The relationship between music and fashion is a long-standing one, an unsurprising fact given that they are both significant means of creativity and self-expression in our society and culture. Music shapes fashion and vice versa, and as a result of this and other cultural influences, trends in both of these art forms are constantly shifting and changing.
Branding for musicians
Fashion has become a defining feature of music culture throughout the decades, and serves as an important element of branding for musicians. A distinctive stage look enables musicians to create a unique style, which serves as a marketing technique for their music; just think of Prince's classy purple suits, or Avril Lavigne and her 'skater girl' aesthetic.
Many current musicians also have their own fashion line, or take part in brand partnerships with fashion companies. They may even be paid to feature certain brands or products in their music videos, which strengthens the link between music and fashion trends. Musicians regularly play the role of trendsetters, as their fans take inspiration from their favourite artists. For instance, the Beatles made collarless suits and the now-common 'mop top' more mainstream.
It might be interesting next time you're at a live music event to see how people dress: chances are it will reflect the image of the band or genre in some way, or there will be some items that are especially popular among the crowd.
Many music fans will use a gig as an opportunity to show support for their favourite artists through fashion, and listeners of a particular genre are naturally drawn to clothes that blend in with other members of the fanbase. Band T-shirts have become a fashion statement in their own right, and along with other merchandise they provide a significant proportion of an artist's income.
Fashion stereotypes and musical genres
Hardcore fans of certain types of music often wear their favourite genre as much as listening to it, which has resulted in stylistic links between certain genres and the expected attire. Your typical heavy metal fan is associated with black boots, leather, and denim. Punk is characterised by shredded clothes and graphic tees. Hip hop and baggy sportswear often go hand in hand.
When the widely held image of a specific genre is particularly oversimplified or clichéd, this leads to stereotyping. Although they're usually based on widely held assumptions and not the individual, they can be guided by or show some overlap with subcultures, which are instead defined by those who choose to belong to them. Subcultures, recognisable by their fashion and music taste, still have a tangible impact on modern fashion designers.
Examples of subcultures through the decades
An example of how the link between fashion and music was prevalent even centuries ago is 1920s America's 'flappers'. Jazz music was heavily featured in the underground nightclub culture of speakeasies and clubs, and became a subject of controversy. Jazz musicians created the trend of the 'flappers' style, which is typically associated with short dresses and loose clothing, and emerged as a rebellion to the restrictive Victorian fashion that preceded it.
Modernist, or 'Mod' subculture, which began in London in the late '50s, continues to influence style today. Mods typically wore tight fitted suits, grew their hair long, and were associated with modern jazz and soul music. The mod style was revived in the '90s with the rise in popularity of Britpop bands such as Blur and Oasis, who have themselves had a lasting impact on men's fashion.
1960s folk and rock led the infamous 'hippie' movement, which promoted a 'boho' lifestyle and the rejection of mainstream ideals. Hippies often made their own clothes from scraps or wore second hand. The result was a loose, 'flowy' style: some popular items included blouses, long skirts and bell-bottom jeans. Many elements of the hippie style are present in fashion nowadays, except with a more mainstream appeal and fewer rebellious overtones. Hippie design, alongside '90s grunge and others, can be cited as an influence on festival fashion.
These are just some examples of subcultures that demonstrate the relationship between fashion and music, but there are plenty more that are worth looking into if you're interested, such as punk, glam rockers, emo, skinheads, goths, and bikers. The upshot of the cultural union between music and fashion is that they are in some ways one and the same, and the further you look the more obvious this echo chamber of artistic expression becomes.