Remembering Prince: A Look Back on a Fashion Icon

On Thursday a style and music icon passed away, and the internet exploded with accolades and praise for the contributions Prince made to fashion, music and culture.

As a style icon, Prince broke down the boundaries of gender stereotypes, appearing often in glittered costumes, romantic ruffles, high heels and his signature colour purple. Prince had an ever-changing fashion sense, but he was known for his androgynous, even feminine look. He has been compared to another fashion icon that recently passed, David Bowie. However Prince and David Bowie’s legacies differ in a few ways.

David Bowie identified as bisexual, and Prince identified as straight. This is important–because gender expression is distinct from sexual identity, and to equate one with the other is to oversimplify a diverse spectrum. Prince made it okay to be a straight male in high heels, eyeliner and lace.

Prince’s impact differed from Bowie’s in another even more important way: Prince was a black man, an added hurdle to free expression in a world often marred by racism. Prince is described as pushing the same boundaries that Bowie did, but for black youth. As Tre’vell Anderson, writer for the LA Times puts it: “He simultaneously shed the expectations automatically placed on us by being born black and male. Prince gave us all permission to be free.”

In the 1980s when gender fluidity was much more taboo, Prince was ahead of his time, paving the way for more stars of pop music to do away with gender stereotypes. And he did it with more sophistication than most of the overdone glam of the decade. Famously, Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol for a period in his career; the symbol was a combination of the symbols for man and woman. In his song “I Would Die 4 U,” he sings “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that you will never understand.” If, as ancient wisdom states, balance comes from accepting the masculine and feminine forces within each of us, and Prince did so in a timeless way that resonates deeply through modern pop culture. We salute this visionary artist.