Last week, Supreme honored Michael Jackson with a new line of streetwear essentials inspired by the late, great musician. Given that the streetwear giant readily mines a tightly edited pantheon of perennial trendsetters for its collaborations, it’s a little surprising that Supreme waited this long to tap the king of pop.
Michael Jackson’s fashion influence is quite literally unparalleled. The biggest musicians today, like Beyoncé, Kanye, Madonna, Janelle Monae, Lady Gaga, Pharrell, Rihanna — the list is endless — owe him a huge creative debt.
Though the latter part of his career was marred by constant controversy, every breathtaking high note he hit, every impossible dance-step he struck and every crazy costume he put on became a part of an inimitable, legendary legacy. Michael Jackson always communicated an aesthetic message with a holistic style, and he set the bar for every single pop star that came after him.
Yet, many of Michael Jackson’s contemporaries and followers also defined what’s become pop star style today, too. The likes of Prince, David Bowie, Madonna and Lady Gaga have pioneered aesthetic personas which pushed social progress by bending and breaking gender norms with zeal.
However, Michael Jackson was the very first pop star to define what it meant to be a bonafide fashion pioneer. He essentially immortalized military gear and those iconic sparkly gloves, and basically started the trophy jacket trend in the ‘80s. He was nothing short of a fashion icon.
Below, we take a look at some of Michael Jackson’s defining moments in fashion and how they’re still trending in contemporary culture today.
Michael Jackson's Moto Jacket
There’s no doubting that “Bad,” Michael Jackson’s 1987 smash hit, gave him his rebel reputation. The moto jacket he wore in the song’s music video was achingly tough, especially in that scene, where he gets tough in an eery subway station. It’s as iconic as the song itself.
Though show-stopping jackets are an obviously intrinsic part of Jackson’s style legacy, this particular “Bad” moment was an aesthetic departure from Jackson’s white suit era, after he wore a white blazer on the cover of 1982’s Thriller LP cover.
Today, motocross inspired fashion is enjoying some heavy trend rotation, and it’s impossible to not recall Jackson’s moto jacket, adorned with shiny chains, as he strutted about in the “Bad” music video. Now, it seems everyone is taking on motocross-inspired fashion. Labels like Maison Margiela, Alyx Studio, Supreme and even Berlin magazine 032c are all riding hard and dirty with racing-inspired gear.
All Embellished Everything
Michael Jackson’s fifth album, Off the Wall, spawned giant smash hits like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” and ushered in an aesthetic era defined by Michael Jackson’s penchant for sparkly separates and all-embellished-everything.
However, one of the most memorable homages to Michael Jackson’s spangled style was Balmain’s SS09 collection, when Christophe Decarnin was still the brand’s creative director. The collection was full of power-shouldered, street-inspired glitz and glamor, and Jackson’s high-octane, pop-peppered energy is legible in almost every look. The late pop star was actually known to wear plenty of Decarnin’s most recognizable outerwear, too.
Olivier Rousteing, the current creative director at Balmain, regularly draws from Jackson's aesthetic legacy too, even posting a picture of Jackson in his iconic military-style jacket to Instagram.
The Fedora was a signature part of Michael Jackson’s look for quite a while, but its most memorable rotation was in 1988's “Smooth Criminal” video—where MJ wore a sharp white suit, a blue shirt, a white tie and of course, a white-and-black fedora. This was an explicit homage to MJ's idol, Fred Astaire, who wore a near-identical outfit in 1953 musical "The Band Wagon."
Fast forward thirty-odd years to the 2014 Grammys, where Pharrell created his own era-defining pop-cultural moment when he wore a giant vintage Vivienne Westwood hat. Pharrell went on to wear the buffalo hat so much that Westwood’s husband had to speak out. “He wore it... to death, I think,” Andreas Kronthaler told LOVE magazine.
Though the two hats might be wildly different in silhouette, MJ’s signature fedora set the blueprint for how a musician could use accessories as a stylistic autograph. Pharell isn’t even the most obvious example when it comes to the king of pop’s fedora fixation. Bruno Mars almost always performs in a distinctive fedora that looks as though it was plucked straight out of Jackson’s tour wardrobe.
Mars once even said: “I feel like he [Michael Jackson] set the bar for artists. Any artist, I don’t care what genre you do, you should always aspire to be like Michael Jackson.”
Thanks to Chanel’s Resort 2017 show in Cuba, the Fedora enjoyed something of a comeback among the style set. Though its street style appeal has since waned, last year, Jackson’s iconic fedora from the “Smooth Criminal” video found itself at auction and sold for over $11,000, to a Belgian collector. That’s how timeless it is.
The Thriller Jacket
The zipper-bedecked red leather jacket that Jackson wore in 1983's “Beat It” video very quickly became an iconic and widely copied piece of his fashion legacy. The red jacket was equally beloved by Michael himself, who opted to reprise a similar tomato-colored style in his subsequent “Thriller” video.
