Fashion and style

young man playing guitar wearing jeans and a sleeveless top, showing off tattoos on his arms

© iStockphoto.com/Sean O'Riordan

The way musicians look, how they are represented in videos and in album artwork, how they are seen on stage - all these are aspects of the idea of the image of an artist, and all are crucially important in marketing pop acts. Record companies spend large amounts of money employing stylists, graphic designers, choreographers, video makers and so on in order to create an attractive and contemporary look for their artists. Once they exist, these images start to play a central role in providing audiences with a visual component in their understanding of the music. When someone mentions the Beatles, we recall their music, but we are also very likely  to bring to mind any number of visual images - from their famous ‘moptops’ to the psychedelia of the 'Sgt Pepper' album cover, from their early suits to John Lennon’s iconic glasses. All of these visual elements have become part and parcel of how we understand the group as a musical and social phenomenon, and they help to form our understanding of their development throughout the 1960s.

The type of clothing associated with different genres often has a close fit with the music being played and the audience for that music. In slickly produced and polished genres such as electropop and new romantic for instance, clothing tends to be highly stylised and flamboyant. In genres that are thought to have an authentic connection with the lives of their audiences or a musical directness - such as certain types of British independent music - clothing is used to connect acts to a particular form of street style, and indeed the clothing worn on stage may be very similar to that found amongst their audiences. In these cases fashion is used to create a coherent identity for an act in terms of aspects such as place, ethnicity and social class. In other genres, such glam rock and some elements of post-punk music) clothing is used to draw attention to the fact that performance is itself an artificial idea. Rock performers from David Bowie through post-punk acts such as Devo to the French dance act Daft Punk have been through a variety of highly theatrical stage costumes, some of them even bizarre and all of them far removed from the clothing worn in everyday life.

The Marketing and Artist & Repertoire divisions of large recording companies allocate significant amounts of their budget to employing stylists and image consultants, in order to create a polished, individual and up-to-date visual package. The image presented by a particular act varies according to the type of music they perform, but regardless of the musical style, what musicians wear, their hairstyles, even the way they stand in photographs or move in videos are all part of that carefully presented package. For the audience, all these elements are important in helping people to understand the music.

The era of the internet has brought further developments in the relationship between music and the visual. Even bands that are just starting out can carefully control how they are represented through their websites and social networking sites such as myspace.com.  In addition, the reduction in costs of video recording and editing technologies means that new bands can now produce high quality videos and post them on the internet in order to reach a wider audience.

Follow the links below to explore some particular aspects of the importance of fashion and style: