Illustration by Author

Kaylie Moropoulos
18 October 2019

Remember being stuck in traffic with your parents? They were blasting some old soul or rock and roll. You wanted to listen to the pop station, but they told you these songs were the classics and so, you listened. Years later you find yourself in the car on your own and this time, despite telling yourself you aren’t like your parents, you turn on the same old soul.

There is more music being made today than ever. And it’s more accessible than ever. Yet, we so often find ourselves listening to the hits of a generation we don’t belong to. No matter the time period, for many of us, music has played a leading role in our own quintessential coming-of-age indie film-like lives. The songs that got you through break-ups, became road trips anthems, and most importantly helped you finally find yourself, will most likely be the songs that you, too, will one day tell your kids are "the classics." So much of our tastes are locally derivative, determined by those that raise us, whether it be older siblings, friends, or parents. So much of what we like is tied to someone else. But this transference is not neat, by any standard. Some of the most influential musical artists, from any genre, often play similar iconic roles within fashion - these icons become stewards of changing culture, leading their fans to follow in their footsteps like the Pied Piper.

For all those psychedelic, Jimi Hendrix paired his signature guitar-playing with an equally unmistakable style of eccentric patterns, flowing shirts, silk scarf headbands, and a crawling mess of jewelry; a visual acid trip that encapsulated the counterculture movement.

David Bowie codified the power of the changing look, moving from his self-titled album “David Bowie” to “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” and “Aladdin Sane.” Each album revolutionized a new look, or more aptly, a new persona for Bowie. These personas all pushed the boundaries of fashion at the time, pioneering both the theatrics of style and androgyny, exploiting newfound freedom in gender and sexuality of the era. Most important was his constant reinvention, giving designers the acceptance needed to begin dramatically changing their looks and designs from season to season. David Bowie encouraged personal expression through fashion, showing that clothes were not to be seen as a necessity or chore, but rather something to be indulged in.

Prince, too, invested in the growing androgyny of the seventies, twisting the traditional masculinity of rock with sequins, bright colors not found in nature, cropped tops, and almost-always-tight pants. Bringing acceptance to trends in gender-bending fashion and design.

Years later, no doubt taking feminine influence from these icons, Kurt Cobain proved to be an archetype of the grunge look. While he didn’t take measures to stick out or shock people with his own style, he typified those of his audience and those of his successors. Cobain’s commonly donned flannel and loose jeans could be categorized by some as a mundane anti-fashion statement, yet its popularity swept the nation in a similar craze to previous icons as many rushed to adopt a look that feigned disinterest and nonconformity.

Cobain’s style and freedom of dress was undoubtedly influenced by the musicians before him like Mick Jagger and Bowie and more that set the example of men embracing femininity. Hendrix and Bowie both took notes from The Beatles' move from traditional suits and early rock and roll to the colorful experimentation of fashion, psychedelia, and baroque pop on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Magical Mystery Tour”. All - The Beatles, Hendrix, Bowie, Prince, and more - were inspired by those earlier like Elvis and Little Richard.

This trend continues indefinitely forward and backward. Your favorite artists today draw on the influences of past times in the same way that those same influences drew on artists of times before them. Music becomes universally secondhand, built from bits and pieces recycled and reimagined, simultaneously current and historic. With music, comes the cultures it embodies. We lean on the aesthetics of other artists and generations, as part of a looped cycle, in search of a feeling of belonging and in an earnest attempt to immerse ourselves in the culture we admire, which continues to influence ourselves and those around us.

Today, technology has increased accessibility of music and culture in every way, allowing you to truly embed yourself in a community. This is evident in the shared style choices of those at a punk show, those of a pop crowd, and those within an indie circle, and in noting the stark differences between each of these groups. But look back along the influence of their music and the influence of fashion will be just as strong.

So, as you remember the moment of picking out your own clothes and having your parents remark that that is something they would have worn, or better yet, something they would have never worn lest risk complete and utter social embarrassment, also remember that our clothes commonly hold hidden histories that are much bigger than just themselves. As we invest more in our own identities we simultaneously become more invested in inspirations from the past.

When I listen to Al Green, Corinne Bailey Rae, or John Mayer and the memories of my mom dancing around the kitchen or driving to hair appointments with the top down on her little light-green punch buggy come back to me, I also find myself slipping on her favorite trench coat. To me, they are the same. The coat’s function moves beyond fashion. The music’s purpose moves beyond auditory pleasure. Both allow me to feel just a little bit closer to my mom, even long after her death. However, to others, the trench coat channels the romance of Audrey Hepburn, clad in a bright white trench coat, sharing a kiss in the rain with Gregory Peck in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; signals the glamour of Prince’s Purple Rain (1984) performance, in which he donned a shining and studded purple trench coat; implies the dutiful courage of British officers in World War I who wore them into the very trenches of their namesake. Regardless of what you take away, whether it be a personal or universal history, what’s more important than understanding is enjoying the feeling of connection it gives us to different generations, different people, and stories different from our own.