Fashion’s finest have consistently referenced Jackson’s famed “Thriller” jacket. In fact, back in 2008, Maison Margiela dropped a leather jacket that was essentially a direct replica of the “Thriller” jacket. Though the main colors are inverted, the iconic “V” emblem remained red.
More recently, Demna Gvsalia (a Margiela alum) released a fire-engine red cropped leather jacket via his label Vetements, as another obvious ode to Jackson’s bad-boy moment.
Even Kanye West took note. West was pictured wearing a Michael Jackson-esque red leather jacket at a Balmain Fashion Show during Paris Fashion Week in 2011, and West’s embellished Balmain look at the Met Gala 2015 was another sartorial ode to Jackson’s sparkly days.
The Letterman Jacket
Jackson always had the uncanny ability to take unexpected pieces and turn them into trends, much like pop royalty today. For example, when MJ wore a varsity letterman jacket, it quickly became the definition of casual cool. In his iconic mini-movie, Thriller, MJ played the good guy turned wayward werewolf/zombie in a red and yellow varsity jacket.
Since then, varsity jackets have emerged as a retro staple that’s been intermittently hauled back into the spotlight. Back in 2011, they were all the rage and designers like Rag & Bone and Givenchy amped up the traditional varsity jacket but paired it with feminine basics for a more contemporary update.
More recently, it’s today’s fashion muses who have taken a liking to one of MJ’s most memorable outerwear choices. Rihanna has been spotted donning a letterman jacket as part of her own low-key, athletic-inspired style. This isn’t the first time the self-appointed badgal has taken cues from the King of Pop, either. Her massive hit "Please Don’t Stop The Music" sampled Michael’s track "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'".
The Military Jacket
Military-style jackets were a signature part of Jackson's wardrobe throughout his career. They were often sequined and usually paired with slim-fitting, cropped pants that displayed his socks so when he danced onstage, you paid some serious attention to his killer moves.
However, one of the most unforgettable tributes to Michael Jackson’s legacy in recent memory comes from the elixir of life herself – Beyoncé. For her politically-charged performance at the Super Bowl 2016, Beyoncé wore a striking military ensemble that was an exact replica of one worn by Michael Jackson during his own half-time performance at the 1993 Super Bowl.
Beyoncé wore the custom Dsquared jacket over a leotard, meshing together her own distinctive aesthetic with Jackson’s. Needless to say, a few mindless critics chimed in with complaints that Yoncé’s look was much too risqué for the halftime show, but Beyoncé’s decision to honor Jackson through his style was an unapologetic celebration of black power.
Michael Jackson didn’t just grow into a fashion icon — he was once a pint-sized style star in the Jackson 5 too. By the age of 13, MJ already boasted a bevy of number 1 hits and an insanely cool on-stage wardrobe, too. Just look at this expert lesson in wearing punchy patterns, by simply pairing a white ruffle-lined shirt with a groovy waist jacket.
Jackson’s knack for pairing prints has long lingered as an on-off phenomenon on fashion’s gilded runways. Miu Miu’s FW17 collection renewed psychedelic prints and it looked as though the collection's prints could have been swiped straight from Jackson’s pre-teen wardrobe. Mrs. Prada put out a compelling carousel of brilliantly clashing psychedelic-print tunics and flares; glittery jewels; and big-shouldered knit sweaters and skirts that look as though they disco fingered straight ‘outta the early ’70s.
Space Age Futurism
1995's multimillion-dollar, spaceship-set “Scream” video is still the most expensive music video of all time, and the iconic clip saw Michael’s style take a futuristic, club-kid turn. In the video, Michael and his sister Janet sport matching spiked shirts and black pleather pants. While the song featured some of the singer’s most brazen lyrics ever, it was the duo’s space-punk style that has eerily contemporary relevance today among a new generation of streetwear labels such as MISBHV, as well as the underground club aesthetic pioneered by the now defunct Hood by Air.
On the mainstream fashion circuit, space-age glitz was everywhere on the FW17 runways. Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello whipped up a glittering finale worthy of Studio 54, while Chanel outfitted models for the moon with Mylar-inspired scarves. At Paco Rabanne, Julien Dossena riffed off the house’s historic sci-fi style and remade its classic chain mail dresses in slinky silver and gold.
The Eternal Fashion Icon
Not only was Michael Jackson the most influential artist of the 20th century, but his fearless approach to equalizing aesthetics on the same plane as his own music went on to redefine pop music and pop culture as we know it today. Though Jackson will always be remembered as a true artist, his untouchable status as a fashion icon comes from his true medium: the music video, where Jackson fearlessly flexed his creativity without abandon.
Even when performing live, all Jackson ever needed was a billowing wind machine on the tails of his statement threads to incite feverish pandemonium within an audience. From his most iconic bedazzled military-inspired looks to his enduring red leather numbers, MJ was always ahead of his time and that’s why he continues to inspire all your faves, even today.
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