Prince, who passed away at the age of 57 on Thursday morning, will likely be remembered just as much for his fashionable life as his musical career. Like David Bowie, he challenged notions of gender and sexuality, but he also played with the ways those ideas intersected with race. And he did it all while wearing tropes of stereotypical feminine dress in a way that oozed sex appeal.
In our current era of gender fluidity on and off the runway, Prince can be considered as something of a torch-bearer. He wore ruffly peasant blouses unbuttoned to the naval and adorned his limbs with thigh-high stockings and fingerless lace gloves. On stage and in music videos, he gave hyper-sexual performances, gyrating against Apollonia and Carmen Electra in clothing that was tighter and more femme than whatever they had on.
Clad in Cuban heels, lace cravats, or the matching-tunic-and-flared-pant ensembles of late, Prince retained an air of mystery that’s proved elusive — or just uninteresting — for other celebrities. As much as he played up his legend and his sexuality, the pop god lived a quiet life, appearing seemingly only when he felt like being seen. He lived as he sings in his song Uptown: “Now where I come from / We don’t let society tell us how it’s supposed to be / Our clothes, our hair, we don’t care /It’s all about being there.” And when he showed himself, we saw.