David Bowie: his iconic style through the years

Today is a sad day for David Bowie fans: the legendary singer last night passed away after a secret and courageous 18-month battle with cancer. The news has shocked and saddened, and there is now one less gentleman in the world. There’s no doubting that David Bowie was and will remain one of the most influential musicians of all time, one that could constantly re-invent his style and his musical influence. Clothes were undoubtedly a form of self expression for Bowie and were a way for him to secure his identity. From Space Oddity to Ziggy Stardust to his more recent releases, David Bowie never failed to both express and impress. We’ve always been struck by his incredible style and his willingness to embrace fashion in all its forms.

1960s: The Mod & Space Oddity

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(L-R: Bowie in 65, 67 and 63. Images by Getty)

In 1967, David Bowie released his first album, The World of David Bowie. This release marked the landing of one of the century’s most influential artists, with incredible style to boot. Bowie burst onto the scene like no one before him and with more influence than anyone could have ever imagined. Into the world came a 20-year-old gentleman with charisma, rebellion and style, and whose position at the top would never dwindle.

Bowie, at this point in his life, was the ultimate Mod. With the right haircut, clothes and accent, Bowie had morphed himself into one of the most fashionable gentlemen within one of the most fashionable style groups of the 1960s. Pointed boots, ankle-length trousers and shirts with the top button done up were a regular for this dapper gentleman. Bowie was slick through and through – but never pretentious – and his 60s style will forever be one of his most influential style periods.

The release of Space Oddity saw Bowie start to experiment with his look, and to start using his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, in a big way. The whole album was tribute to Bowie’s fictional character, Major Tom, and his quest to reach the moon. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Space Oddity became a major hit in 1969 after the moon landing.

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(Space Oddity segment of promotional film, Love You Till Tuesday. Photo by Getty)

1970s: Ziggy Stardust

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(David Bowie in 1972. All image by Rex Features)

Next came Hunky Dory, potentially (although it’s hard to pinpoint) Bowie’s most successful and best piece of work. The album came complete with hits that would secure Bowie’s place as the best singer of his time, with hits such as Oh, You Pretty Things, Life on Mars? and Changes spanning across the 11 track album. With the release of Hunky Dory came Bowie’s experimentation with fashion, and a time when Ziggy Stardust started to come to the forefront of his style. Eyeliner, skintight outfits and the iconic zigzag across his eye all became staples for Bowie. It was at this point that he well and truly secured his status as a full fashion icon. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was one of Bowie’s biggest influences, and it massively showed in his style. Experimental make-up and hair were one thing that Bowie always worked with incredibly well, whether he was on stage, shooting the cover of an album or walking down the street. One thing’s for sure, though, Bowie never did any of this for show. He wore what he wanted and when he wanted – a true experimentation of how he felt.

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(David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. Image via Google)

1980s: The Gentleman

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(L-R: David Bowie in 1985, 1987 and 1983. Images via Rex Images)

Towards the end of the 70s and the start of the 80s, Bowie turned his style around to dressing like today’s definition of a gentleman, complete with three-piece suits, ties, shirts and dapper shoes. Gone (for now) were the days of skintight suits and silver, but make-up and wild hair (which at this point had been dyed a golden blonde) still remained a large part of Bowie’s persona. The beauty of Bowie was the fact that he could merge so effortlessly between eras and styles without ever sacrificing any of his charm or personality. Even when he started wearing suits, so much of his character and charm still remained and he always, without a doubt, wore the clothes – the clothes never wore him.

1990s: Experimentation

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(L-R: David Bowie in 1991, 1997 and 1991. Images L & R by PA. Centre image by Frank W Ockenfels)

At the start of the 90s, Bowie met Iman, the Somalian supermodel who would become his long-term girlfriend. The relationship in absolutely no way affected Bowie’s courageous (and ever so slightly camp) dress sense – if anything it spurred him on to become more powerful and experimental in his clothing. Bowie had already secured himself as one of the world’s most famous singers and it was around this time that he had already started his collaboration with the Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and started singing with heavy rock band, Tin Machine. This, of course, influenced his style and encouraged him to head back to his slightly rockier roots, complete with a quiff and lashings of eyeliner. Like every other phase he went through, Bowie pulled this one off better than you’d ever imagine.

2000s: The Culture Vulture

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(L-R: David Bowie in 2003, 2000 and 2003. All images by PA)

The end of the 1990s and the start of the millennium saw Bowie start to morph into an era that he only very briefly experimented with in his youth – the hippy. Some say it was Iman’s influence, others say it was him travelling the world, but whatever it was it was great. While he didn’t go all out, he did grow his hair and start to wear floral, calf length coats. Skip forward a few years and Bowie became a hippy in a more loose sense of the word: as a gentleman who liked to feel loose and free, with baggy trousers, waistcoats and wide shirts. 

The four decades in which Bowie made music acted as four completely different style eras for a man who will always and forever be one of the most fashionable and stylish menswear icons in the world. Bowie, you will be missed.

Featured image: David Bowie from Aladdin Sane album cover, Getty images 1973 // Main image: David Bowie in Heroes music video

Further Reading