Tracing Trends of Fashion through Music

By Sonya Rehman

For decades, music and fashion has seemed to have gone hand in hand – where a majority of ‘aural artists’ (of both the past and the present) have deemed it almost ‘necessary’ to manifest the personality of their music into what they wear, and how they wear it.

The examples are infinite: from Chaka Khan’s enormously frizzed hair, Kurt Cobain’s grubby, long-sleeved plaid shirts and scruffy jeans, Elton John’s sequincey suits, crazy hats, over the top dark glasses and rings, Marilyn Manson’s black lipstick, coloured contact lenses and freak-show get-ups, Noor Jehan’s silk sari’s, satin rose chokers, elaborate eye-makeup and rouged cheeks, to ‘Kiss’ – the band’s super hero-ish costumes, black and white bat-inspired makeup and massive, glittery go-go boots…the list goes on.


Pre-1960 – such as the 30s, 40s and even the 50s, a musician/singer’s get-up wasn’t as ‘out there’ or even as fashionably diverse as it is today.

Apart from Elvis’ bizarre, tight jump suits and long capes – embellished with diamantes and sequinces – no other artist’s apparel really ‘stood out’.
Artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Fats Domino, Perry Como, Edith Piaf, The Four Tops, Johnny Cash and so on, churned out music so radical and so revolutionary for their time – that the emphasis on styling and fashion was given a bit of a backseat.

This is not to state that the pioneers of jazz, rock and hip hop dressed dowdy…far from it.
They dressed according to their times – but their music and vocal dexterity happened to make statement enough.
But it was only until the onset of the glam, hippy 60s that brought with it a tsunami of fashion – which made its way into almost every genre of music.

And it made an impact – no matter how small or large, it did – making the union between music, styling and fashion almost inseparable for the decades of music and genres to come.

The rebellious ‘make love, not war’ explosion in the West (in the mid 60s) – stemming from the Vietnam War and the widespread ‘trend’ that bent towards psychedelic, hallucinogen drugs – spoke of a defiant generation – a ‘new wave’ of non-conformists, and flower children amidst war, battered soldiers, racial inequality, civil rights and the assassination of Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr. and US President John F. Kennedy.

From bands/musicians such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Cat Stevens, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors – and many others; the political instability, the drug popping psychosomatic self-abuse and the discovery of psychedelic tunes, all brought about a massive ‘revolution’ (so to speak) in the way fashion and music’s path was to be paved out.

Throughout the 60s and the 70s, music and fashion (now joined at the hip) – complemented each other – with Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin’s lead vocalist) in his brightly coloured, tight bell-bottoms and boots, and his shirt buttons open (waist down) as he shook his frizzy, long golden hair in rhythm to Zeppelin hits such as ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – Plant made a very definite, style statement.

The Beatles’ get-up also reflected their music – with their bowl-shaped, identical haircuts and their suits – bobbing their heads in unison, Lennon, McCartney, Starr and Harrison’s garb spoke of a playful boyishness, just as their music.
Think Bob Marley too, with his long dreadlocks – smiling, singing and swaying – unpretentious, easy-going and reggae-trippy…that was so very Marley.

Remember Boney M and Earth, Wind & Fire? That was pop disco at its best – and in addition to their groovy little disco numbers, their outfits were as bell-bottom-galore, wild, and sparkly-technicolour as their music.
Interestingly, female musicians such as Tina Turner, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross – all sported bouffant hairstyles – maxed out and curled, frizzed and permed to high heavens.

With vocal chords that stretched beyond ‘normal’ octaves, their hairdos gave each black, female artist that extra oomph, and that extra bit of swinging, above average, hair pizzazz.

Apart from acting for over three decades, South Asia’s sparkly-eyed girl, Noor Jehan, carried a very distinctive sense of style when she progressed onto playback singing (for local films) and a renowned career in music.
Back in the day, standing on the sets of PTV, Noor Jehan would sing – dressed in her signature silk sari’s (and matching flower chokers), with diamonds on her fingers, wrists and ear lobes, and eyeliner – stretched thick and long beyond the end of her eyelids.

With one hand holding the pallu of her sari, and the other – moving in rhythm to the music, Noor Jehan’s overall ‘look’ was every bit glamorous, loud, and striking.
And who can forget the glorious 80s?

With mad-glam-rockers such as; Poison, Kiss, Whitesnake and Guns n’ Roses, men with razor-cut fringes, long hair, leather pants, makeup and bling was standard.

And to emphasize their sound, rock bands of the 80s dressed in apparel similar to the persona of their tunes – untamed and feral, wild-child-living-on-the-edge.
Madonna, Prince, De La Soul, The Cure, Tears for Fears, the Bangles, David Bowie, and locally; (sibling) singing sensations Nazia and Zoheb Hasan – the 80s paved the path for fashion through music further – taking off from where the 60s and the 70s left off.

So what did the 80s have in terms of fashion and styling, that the predeceasing two hippy decades didn’t?
Plastic bauble earrings/hoops, the racy ‘Madonna look’ (bleached blond hair, red lipstick, and cone-shaped brassieres), Sinbad styled parachute pants (thanks to MC Hammer making them look ‘cool’ in ‘Can’t Touch This’), Michael Jackson footwear (black moccasins and white socks) and leather biker jackets, skinny jeans, leotards and oversized t-shirts – that in a nutshell was the style sheet of the ‘bubblegum 80s’.
See how important fashion was (and is) to artists?

