How Music Influences Fashion Over The Decades

Both an emotional outlet and an instrument for self-expression, fashion and music have always been inextricably linked.
Krysta Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli in Halston. Photo Courtesy Of Atsushi Nishijima/ Netflix © 2021

We can scarcely imagine a world where music and fashion don’t overlap and coexist—the relationship is truly symbiotic. They are decade indicators: you are either “Fashion” by David Bowie or “Fashion!” by Lady Gaga. They encapsulate and mirror the socioeconomic status of their time, which also then become tools for members of society to express themselves, their individuality, political stance, the lifestyles they’ve adopted to navigate in society, and preferences in content consumption. Keep reading to discover how music influence fashion.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lisa Frucht (@costumeinspiration)

This relationship goes way back. Flapper girls, with their bobbed hair and cloche hats, excessive makeup and low hemline dresses in the 1920s, for example, embodied the women’s movement at a time when dresses were typically long and loose. Jazz too, was an experimental genre, reflecting the non-conforming attitude post-WW1. Jazz was the roar in the “Roaring Twenties”, and the flapper girls were the rule-breakers.

Then, we roll into the 1950s with Rock n’ Roll. Teen culture was on the rise and youths idolised icons like James Dean who sported the Greaser style: slicked-back hair, rolled-up shirts, cuffed jeans, and motorcycle jackets. “Rebel Without A Cause” was the ethos for both the fashion and music style. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that there’s never only one genre or style for a decade. More often than not, they clash and overlap with each other. Sparkle Moore and Elvis Presley, on the other hand, pioneered Rockabilly, a style that merged rock with country music (also known as hillbilly), with a hint of pin-up thrown in: poodle skirts, polka dots, and high ponytails were the staples. On the other side of the world, the Teddy Boys and Girls (or Judies) indulged in rock n’ roll and rhythms and blues (R&B). Among the youth from working-class backgrounds, their take on fashion was more practical and androgynous—rolled-up jeans, tailored jackets with velvet lapels, flats, or creepers.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by 1960s Daily (@60sgoodtimes)

Entering the Swinging Sixties, music like modern jazz and R&B became more accessible with the omnipresent jukeboxes in coffee bars brought forward by the beatnik culture. If “rockers” sped down the streets in motorcycles wearing leather jackets, the mods paraded the cities in a Vespa, all dolled up in vibrant colours and patterned garments with the shortest hemlines. While it was the golden era for pop culture, it was also a defining moment in fashion history when mini skirts were invented by Mary Quant and André Courrèges, further popularised by Twiggy, who lives on and remains a style inspiration till this day.

how music influence fashion
Vivienne Westwood Fall1993 by Maria Valentino. Photo Courtesy Of Vivienne Westwood

How can you talk punk without mentioning Vivienne Westwood? Undisputedly one of the best fashion designers of her time, she was the doyenne of melding fashion and music. Her designs—ripped T-shirts, leather, and tartan—became popular in the punk scene when worn by the Sex Pistols. Her first boutique, managed by Malcolm Mclaren (who was also the manager of Sex Pistols) became a meeting spot for the like-minded. What’s more, the iconic “God Save The Queen” graphic tee was released alongside the then-controversial song, which later became an emblem for not just the punks but also a significant stroke in fashion activism. In the same era, we had the flamboyant Glam Rock—a total opposite of punk fashion. It’s rock but glamorous; think exuberant visual flair and glitter everywhere. Glam rock had an androgynous yet theatrical approach which celebrated musicians like Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and Iggy Pop adopted on- and even off-stage.

music influence fashion
Marc Jacobs Fall 2017 was an ode to the origin of Hip Hop. Photo Courtesy Of LVMH

The 80s and 90s were the time when underground hip-hop music entered the mainstream pop scene. Baggy trousers, oversized shirts, gold chains, and ill-fitting hand-me-downs were popular among the Bronx youth. Hip-hop fashion, or streetwear, became a significant chunk of the grassroots movement, as it was well-loved by those who were active in street culture. The style enamoured fashion enthusiasts and even the high fashion circle, as more fashion designers embraced and infused hip-hop elements into their designs, including Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, and Virgil Abloh. Two decades later, despite being more mainstream to cater to the current social settings, it remains largely the same. The “street” element makes it more favourable and relatable to the masses, hence it endured well.

It’s evident that the music industry has a great influence on fashion, and vice versa. Fashion today is more diverse, drawing inspiration from every possible way, but the knot of said tie became tighter as cosigns, endorsements, and celebrity-led brands became an industrial norm. Rihanna, Victoria Beckham, and Pharell Williams, to name a few, were some musicians who got their feet wet in the fashion industry. It’s inevitably a marketing ploy with the existing influences and halo effect that eventually drive sales, but also weaving their music styles into the creative decisions made for fashion brands, further blurring the lines between both.