Rock Fashion History


In 1951, Cleveland DJ Alan Freed was spinning "My Baby Rocks Me with a Steady Roll" when he coined the term "rock 'n' roll." From that moment, rock 'n' roll as a musical genre as well as a iconic style was born. Fashion has always been an integral part of rock 'n' roll music, with artists dressing themselves in everything from classic blue jeans to designer suits, leather pants to tutus.


The birth of rock 'n' roll did not happen in a vacuum. Early rock music held much in common with rhythm and blues music. Nobody represented this fusion of sounds more than Elvis Presley, who amped up his sex appeal by wearing tight jeans, close-knit shirts and well-tailored suits. His more formal, clean-cut approach established an aesthetic that would prove restrictive for the rebellious rock fashion in the years to come.


The 1960s brought a sea change in the sounds, politics and fashion of many rock 'n' roll artists. The Beatles, with their early look of mop-top haircuts and mod suits, presented a less glitzy alternative to the Elvis look. By the late 1960s, rock artists such as Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones had stripped down the look to flared jeans, tight T-shirts and psychedelic shades.


Rock fashion often flies in the face of the looks of the generation that preceded it. Extreme trends such as the painted faces and silver jumpsuits of glam fashion and the ripped leather and metal studs of punk fashion prove that rock stars are always reinventing themselves. Certain style icons undergo a complete makeover from album to album. For example, Madonna began with her "Material Girl" look of leggings and mini skirts with chain jewelry, only to move to bustiers and stilettos.


Throughout all the permutations on rock fashion, there has been one constant--denim. Blue jeans and jeans jackets remain a staple item for many rock 'n' roll artists, from Bob Dylan to Kurt Cobain, Melissa Etheridge to the Grateful Dead. Jeans continue to capture the James Dean mystique in "Rebel Without a Cause" that gives rock 'n' roll its edgy, youth-oriented quality.


Rock 'n' roll fashion may encompass fly-by-night trends, mismatched pieces or ripped and distressed fabrics, but it is not typically cheap. Top-tier rockers like Madonna and Mick Jagger have personal stylists who keep them looking fashion-forward and who guide them through several costume changes per show. Jagger may don a faded T-shirt for a concert, but it will be one professionally weathered by London's Buddhist Punk company, home to some designers he favors.

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