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From the man who gave us the anthemic “Redemption Song,” it’s time to redeem him from all the blurs of head-shop posters, T-shirts, and weed references in which we lost the real Bob Marley and look back at the iconic and truly authentic fashion style the King of Reggae has blessed us with. 

Understanding why he emerged as an iconic fashion figure shows us how Bob Marley's affordable and effortlessly cool style was more than just a fashion choice but a reflection of his lifestyle and political and spiritual beliefs. His style deeply resonated with and empowered generations worldwide, seamlessly blending aesthetic appeal with profound cultural significance.

Bob Marley passed away over 40 years and is considered one of the most influential and best-selling artists ever. A movie about him seems long overdue. Bob Marley: One Love is set to hit theaters this February 14, and from the promising trailer, the biopic will chronicle the time when Bob Marley survived an assassination attempt in Jamaica, leading to his exile in London. During this period, he produced his albums Exodus and Kaya, released in 1977 and 1978, respectively.

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Bob Marley, stage name of Nesta Robert Marley, was born in Jamaica's Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish on February 6, 1945, to a village girl just 19 years old named Cedella Booker. His father, Jamaican Norval Sinclair Marley, was a white officer of English descent in the British Navy and left Bob an orphan when he was only 10 years old.

His nickname was “Tuff Gong” for his resilience, courage, and fighting skills showed growing up in Trenchtown, one of Jamaica's harshest areas at the time, and inspired by the founder of the Rastafari movement, Leonard "The Gong" Howell.

Bob Marley became a hero to millions worldwide thanks to the positive messages of unity, peace, and freedom in his songs. With infectious reggae rhythms, a unique voice, and magnetic charisma on stage, he brought the Rastafarian vision to an international audience and built a musical legacy that became the soundtrack of many different social movements and struggles.

But we are not here to talk about the music. We are here to give one of the most underrated style icons of the 20th century their overdue flowers. Bob Marley’s fashion directly mirrors his music but it was his complete and unbiased authenticity when it came to his own sense of style that made him such a genuine and relatable fashion icon.

"Tuff" Double Denim

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By diving into the archive footage of Bob Marley's live performances on YouTube, his endless and charming energy is mesmerising. On stage, Marley becomes the embodiment of the music itself, with his body moving with a rhythm that seems to flow directly from his soul. The ability to turn each concert into an immersive ritual of happiness and resistance is nothing short of legendary.

This constant movement is mirrored in Marley's sartorial preference for denim, often worn with matching tops and bottoms. A sturdy yet comfortable fabric, denim also showed Marley's edge, and symbolised the roughness of his origin.

From an historical perspective, by 1970, Kingston, became a pivotal spot for fashion, especially when local fishermen began importing American clothings in bulk. With those shipments, came denim and it quickly became a staple among the city's youth and musicians, especially in the dance hall scene.

Marley donned double denim with such confidence and ease that it would make even the best ‘90s fashion double denim enthusiasts blush. 

Unfortunately, there is a lack of archival videos of Marley's gigs, but two shows with clear footage are his Santa Barbara 1979 concert and his 1977 live at the Rainbow Theatre in London. For both of these shows, he wore this double denim look and it has since become his most iconic style.

London, Tracksuits and Football

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Aside from his legendary music, Bob Marley was a huge football fan. He didn't just enjoy watching it; he lived it, playing every chance he got. He even made Jamaican international football player Allan "Skill" Cole his tour manager. He once told a reporter, "If you want to get to know me, you'll have to play soccer against me and The Wailers."

There are many images available online of him playing football in parks in London just a few months after the assassination attempt that forced him and his family to flee Jamaica.

With his passion and need to play came the outfits. Imagine being on the road, constantly moving, and squeezing in games whenever possible. Comfort just had to be a key priority. He usually paired a striped woolly sweater with slim-fitted navy tracksuits, which eventually became one of his signature styles.

As well as its classic adidas three-striped tracksuits, Marley was regularly photographed wearing bright yellow adidas T-shirts, thigh-grazing shorts typical of the time, and a rotating selection of his favorite sneakers.

He was rocking the whole athleisure style way before it became a thing in high fashion and before Run DMC and DJs in New York made Adidas and Nike tracksuits and sneakers the cool streetwear and stage gear we know now. 

Marley was a pioneer in showing everyone how sportswear wasn't just for the pitch but could be part of your everyday style. Was he conscious of this? Hard to say, but it definitely worked.

Red, Gold, and Green

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Besides fabrics, materials, and silhouettes, Marley's outfit colors also profoundly resonated with his Rastafarian belief system and vision. The color red symbolizes the blood of martyrs, gold for the wealth of Africa, and green for its beauty. 

