It’s been just over a year since he died, but Prince’s legacy may finally be extending beyond making great music to influencing some of the most controversial innovations in menswear trends.
First came the “RompHim,” a male jumpsuit at the centre of a Kickstarter campaign. Then, more recently we saw the debut of all-lace shorts and shirts by L.A.-based Hologram City, which were mocked to the point where there was a counter-moment that suggested the ridicule is a form of intolerance.
There was something about those lace shorts and shirts, however, that reminded me of my late, favourite artist. It was not just the design but the pastel colours, which took me back to a night in front of the TV back in 1991, when I watched Prince close out the MTV Video Music Awards in a way that hasn’t been matched since.
Accompanied by his then-band the New Power Generation, Prince sang and played his new single “Gett Off” — I was never sure what the second ‘t” meant — on a stage that looked as though it were inspired by the near-pornographic 1979 historical drama Caligula. Most of the attention, though, would wind up going to the outfit Prince wore that night — an all-lace ensemble in bright yellow with a lace hole exposing his backside.
Take a good look at that item of clothing. It’s not really a suit, but you could probably call it a jumpsuit. I’m not sure how he got it on, either, but if you cut it into two pieces and shortened it, you’d have something very close to what Hologram City is selling now. And while you could argue about the appropriateness of it all day long, there is absolutely no question that Prince still managed to look like a masculine, decidedly heterosexual man wearing it.
This has always been a part of Prince’s mystery: How could he flirt with such traditionally feminine details while maintaining an almost menacing allure to so many women? I think the answer helps not only explain what defined his style, but what defines personal style in general.
It’s not just the fact that he loved riding motorcycles, though there’s something we immediately associate with toughness about them, even when you’re also riding it while wearing a velvet jacket and ruffled shirt. It’s not just the fact he played guitar, either while you can acknowledge that leading a band and doing epic solos has a certain guys’ guy appeal.
I think it’s about the work Prince did — the music that created a hybrid between R&B, rock n’ roll, soul and many other genres. When the creativity you’re expressing reaches that kind of level, it really doesn’t matter how flamboyant your outfit looks. You get away with it because it reflects that spirit of innovation in the work — “let’s go crazy! Let’s get nuts.”
This isn’t to suggest you have to come up with something as iconic as “Purple Rain” to wear lace shorts or a jumpsuit. You do, however, need to have an inner confidence that’s based on something real. Maybe Prince’s growing style influence is another one of his gifts to us, challenging men to pursue the kind of excellence that pairs perfectly with the most outlandish clothes. Either way, his aesthetic is definitely becoming a sign o’ the times.