation from gender norms, a man wearing skin-tight leather and eyeshadow sung of his female conquests and was not only believed, but exalted around the globe. Well, that wasn't nothing.

So today, on the first anniversary of his death, we salute Prince for not only his pioneering music, but his radical style. For more Prince, revisit our V84 cover story with the musical icon.

Credits: Photos Courtesy of @princelivethebest Instagram Account, Cover Image via @gameofcarpets

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