As the world mourns the loss of one of its brightest stars, it’s only natural that we begin to dissect his influence on pop culture through his many expressions of creativity. Beyond being an incredible music genius, creating his own sound that drew powerful inspiration from themes of sex and religion, Prince Rogers Nelson did something much braver. He refused to conform. The mystique that is Prince was fed by his refusal to become anyone’s version of ideal. And with 5-inch heels, he strutted through the stratosphere, fueled by an unapologetic force of purple fervor.
Undoubtedly, Prince commanded the stage with suggestive lyrics that was often fodder for public scrutiny, but his eclectic, out-of-the-box fashion choices carved out yet another lane for which he would walk through unaided. In one of his earliest appearances circa 1978, Prince, with a full mane of hair and boss-like mustache, took the stage bare-chested, clothed only in tiny short-shorts; clearly, he was a young man unaffected by the gender standards of society. However it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Prince would begin to run full throttle as the revered unicorn he is, flaunting his lightly feathered hair and his purple, Victorian-inspired suit that would become his signature look of the era.
Unlike anything we had ever seen before, a budding Prince on the heels of his most notable work, 1984's Purple Rain, begin to make clear distinctions about his image that was both bold and unforgiving. Owning his sexuality though his love of heels, bodacious tresses, fully grown facial hair, or barely-there underwear he wore onstage, Prince was making two things very clear: He wasn’t in the business of conforming to your idea of gender norms and that his fashion choices was just as much of an extension of himself as his arms and legs. A true sign of his unabashed freedom.
A freedom that only continued as his star grew. The more bedazzled, colorful, shimmering, and flowy the outfit was, the more ownership Prince could take over it. He was always turning heads on the streets and during performances, but never once asked for permission.
It was in this true wave of expression that Prince’s unique aesthetic began to knock down doors for artists coming onto the scene long after him. Artists like Rihanna can bare her nipples at on stage and in her music videos, because Prince bared his…all the time. Similarly, artist like Miguel, too, can blend the lines between men and women’s fashion as way to express himself without shame, like the iconic master of mystery himself.
So while we reflect on his musical contributions, which inspired a generation of artists to not be one-dimensional but tiered in purpose, we must acknowledge how his defiance of gender and fashion plays to the larger societal conversation of gender fluidity and personal expression happening today. It wasn’t enough for Prince to play every instrument and become one of the most respected vocalists in music history. And that's why he'll go down as the baddest motha' to ever grace the stage.
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(Photos from top: Ebet Roberts/Redferns, Matt Kent/WireImage, Ethan Miller/Getty Images)