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Since his passing, Prince’s fashion has been featured in a number of articles and even a museum exhibit. From his love of purple to his butt-bearing chaps, the fashions of Prince have helped create the singer into an influential icon.
What is remembered most about the singer’s style are his looks during the 1980s, especially during his Purple Rain phase. The singer’s fashions mirrored a neo-Aristocratic style that was intertwined with a sexual energy and gender ambiguity.
Prince’s lavish style mirrored the popular fashion cultural group, the “Macaroni.” They were stylish English aristocratic men during the Enlightenment, an 18th century cultural movement. According to this source, outfits worn by men during this time were ornate variations of the habit à la française, waistcoat, coat, and breeches, which were seen as status symbols. Prince’s appearance as an African American man in fine and expensive clothing repeats this idea of clothing as a part of social status but spins it by way of his race.
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An iconic item of Prince’s 1980s style was the jabot, a frilled neckpiece attached to a white shirt. Both Prince and the Macaroni men’s jabots were often made of lace and silk with a stark white coloring.
Another aspect of the singer’s style was his heels. Photographer Bruce Weber said about Prince’s penchant for his gender-bending footwear, “Part of what I also loved was that not only did he do great music but he was smaller than the other musicians and he always got the girl. You felt like the biggest, tallest guy even though he wore high heels because he was so short.” Similar to Prince’s love for heights, men’s shoes during the Enlightenment were also heeled. A typical Macaroni men’s footwear could be decorated in fabrics and buckles, which helped created an overall stylish appearance.
Outside of his penchant for purple, the singer understood the importance of textiles. He would wear plush velvets, sumptuous silks, and fine laces. “He wore the most incredible opulent fabrics and the boots were always made to match,” said Mary Kay Stolz, the singer’s costume designer for the tour of Purple Rain. “International Silks and Woolens, the best fabric store in L.A., would stay open late for me because I would fly in late from Minneapolis just to get fabric and turn around.”
High-end textiles, like velvets, laces, and silks were also indicators of status during the Enlightenment and worn by Macaroni men. During that time, there was an effort made by state officials to limit the amount of expensive textiles available to the public to create a division between classes. At the time of Prince’s Purple Rain, much of the fashion world wore synthetic fabrics, while Prince chose classically rich textiles that evoked status and prestige.
During the 80s, Prince sported a trendy perm that later morphed into a pompadour. He also wore head wraps and scarves made in matching fabrics as his clothing. Men’s hair during the Enlightenment shared the same pomp as with Prince, but by way of the cadogan style, which were horizontal rolls of hair over the ears.
The aristocratic elements of Prince’s fashion bring together aspects of gender, class, and race into a series of era-defining outfits. Many musicians use fashion as a way to enhance their image, but Prince used it as a way to define himself and his work.