Thanks to Bob Marley’s frequent use of these three colors, red, gold, and green, became synonymous with Jamaican culture and with Bob Marley’s prophecies on love and unity. 

One of the signature pieces he used with these color combinations was his rasta cap, which was used to tilt his dreadlocks away and express his rasta faith to the world. Pretty much becoming forever associated with Bob Marley and some not-so-funny memes on the internet about cultural appropriation.

Vests

Jamaican novelist Marlon James once said this about the effortlessly cool style of Bob Marley: “He was the rare man who could pull off anything. For his iconic 1976 Rolling Stone cover, he wore a sweater vest. Nobody had made a sweater vest cool since…well, nobody. Thirty years before Kanye, Marley was apparently cribbing prep style and rebranding all shades of black.” 

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Another iconic vest moment for Marley that is well documented is the concert he held on June 13, 1976, in Amsterdam. Regular fit washed denim, black belt, an olive green tight long-sleeve shirt, and a brown vest with a design that looks straight out of an Ahluwalia summer collection. 

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Contemporary Designers Inspired By Bob Marley

As a true testament to the sartorial legacy left behind by Bob Marley is the amount of designers who  are influenced by his style. His blend of rebellion, confidence, and effortless authenticity in wearing pretty much anything he wanted reflects a fusion of cultural pride, political statements, and personal identity that still resonates with contemporary fashion designs.

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For example, the Brooklyn-based brand Theophilo, funded by Jamaica-born designer Edvin Theophilus Thompson, creates sustainably made garments that channel the island's soul. From the clothing to the beauty choices to the format, he tells a visual story about Jamaican culture in his collections. He has often spoken about Bob Marley's influence on his creative process.

Another brand taking inspiration from the fashion style of the King of Reggae is Daily Paper, one of the most influential Dutch brands in today’s fashion landscape. In 2021, they dedicated a capsule collection to Bob Marley, released on what would have been Marley's 76th birthday, incorporating his famous lyrics into the designs. The collection featured hoodies and other pieces that blended Marley's influence with Daily Paper's design philosophy, inspired by workwear and the Afro-futurism movement.

Wales Bonner FW20
Wales Bonner

Most recently, a tribute to Bob Marley’s fashion and Jamaican aesthetic has been the collaboration between Wales Bonner and adidas. Originally unveiled during London Fashion Week as part of the Autumn/Winter 2020 lineup, the collection drew inspiration from Bob Marley, adidas’ archives, the 1970s, and Dancehall culture.

The collection reimagined the classic adidas tracksuit with elevated details such as embroidery and crochet, reflecting Bonner's British-Jamaican heritage and Marley's elegant sportswear style. In an interview with the Financial Times she said: “I love the layering of knitwear, and how he manages to wear sportswear in a very elegant way.”

The most recent Wales Bonner x Adidas FW23 collection featured two football shirts as a part of an upcoming partnership with the Jamaica national team. The Rastafarian flag's red, gold, and green were used on hats, vests, and coats. All the clothes felt modern despite Bob Marley’s decades-old references. 

Bob Marley’s Style Legacy

Since his untimely death in 1981 at the age of 36, the commodification of Bob Marley's image and music for all sorts of purposes has significantly diluted his profound impact as a revolutionary artist and fashion icon. Marley's brave messages on love, unity and freedom against the backdrop of a systemic oppression of the colonial powers of that time, is often overshadowed by superficial marketing tactics that simply aim to exploit his image. 

Marley’s distinctive fashion sense was an extension of his identity and beliefs. He put outfits together in unexpected ways and created something new while being effortless and comfortable in any outfit he chose to wear. From elegant yet functional athleisure to the rugged denim and chore jackets to vests and the colorful representation of his Rastafarian beliefs, he opened the doors for many designers to take inspiration from his lyrical messages and his sartorial choices.

The real triumph, however, is that thanks to his artistry, fashion style, and strength in his beliefs, Bob Marley gave the children of the Windrush generation a star they could relate to and whose style they could copy as Bob Marley's clothes and styles were affordable. Some adidas sportswear, a vintage combat jacket, a pair of flared pants, or a double denim fit are all items that could have been bought or easily replicated by anyone who wished to dress like him.

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Born in such troubled background he transformed into an artistic creation that went out of his territory and touched deep inside the vast community of his fanbase and beyond.

Bob Marley's style is a testament to the profound connection between personal identity and fashion. It exemplifies how authentic expression through colors, fabrics, and aesthetics retains its value and meaning across time, and also, much like with his music, he empowered people with his style across generations, cementing his status as a true fashion icon.

For your next read, check out the best hip-hop producers of all time, or the album covers that made history, or our new guide to workwear fashion.

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