Cookie banner

This site uses cookies. Select "Block all non-essential cookies" to only allow cookies necessary to display content and enable core site features. Select "Accept all cookies" to also personalize your experience on the site with ads and partner content tailored to your interests, and to allow us to measure the effectiveness of our service.

To learn more, review our Cookie Policy, Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

or
clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Getty Images: Michael Ochs archives

Filed under:

Remembering David Bowie's Life Through His Enigmatic Style

David Bowie the artist, the songwriter, and the multifaceted performer will always be remembered for his ever-evolving guise. During the '70s and early '80s, he became a style chameleon both on and off the stage, wearing glitter bodysuits and avant-garde kimonos one year, and powder blue zoot suits and two-toned hair the next.

Throughout Bowie's career, his characters from Ziggy Stardust to The Thin White Duke continued to be a tremendous source of inspiration in nearly every artistic realm, but it is his influence on the world of fashion that is perhaps the most unmistakable. To this day, it is hard to find a designer who hasn't attempted to recreate Bowie's sky-high platforms or a makeup artist who has not tried to recapture Ziggy's bold, yet ethereal look. To celebrate the life and legacy of David Bowie, here is a brief history of his life and the corresponding iconic looks that defined him.


Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Getty Images: CA/Redferns

David Jones

The man we've come to know as David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in South London's Brixton neighborhood in 1947. He grew up with a strong love for music and eventually took up the saxophone at the age of 13.

Bowie's teen years also played a major role in the performer's off-kilter looks. His now-infamous, permanently dilated pupil was the result of a fist fight with a childhood friend when he was only 15.

The singer joined several bands during this time as well, including the Konrads, The King Bees, and Davy Jones and the Lower Thirds. At 18, he ended up changing his last name from Jones to Bowie to avoid being confused with the Monkee's frontman Davy Jones.

During this prime period in Bowie's young life, he first began experimenting with the world around him. He lived in a Buddhist monastery for a few weeks in 1967 and founded his own mime troupe called the Feathers some time later.

His music career didn't really take off until 1969 when he released his first number one single, "Space Oddity," a song that coincided with America's Apollo 11 moon landing. The BBC network even used the song in its coverage of the memorable feat.


"Hunky Dory"

Bowie released his fourth studio album, "Hunky Dory," in 1971 under his new deal with RCA Records. The album offered a new folksy sound and showcased Bowie's talent as a songwriter.

Much like his album at the time, Bowie's style was also centered in the quintessential folksiness of the '70s. His unkempt hair and wide leg trousers continue to resonate today by the looks of Alessandro Michele's reinvention of Gucci and Chloé's fall 2015 campaigns.

Getty Images: Michael Ochs archives


Getty Images: Michael Putland

Ch-ch-changes

Bowie's popular song "Changes" was also a major hit on the album and became the embodiment of his ever-evolving persona throughout the '70s and '80s.

In an interview on The Dick Cavett Show in 1974, the performer admited that the characters he portrayed on-stage and throughout his career were inspired from the people he saw around him at clubs or at his shows.

Bowie underwent his first change towards the end of 1971, right on the cusp of his Ziggy stardom. As an obsessive fan and collector of the arts, his stylistic choices began to mimic the abstract, space-age graphics that are still wildly prominent today, seen on the fall 2015 runways at Dior, Emilio Pucci, and Loewe.


Getty Images: Gijsbert Hanekroot

Meet the Bowies

Bowie married his first wife, Angela, in 1970. They had their son "Zowie" Jones in 1971, but ultimately ended their relationship in 1980.

In this 1974 photo, Angie and Zowie accompany Bowie to a press conference in Amsterdam. The blouse he wears bears a strong resemblance to the billowy-sleeved ones seen everywhere from Zimmermann to Chloé this past fall. The blogger-approved skinny scarf has also made a reappearance recently, but the red mullet has not shown any signs of making a comeback just yet.


Introducing Ziggy Stardust

In a 1999 interview with BBC Newsnight, Bowie said that, as a teenager, he always thought he would become a creator of musicals. He invented the sci-fi character Ziggy Stardust and felt that he was the only one that could accurately portray him.

Bowie cut his hair into Ziggy's signature red mullet, donned platform sandals, and dusted his face with glitter and paint to create his character's signature space-alien look.

"The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" was released in 1972. While the album's hit single "Starman," along with Ziggy's gender-bending, avant-garde performances brought Bowie instant success, he was adamant in interviews that Ziggy was just an on-stage act.

Getty Images: Michael Ochs archives


Getty Images: Michael Putland

Ziggy and Japanese Fashion

Bowie's strong interest in Japanese art and fashion carried over into Ziggy's costumes. He employed the help of the fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto to create the majority of Ziggy's androgynous wardrobe.

Glitter jumpsuits, kimono-inspired bodysuits, and knee-high red patent leather boots were just a few of the outfits on rotation during the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane tours.

Kansai was behind almost all of them, including the infamous "woodlands animal costume" and the intricately knitted unitard that was recreated by Jean Paul Gaultier for his spring 2013 runway presentation.


Getty Images: Terry O'Neill

"Thin White Duke"

Bowie's insistence on reinventing himself continued through the rest of the '70s. Although his Ziggy character steadily grew in popularity, he abruptly announced the pretty space alien's retirement at the album's sold-out 1973 final concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon Theatre.

He then underwent another style makeover that has become known as his Thin White Duke ra. After debuting his Diamond Dogs album in 1974, he shipped off to America for the subsequent tour. There he traded his Ziggy mullet for a more natural, starwberry-blonde look.

This period was riddled with the skinny suits that have become commonplace in Hedi Slimane's recent Saint Laurent collections. In fact, Slimane cites Bowie as one of his biggest style inspirations. From the looks of sales at the French heritage house, the look remains a hit with Slimane's target audience. Both his men's and women's runway shows consistently mirror the performer's slicked back hair, skinny pants, and even skinner ties.


The Experimental Phase

Bowie tried his hand at acting when he moved to Los Angeles in the mid-'70s, and continued to hone in on this craft throughout his career. One of his first leading roles was in the film "The Man Who Fell to Earth" in 1976.

He collaborated with the composer and musician Brian Eno on notable tracks "Low" and "Heroes" in 1977 and with Queen on the hit song "Under Pressure" in 1981.

His style changed once again during the late '70s and early '80s. As he experimented with both new and old sounds, his clothing followed suit. In this 1987 photo, he reverts back to the classics in a white button down, beat-up leather jacket, and blue jeans.


Getty Images: Doug Griffin


Getty Images: Alex Duclos

Bowie and Iman

He met the successful Somalian model Iman in 1990 at a friend's dinner party. The pair tied the knot in Tuscany, Italy two years later and remained married until Bowie's death on January 11, 2016.

During the '90s and the latter years of Bowie's life, it became apparent that David Bowie was evolving once again. But this time, he was seemingly morphing back into himself; the man he was before Ziggy Staurdust, the man he was before the fame.

He became the down-to-earth husband and father his beloved family and friends were lucky enough to know as David Jones.


News

How a Stop-Motion Costume Designer Makes Tiny Clothing for the Big Screen

Entertainment

The ‘Mamma Mia!’ Costume Designer Explains How to Dress Like Young Donna

Entertainment

20 ‘Cats’ Apologists Explain Why Paying $100 to See ‘Cats’ Is Worth It

View all stories in Entertainment