It’s interesting to see how Michael Jackson’s death has resonated around the world.
From Boston, to Stockholm to Lisbon, newspapers have featured four-, six- and eight-page spreads devoted to his life and legacy. Most of them focus on his ever-changing face, with think pieces examining how his plastic surgery reflected inner conflict about his race and sexuality. But his constantly evolving wardrobe is perhaps just as indicative of who the notoriously enigmatic singer was.
In a recent interview with the AOL blog Stylelist, Phillip Bloch, who dressed Jackson for an Ebony magazine cover shoot (which turned out to be his last photo shoot ever) noted that Jackson was not very knowledgeable of the high fashion world. He asked Bloch if the famous British designer Paul Smith was American, and if the legendary Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto was Italian.
The fact that Jackson wasn’t looped into the high fashion world says even more about his trend setting as an artist. Whereas his face may have reflected an uncertainty about his racial and sexual identity, his distinct, sartorial trademarks (the white glove, glittery socks, bow tie and red leather jacket for instance), which began to emerge very early on in his career, displayed a certainty of self as a performer.
And rather than constantly reinvent his wardrobe, the way he did with his face, he instead stuck with a formula and perfected it, adding on bombastic pieces that mirrored his growing superstardom. There was the colour palette: red, black, white, gold and silver. And then the building blocks: the loafers, cowboy boots, regal military jackets, boxing championship-style belts, space-age metallic tops, moon boots and showy suits.
It was over the top in many ways, yes. It was also very telling, revealing a self-loving side of himself that the plastic surgery eventually overshadowed.
Offstage, he may have been an emotionally disturbed and conflicted man (I still cringe at the footage of baby Blanket dangling over that balcony). But on stage, he was the king of pop.
The fashion timeline
A look at Michael Jackson’s sartorial milestones:
• Late 1970s — Jackson establishes his white sock/black shoe combo during his final stage with the Jackson Five.
• 1979 — Jackson reveals a new do and a penchant for bow ties and sequins.
• 1983 — The singer’s red leather, zippered jacket becomes the It item of the ’80s, sparking knockoffs the world over and becoming a symbol of the new MTV generation.
• 1983 — Jackson switches it up to the military jacket at a press conference for Jackson’s Victory tour.
• 1984 — The style royalty references become more literal for a visit to the White House.
• 1988 — Jackson rocks a boxing championship-style belt that reflects his winning sales on his Bad tour.
• 1996 — The face mask and extravagant space-age boots become a part of MJ’s look.
• 2001 — Revisiting his iconic look during his 30th anniversary show.
• 2007 — In the years following his controversial child molestation case, Jackson tones it down in pared down monochromatic jackets and trousers.
• 2009 — The embellished jacket returns for the press conference publicizing his comeback tour. Jackson also makes headlines for inspiring the highly coveted jackets in the fall and spring ’09 Balmain collections.
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