Well first let’s take a time machine back to the mid-80s, when hair metal (a hyper-masculine, hyper-sexualized offshoot of proto ’70s metal bands like ACDC and Black Sabbath) reined supreme. The odd thing about hair metal was that it was incredibly testosterone fueled, often with videos degrading and objectifying women, yet male rock bands like Motley Crue and Europe often had a luscious head of well-coiffed hair, tight pants, toned physiques, and would occasionally wear makeup — all traditional signifiers of femininity. The excess and conflicting messages eventually began to leave a bad taste in music lovers’ mouths, making it the perfect time for one of rock’s greatest fashion anti-icons to emerge.
When Nirvana first burst onto the global scene with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” people were taken aback by the way the band dressed. There was no leather, no big hair, no makeup, no bulging muscles, or any other of the traditional rock star trappings. Perhaps this is why Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain, were so appealing — they were the perfect hangover remedy to almost 10 years of a glam and glitter binge. Their “uniform” — flannel, Converse shoes, ratty clothing, and messy hair — set the fashion template for everyone from the average man on the street to the models on Marc Jacobs’ runway. It seemed that the world was ready for a sensitive male rock icon with a more accessible style.
But then it happened. The sensitive rock star killed himself making the world wonder if he was the right kind of role model for young men. It took a few years, but people began to take off their flannel, cut their hair, and join corporate America. And then something else happened. While the world of both music and fashion were still reeling from the death of grunge, quickly and quietly a new form of male icon swooped in and flooded the airwaves: the Nu Metal god.
Metal bands, with all the abrasiveness of hair metal, very little of the talent, and twice as much anger, began to command the public’s attention. With a proto hip-hop style, groups like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Insane Clown Posse became rock’s new muses with songs like “A.D.I.D.A.S.” causing the sportswear provider to become almost as ubiquitous as a prized vintage shirt a few years prior and a red capped Fred Durst as its most visible frontman.
This new breed of rockstar wore heavy gold chains, baggy pants, and encouraged their fans to “break stuff” — more often than not the bank as they tried to emulate their idols’ style with designer threads and expensive shoe wear. Thankfully, this period in music was short lived; some Limp Bizkit fans at Woodstock ’99 took the band’s message of random violence a little too literally and three women reported being raped — one right in front of the stage which some say was in full view of the band who did nothing.
Outrage caused a wave of revulsion both for Limp Bizkit and the nu-metal movement, and effectively ended the innocence of several young rock fans. As Durst spent several years self examining (and making some celebrated indie movies) , a new wave of bands in touch with their feelings emerged — groups like Fall Out Boy, Dashboard Confessional, and My Chemical Romance exemplified the new movement. In keeping with the theory of eternal return, these groups brought back the thick-rimmed Buddy Holly glasses of yore, along with Kurt Cobain’s cardigans and Converse. Hair was dyed black and thick eyeliner — reminiscent of both Robert Smith of the Cure and the much maligned ’80s hair metal gods — was easy to spot.
Which brings us to the present. Just which rock stars are able to make teenage boys save up their allowance for a new outfit, change their hair, or just keep them looking admiringly at an album cover (or iPod screen)? Well most recently, fresh-faced bands like MGMT and Vampire Weekend are considered very fashionable. While MGMT work a look that’s dirty, sexy Euro, the Vampire Weekend aesthetic of boat shoes, polo shirts and items containing the word “Oxford,” is reminiscent of the breezy Cape Cod chic exemplified by Annie Hall-era Paul Simon.
OK. That’s it. So who did we miss? And who inspired your wardrobe choices the most over the years?