It’s impossible to imagine the course of music history without Prince. In his near four-decade career, the artist born Prince Rogers Nelson has built a legacy on his boundary-pushing in music and style. In fact, he did it within his first four years of releasing albums. Once he put on his purple jacket, ruffled white blouse, eyeliner, and heels for 1999 and Purple Rain, Prince immediately ascended to icon status. Taking influence from the ‘80s New Romantics, Prince challenged rigid notions of masculinity with his aggressively androgynous look, opening the door for similar-spirited artists like Kanye West, André 3000, and Pharrell Williams.
But the color purple isn’t the only thing he’s known for style-wise. Unlike other artists, especially from his generation, Prince’s wildly creative aesthetic is still constantly evolving. And his influence is as pervasive as ever. In fact, he hasn’t slowed down at all. To celebrate the release of the two new albums Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum, it's only appropriate to take a trip through Prince's Style History.
Before Prince was known as “The Purple One,” he started out with a low-key androgynous look. On his second album cover, he went with a Farrah Fawcett blow-out and a very pared down approach, proving how iconic his look is—even without clothes.
Prince’s self-titled album, Prince has the rare ability to look stylized even without wearing clothes. While promoting his Dirty Mind album, he fittingly ditched his pants, referencing the album’s cover art on stage where he wore black underwear, thigh-high socks, and scarves. From the jump, it was clear Prince was going to go to extreme places in his style.
With his first top 10 album 1999, Prince unveiled his signature look: purple tailored wear, a white romantic blouse, and a Jheri curl. A year after the peak of new romanticism, he put his own spin on the trend, dialing up the glam in a shiny purple trench with a studded shoulder, a pair of purple gloves, a scarf, and a leopard guitar strap. Because Prince never lacked confidence when it came to clothes, he even dressed his Revolution band members in Prince-certified looks, and probably loaned his drummer his white ruffled shirt and suit.
Prince’s outfits only got zanier after Purple Rain. When he played Los Angeles’ The Forum in 1985, he was in the midst of his swirly jacquard suits phase. Prince went extra all-out for this legendary show though, accessorizing his metallic-woven pastel suit with a pink boa.
Prince’s Jheri curl days were long behind him by the time he was promoting “Kiss” off of the album Parade. After going with looser curls for Purple Rain, he cut off his tousled locks. Prince also went shorter with his clothes, frequently baring his abs with crop tops and matching pants. When he played Wembley Arena in London, he recycled the top from his “Kiss” single artwork, pairing it with matching button-laden pants.
Prince had mostly moved away from the color purple by the time he went on tour for his Purple Rain follow-up, Sign o’ the Times. He started experimenting instead with glasses. His most iconic pair were his oversized round sunglasses, a relic from Purple Rain that he continued to wear.
High-waisted pants and polka dots were two of Prince’s favorite things in 1988, while on tour in support of Lovesexy. His favorite combination of both was a black and white polka dot suit complete with black and white polka dot heels, which Yayoi Kusama might have had in mind decades later when collaborating with Louis Vuitton.
Graffiti Bridge, the sequel to Purple Rain, might have been a commercial and critical bomb but it at least yielded some choice Prince outfits. It also saw him returning to his blow-out roots with a voluminous hairstyle that recalled his self-titled album cover.
Miley Cyrus has nothing on early ‘90s Prince who pulled off one of the biggest reveals in the history of the VMAs. After starting with his Diamonds and Pearls lead single “Gett Off,” once Prince, wearing a laser-cut yellow suit, took his first twirl, viewers got a glimpse of his entire backside. The unforgettable outfit still lives on today in another form—it might have been fresh in Beyoncé and Riccardo Tisci’s minds when they were teaming up on the wardrobe for her "On the Run" tour.
In 1992, no one really understood Prince. He was already at war with his record label, fighting for artists’ rights, in his own bizarre way—by changing his name to an unspeakable symbol because he believed “Prince” was the property of Warner Music Group. If this had been 2014, in the wake of download culture and competing streaming services, his cause would have earned him much more empathy. But at the time, because he didn’t do much publicity, he didn’t have many allies. So Prince, in a very proto-Yeezus way, channeled his frustration into his clothing, wore a chainmail mask and sang out of a gun-shaped microphone.
A master of shocking awards show appearances, Prince had the most surprising look at the 1995 Brit Awards. Unlike his frenzy-causing outfit at the VMAs, the wildest thing about his appearance wasn’t his clothes: it was the word “slave” written across his face, a defiant move against his record label after they prohibited him from getting out of his contract.
In 1999, everyone from Cher to Whitney Houston was getting into dance culture, and Prince was no exception. Instead of their club tracks though, he likely took inspiration from Eiffel 65’s then-ubiquitous “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” when he got dressed for the VMAs. He not only donned a sheen blue jumpsuit, he wore braids with matching blue beads. And, if is that wasn’t enough of a look, he topped it off with a belly chain and a single oversized hoop earring.
Prince was touring as recently at Apr. 14 2016, making the latest stop on his "Piano & A Microphone Tour" in Atlanta, Georgia. The style icon stayed true to himself throughout the tour and wore glitzy gold chains, unique suits, and a loose-fitting psychedelic top. Looking at tour pictures posted to social media, you can see Prince's silhouette: his lithe figure and meticulously carved afro cut into the spotlight.
Read more: http://www.complex.com/style/2014/09/prince-style-history/mtv-vmas