By Melissa Gauger
It is a dark and windy night on June 12, 2016. While the evening, unusually cool for June, carries on, thousands of people crowd together to catch even a coveted glimpse of Florence + The Machine's headlining concert in Chicago. Florence Welch's custom sheer pink Gucci dress waves elegantly in the wind as she sprints to and fro, from stage left to right, from the barricade to the back of the crowd. She looks almost ethereal, as if she were a nymph or a fairy sent from distant woodlands to charm the mortal world. This majestic look, paired with otherworldly hymns such as "Delilah," and "Shake it Out," makes Welch less of a performer and more of a holy mother. She, seemingly goddess of the stage, preaches to us, her beloved children, for this one starlit evening.
For years, artists have used fashion as a means of enhancing their visual performances. Whether it be unique makeup, a special hairstyle, or designer clothes, musicians have aspired to capture visually what they produce sonically. Legendary pop star David Bowie utilized makeup to create his iconic Aladdin Sane lightning bolt, which brought a touch of 'pizzazz' to his live performances. He was quick to drastically change his dazzling concert attire: outrageous Ziggy Stardust jumpsuits and platform boots, sparkling bodysuits, asymmetrical blue flame-encrusted leotards. These outfits became a vessel in which Bowie exemplified the unique, androgynous quality of both his music and his aesthetic. Not only did they express his own personal self expression, they earned a legendary place in history as some of the most iconic outfits of all time.
Today, still, artists such as Beyoncé and Solange use fashion to their advantage, creating a visually stunning and jaw-dropping live experience. When performing at Panorama Festival 2017 in New York City, Solange and her dance team sported matching crisp red outfits, composed of various combinations of shirts, pants, and jumpsuits. Their cohesiveness amplified the sharp, minimalistic, contemporary beauty of Solange's critically acclaimed debut album, A Seat At the Table. Solange is often found wearing bold red on stage. Perhaps she means to embody qualities often associated with the color - strength, courage, radiance, determination. Coincidentally enough, these are qualities found throughout her empowering music and stunning live show.
Albeit "simple," Solange's outfits bring a special element to a stunning performance that cannot be achieved on vocal performance alone. Concert-goers do not just attend shows solely to hear someone's voice - often, I will critique visual displays and leave the venue discussing lighting, stage design, and clothing choice. Fashion has always been used as a means of expressing oneself. When an artist takes the stage, their outfit displays their personality, their music, and what kind of show they hope to portray to the audience.
Beyonce, with a sharp eye for visuals and aesthetics, is famous for her carefully planned performance costumes. As she took to the stage at the 2017 Grammys to sing Lemonade's "Love Drought" and "Sandcastles" in a golden veil, she looked like a sun goddess, like mother earth, like she was made of light itself. Her stunning outfit, highlighting her newly formed baby bump, let viewers know of her upcoming motherhood. She highlighted the beauty in life, love, and birth through her sunlit gown. Beyonce has always had a flawless touch in bringing the message of her music and her confidence into the outfits she dons each night. Her outfits exude self-love, hard work, and thoughtfulness.
As artists invest more of themselves into their outfits, many designer brands have also teamed up with musicians to create a collaboration. Many listeners acknowledge Garrett Borns, known by his stage name BØRNS, for his tendency to sport trendy Gucci clothing in both his performances and on his social media. These pieces - a denim jacket, a beautiful suit - add to Borns' androgynous aura and sweet, sultry performances. His long hair drapes like caramel silk as he performs in bell bottom jeans and designer shirts.
Even Harry Styles, newly a solo artist, finds himself enhancing his performances through his fashion taste. As he begins his world tour, Styles never fails to perform in in meticulously planned and fitted Gucci suits. These suits have nearly become a staple to his "brand" - thousands of fans await each day to view photographs of each concert's new look. His classy, tasteful outfits are reminiscent of old artists that inspire him; one can see pieces of Fleetwood Mac or Mick Jagger in the gold suit he wore on September 30th at Styles' sold out show at the Wang Theatre.
Artists not only invest time and money into their clothing - they invest pieces of themselves. Some may see their outfits as fabric, while others may see pieces of the music, or the aesthetic, or the artist's own personality. Regardless, fashion offers a second sight into a musician's vision. What are they looking to give us? Suave pantsuits? Glittering ball gowns? Or perhaps even loose jeans and their favorite worn t-shirt will serve as a visual mirror into the artist and their hope for what we will take home from their performance.