David Bowie – Style Icon and Gender Chameleon

David Bowie’s constantly evolving relationship with masculine and feminine clothing earned him the rightful status of both a queer icon and a fashion pioneer.

His influence is still felt today in modern pop stars like Lady Gaga and Madonna, and rightfully so. He changed the way we see both what style, gender and musicians can be, by exploring androgyny in ways rarely seen in his generation! By not confining himself to one single category of fashion, gender expression and music, he cemented himself as an icon for the ages.

Bowie had many alter egos, each with dramatically contrasting styles. Some of his most well known looks/personas were Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke. Let’s take a look at them both in order to figure out why Bowie’s style is still worshipped today.

Ziggy Stardust was the character Bowie debuted with his album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bowie described this persona as an omnisexual rock star alien, sent to earth to spread a message of peace before the apocalypse. The outlandish narrative behind this character was reflected in his highly theatrical clothing. One of the character’s most well known looks features a red mullet, a striped jumpsuit with wide shoulders and a plunging collar, and a circular emblem on an eyebrow-less forehead. His clothes don’t quite fit into any heteronormative notion of masculine or feminine, and thus was one of the first examples of Bowie’s flirtation with the androgyny he was so well known for.

The Thin White Duke, in contrast, is relatively simple, and one of Bowie’s most traditionally masculine looks. Loosely inspired by his character in The Man Who Fell to Earth, the Duke’s style consisted of a baggy white shirt with a black waistcoat and black trousers. He also had short, styled hair and pale skin. Inspired by German Expressionism and fuelled by an exorbitant amount of drugs, the Duke showed that Bowie could conform to traditional male style – if he chose to. But he could just as easily dress in a feminine or androgynous manner.   

Another example of Bowie dressing in an unorthodox way was on the cover of his 1971 album Hunky Dory. With a dress and long blond hair, he posed in a “feminine” manner. He did something similar with the cover of The Man Who Sold The World, where he reclines on a couch, with long hair and an unusually cut dress that toes the line between masculine and feminine.

 

The contrast between the flamboyance of Ziggy Stardust as well as some of his album cover looks, and the sophisticated look of the Duke transmitted a clear message – why restrict yourself to one side of the gender spectrum when you can explore all sides? You can look good in both masculine and feminine clothes, regardless of your gender, and Bowie proved this! In fact, he challenged the idea of gendered clothing altogether.

It is Bowie’s chameleon-esque approach to fashion and gender that makes him such an icon in both respects. We hadn’t seen anyone like him when he first emerged, and it is possible that we never will again. He helped to pave the way to a more liberal view of sexuality, gender and fashion, and his legacy will stretch on and out into the cosmos for years to come.

About the author

Jessica Wilkinson

Jess is a undergraduate student studying English at the University of York. She has a passion for Vintage style, Sustainable Fashion and loves to write. 

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