Call The Fashion Police: Why Do Rockers All Dress So Badly?

a judges gavel judge court

I’m Putting Rock On Trial! Have Your Say!

Twenty five years on from the peak of heavy rock‘s commercial popularity in 1988, this series asks why heavy rockers no longer dominate the charts and seeks to highlight the crimes that Heavy Rock is accused of, and give you the cases for and against.

At the end of each debate, you will have the ability to vote either “guilty” or “not guilty”, according to the evidence. And because this is a democratic process, you may also introduce your own evidence, in the comments section at the foot of the page to sway the jury.

By the end of the process we should perhaps have a clearer view of what went wrong with those eighties rock bands, and the pitfalls new bands might do well to avoid…

Call The Fashion Police: Why Do Rockers All Dress So Badly?

The case for the prosecution:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let’s examine the evidence (Many of these featured in a previous post – “The Worst Dressed Men In Rock”)….

black sabbath sabotage

Black Sabbath’s Red Trousers on the cover of Sabotage: Ozzy‘s wearing a dress, but all I can see is a ludicrous pair of red trousers. Or are they his wife’s tights?

Scott Columbus of manowar moustache

Manowar: the oiled up leather lingerie look. With perms and moustaches. Attractive.


Poison – I found this picture at the local school where they had a display looking at the eighties. It reads “In the eighties they liked to wear big funky hair”. It omits to say “Poison looked ludicrous and my mate fancied one of them before he realised they were blokes”.

Status Quo On The Level Back Cover

Status Quo: The full horror of seeing a drummer in boots and leather waistcoat is still quite shocking.

Raven The Pack Is BackRaven combined American Football and Heavy Rock despite being a British band. The codpiece and footie helmet look never really caught on anywhere else, save for in highly er, specialist magazines. Probably.

twisted sister

Twisted SisterDee Snider‘s make up looks as if it had been applied by a jittery plasterer. There’s also a denim jacket cut down to the navel on the left. Bizarre.

Rush Kimonos

Rush – even Bowie didn’t look great in a Kimono. Rush had no chance.

Queensryche - June 1986-P1

Queensryche – one of the funniest photos ever. Even the band know they look horrendous – it’s etched across their faces.

In conclusion, there can be little doubt that this way of dressing is entirely unacceptable. If any one of us dressed this way and weren’t in a band, we’d be carted off to the funny farm in a trice. Why should these rockers be treated any differently?

The Defence:

Exhibit A: The biblical story of Joseph. Wearing what others might regard as flamboyant clothing is nothing new. This noble tradition can be carried all the way back to biblical times when the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons made what can only be seen as a huge cry for either a) help or b) attention by wearing a somewhat foppish and multi-coloured coat whilst trying to interpret dreams. He came in for a bit of stick for that, but it turned out all right in the end. Heavy rockers may be merely carrying on the finest of religious traditions.

Exhibit B: Jimi Hendrix’s clothes. When Jimi Hendrix served in the army, he was forced to wear a uniform. When he appeared in backing bands for the likes of Little Richard he was forced to wear a uniform. So when Hendrix finally broke big, the last thing he wanted to do was wear a uniform. His flamboyant military-themed jackets were an elegant retort to those who wanted him to conform and look like everyone else. Everybody else dressed the same. In grey. Remember – when The Beatles first toured America, Lennon remarked how square everyone looked. He was right.

Rock n roll was a reaction to conformity. If Ozzy Osbourne hadn’t been a singer in Black Sabbath he’d have spent his life working in factories. So why shouldn’t rock stars dress like rock stars?

So when we look at those (admittedly amusing) examples of er, experimental fashion, let’s just look at the facts:

Whilst poodle haired rockers looked bad, they have to be seen in context. Don’t criticise until you see what everybody else was wearing. Like this:

king in a cheque suit

Or this:


Or this:

Elton John as Donald Duck

Compared to this, they were positively demure. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, with that photo, the defence rests.

  • It’s Time To Vote!
  • Is it a crime to wear the most foul and unpleasant clothes made primarily of leather, denim and Lycra?
  • Or is it the very essence of rock n roll and something to be treasured and celebrated?
  • Vote GUILTY if you think heavy rock is guilty of crimes of fashion.
  • Vote NOT GUILTY if you think it is a long and noble tradition to look ridiculous whilst playing rock n roll.
  • SWAY the jury by sharing your views below!

Record #243: Manowar – Defender





16 responses to “Call The Fashion Police: Why Do Rockers All Dress So Badly?”

  1. chrisflinterman Avatar

    Absolutely not guilty! If I’m looking at photographs of what musicians were wearing in the eighties, rockers fit in the row. By the way, who is the second band, between King and Elton John?


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Ah, that’s British Eurovision Song Contest winners Bucks Fizz…
      A brilliant band that made their mark with a dance routine where the two guys removed the girls’ skirts mid-song, only to reveal another (shorter) skirt underneath. A genius move that went down especially well in Central Europe.


  2. peacelovegreatcountrymusic Avatar

    I read this right before I’m about to go to sleep, the nightmares are not going to be fun. I am speechless for a change.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Yes – sorry about that. It’s the Manowar pictures isn’t it…?


      1. peacelovegreatcountrymusic Avatar

        It is. I’m still at a loss.


      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        They were young…they needed the money….


  3. 80smetalman Avatar

    Not guilty. Has everybody forgotten about Boy George when he was in Culture Club? The defense rests!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      That was a good look!
      I remember having the conversation in school the day after Top of the Pops along the lines of “that’s a boy, you know…”


  4. mikeladano Avatar

    Personally I consider this a non-issue. It’s about the music. The rest is just window dressing. I move to dismiss the case entirely.


    1. chrisflinterman Avatar

      Good point! Who sees them when you play a record?


      1. mikeladano Avatar

        Right! Even Led Zeppelin didn’t have the perfect image. Sandals? Forget it!


      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        Sandals were okay.
        Fortunately they knew enough never to wear socks underneath the sandals. Now *that*would have required a call to the fashion police.


    2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      How can a leather thong be a non-issue? You come from a very tolerant society clearly.

      I’m not sure that separating fashion from music is either possible or desirable. The Beatles moved from leather suits to Mod-style fabric suits at Epstein’s behest: but they still had a hand in designing them. Hendrix was the epitome of cool, but cared deeply about how he looked for the reasons given above.
      It was only later that Rock came up with a stance that said people who cared about fashion were somehow ignoring the music. It didn’t stop all the fans dressing the same – to show how they didn’t fit it – and thus paradoxically fitting in with other rock fans. This lead to the character (and cliche) of Neil in The Young Ones
      I think Manowar’s outfits are highly bizarre when viewed in the cold light of day. I think metal fans tolerated them because they were able to separate music from fashion. If they liked the former they could forgive the latter.
      However, if you are a casual observer, it is going to be a huge turn-off when you see their photo, and they will have lost potential fans because of it.
      On the other hand, it never did David Bowie any harm….
      What do you think?


  5. Phillip Helbig Avatar

    Again 50/50. Hhmmm.

    Certainly the generalization in the title doesn’t appy. Personally, I don’t care, though when the image becomes more important than the music, it’s time to get one’s priorities straight.


  6. […] Image credit: […]


  7. Joe Avatar

    Not guilty. Each Era had its own styles. What I hate nowadays is musicians dress like they just grab whatever is at the bottom of the dirty laundry basket. They dress like s##t now.


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