Imagine your favourite singers minus the glitz; would it affect your opinion of them? Would their popularity ratings fall? Would their sales be affected?
Apart from singing/playing songs – bands and musicians also advertise and encourage fashion, hairstyles and fads – either subconsciously or consciously, it winds up effecting thousands of fans and viewers.
And other than projecting a certain thought process, idea and/or belief (through their music), musicians also project a personality…an alter ego.

Just think for a moment; when an angst-ridden, pimple-faced teen listens to gangster rap – he wants to embrace the gangster look, disposition and lifestyle (eek) – in addition to the music.
Similarly, when a fat twelve-year old with pigtails is inspired by Britney Spears, she dreams of looking and singing just like her favourite pop star. So in this way, listeners – whether young or old – simply don’t just want to incorporate their all time favourite band/musician’s tunes into their lives, but also their physical makeup.
Locally, apart from Noor Jehan, Nazia Hasan was the only other Pakistani female artist to adopt a sense of style in her videos and public appearances in the 80s.

They weren’t however as loud or as garishly cool as the fashion of that era, but Nazia’s sophisticated apparel reflected the times.

In the music video, ‘Aag’, Nazia’s featured wearing a white and shimmery blouse, padded-at-the-shoulders and in ‘Dum dum dee dee’ she sports a pretty pink dress – to complement the video’s Alice in Wonderland theme. Even in the rest of her videos, Nazia’s either dressed in bell-bottoms, pretty shalwar kameezes, or blouses with pants. And for a Pakistani female singer so well-known and clearly no small fish, being dressed so sophisticatedly for that era…was big.
In comparison to the 60s, 70s and 80s, the 90s came across as a slightly cleaner, and more temperate in terms of fashion and music – not completely – but to some extent. Sure the 90s had its fair share of wonky upside-down-iron crew cuts (Vanilla Ice) and shock value fashion (freak show rocker-shocker, Marilyn Manson) and kohl-eyed Gothicism (punk rockers Green Day), but the 90s brought with it the genre of grubby, soulful, non-conformist grunge – all the way from the heart Seattle.

And what grunge it was. Dressed in rumpled t-shirts, scuffed sneakers, worn-out jeans, and with wind-blown hair – members of bands such as Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and the Stone Temple Pilots, each raised their hands and showed a finger in unison – to their bubblegum disco, shock-rock counterparts – to spin on. Grunge not only was a break-through genre in the 90s, but it was also a lifestyle – a fashion statement, a ‘get out of my face, punk’ attitude.


Locally, with his fluffy Rambo-style haircut, jeans and sneakers, Sajjad Ali looked like any ol’ Joe off the street in the 90s singing ‘Cinderella mera intezaar karna’, but come the 2000s, and Ali’s lost weight, grown his hair long (slicked back into a neat pony tail) and wears formal suits. Remember his getup in ‘Chal rein dey’? That’s the one.
Hadiqa Kiyani too, is another artist (first entering the local music scene in 1996), who’s always managed to redefine herself.

Her styling in ‘Dupatta’ sure was a far cry from her getup in ‘Mehr Ma’.
Junoon carried a very distinct sense of style – from rugged jeans and plain black t-shirts, to leather pants, kurtas, long hair (Ali, Salman and Brian), cropped cuts, ethnic kotees, skinheads (Ali), and in-style button downs – watch any Junoon song, and notice the band’s styling. It’s never the same. They always experimented – from ‘Pappu Yaar’ to ‘Sayonee’.
Artists in Pakistan as a whole do manage to pull of fashion statements every now and then, but it’s not that consistent. Call pulled off military outfits for ‘Kuch Naheen’, Ali Zafar pulled off a sonic-the-hedge-hog hairdo and bright blue leather jacket for ‘Channo’, Hadiqa Kiyani (the most consistent of the lot) dressed up as a Victorian-ish vampire for ‘Mahi’, and so on.

Some would argue that keeping up with fashion and its trends isn’t a huge criteria for ‘making it big’ as a singer/musician.
While that may be true to some extent, as stated earlier, bringing out the personality of one’s music via what one wears seems to give an artist that extra edge.

Would Eddie Vedder’s music have sold well if he sung ‘Betterman’ in a skimpy, glitter jump-suit? Or would Kylie Minogue’s ‘Spinning Around’ hit the Billboard’s number one slot if she wore frayed jeans and a loose t-shirt in her music video? No of course not.
In this day and age of monitor, television and iPod screens, audiences twig onto music which not only ‘sounds’ appealing, but which also ‘looks’ appealing as well.

It’s all about the total package – as shallow as that may be – it’s unfortunately (or fortunately) true.
Coco Chanel once said: “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

So true – a sign of the changing times fashion is, of a collective thought process, a feeling, and the way an individual reacts to his/her country’s socio-political concerns. And what better way for an artist to complement all of that, with music?

It appears so much more aurally and visually stronger.

Instep, The News


3 thoughts on “Tracing Trends of Fashion through Music”

  1. Great article.

    Now two years later, look at how fashion trends is playing an even bigger role in music.

    In South Africa we have Levi’s sponsoring the majority of live music shows.

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