Prince, who was found dead in his home today (April 21) at the age of 57, was near impossible to categorize. As a child, he grew up in an expansive mix of cultures, and as a rockstar, his musical influences spanned R&B, funk, rock, soul, and pop. Nothing was off-limits.
Boundlessness was an essential part of Prince’s long, successful career. Who else could have pulled off “Purple Rain”? Who else could have renamed himself with a symbol? His personal style, like his music, borrowed from everywhere and created something wholly unique. To the average guy on the street, Prince seemed to dress as if he were constantly in costume.
There were shades of James Brown in his suits, and hints of Mick Jagger from the 1970s, in tight pants and a bare chest. Probably his closest style predecessor was Little Richard, whose fluffy coiffure was similar to Prince’s own, and who shared his love for a dramatic collar.
Yet Prince didn’t look like any of them. The lacy jumpsuits he wore for his 1984-1985 “Purple Rain” tour didn’t much resemble anything else at the time. They were as unique as “Purple Rain” itself. More recently, he has appeared in what look like lurex caftans.
Like David Bowie, Prince always included a good measure of androgyny, and constantly trampled the barriers of conventional masculinity. Early in his career, he would sometimes perform in nothing but bikini underwear and a pair of boots, and made women crazy by occasionally tossing a pair of skimpy black lace briefs into the crowd.
He had no fear of frills, routinely donning Victorian style shirts, and wore an awful lot of purple. In 1991, he performed at MTV’s Video Music Awards in a yellow, laser-cut suit that revealed plenty of skin, including his entire rear.
But Prince was also known for making homophobic comments, and maintained there was nothing ambiguous about his heterosexuality. He just didn’t care that people often thought he was gay, he famously told Oprah in 1996. During that show, Oprah treated her audience to a look inside the “special wardrobe room where all of his clothes are made.” Prince, of course, was not buying off the rack.
Although an indisputable fashion icon, Prince curiously never became a fashion influencer. While fashion designers have endlessly pulled inspiration from music’s stars, Prince hasn’t been a major source of runway influence the way David Bowie has. His was a hard style for others to copy, and not many people tried.
As in everything else, Prince has remained unique.