When you think of your number-one style icon, who pops into your head? Alexa Chung? Rihanna? Bella Hadid? How about Michelle Obama and her powerhouse glam? A woman’s style icon will, most of the time, be another woman. But in a world of gender fluidity, why are we limiting ourselves?
Some of the most kick-ass women around cite male style icons as their fashion motivation. Rita Ora name-checks Freddie Mercury while Alexa Chung says she goes straight to Mick Jagger and Kurt Cobain for her style cues. There’s a whole host of shirt-rockin’, hat-wearing legends that we’re just not considering when we dip into our closets at 8am.
Take Keith Richards: the king of effortless layering and the reigning champion of casual accessories, despite wearing 27 at once. I probably wouldn't have asked my mum to pull out her animal-print '70s suit jacket if it wasn’t for this guy; nor would I be constantly wearing vintage headscarves. Keith says he finds most of his favourite pieces in old vintage basements, so get to your local pre-loved outfitters and go hard. His threads are laced with an unutterably cool nonchalance that translates perfectly to any girl who wants splashed-on, grungy outfit inspiration. The man himself even admitted to GQ: “I steal women's clothes. Charlie Watts got really pissed at me a few years ago. There was some page in Vogue, and I was a fashion icon. I was actually wearing Anita [Pallenberg]'s clothes.” Distressed, long-sleeved tees, patterned suit jackets and layered jewellery are Keith’s calling cards. With him as your motivation there’s no reason not to rock a snakeskin-print jacket at your next meeting.
And the clothes aren’t the only reason that male style icons are beneficial. When I’m looking at an outfit I love on a female celeb, the natural tendency is subconsciously to compare how I’d look in it; blame all that "Who wore it best?" nonsense. I visualise myself wearing it and, more often than not, I’ll make an excuse as to why it just won’t work on me. I don’t know why. It just happens and I’m probably not even right. The number of outfits we veto because we assume “that cut wouldn’t look good on me” or “my arms wouldn’t look like hers in that sleeve”, without even trying them on, is ridiculous.
Jimi Hendrix’s style is like looking at a gorgeous abstract painting. His use of colour is almost arousing (just me?)
You see, the difference is that when I’m watching a Stones’ documentary, seeing Keith rocking out on stage in a silk bomber, headscarf and tight leather trousers, I’m not comparing my legs to his. Because he’s a guy, I tend to look at it from a healthier perspective. Lisa Semik, a fashion student from Manchester, sees Rod Stewart as her ultimate style hero and agrees that it can be healthier. “Because I know our bodies are so different, there’s no need to compare myself to him. I look at the clothes as if they’re hanging in my closet.”
From the same period as Keith but at the other end of the effort spectrum, we have the prince of prints and mad hatter himself, Jimi Hendrix. Jimi's style, to me, is like looking at a gorgeous abstract painting. His use of colour is almost arousing (just me?).
On him, nothing jars. Nothing clashes. It’s all a purposely juxtaposing palette. When it comes to incorporating colour into your wardrobe, if there’s anyone you should be taking advice from, it’s this guy. He'd be wearing a baroque print shirt and fuchsia cord flares with a 19th-century military jacket slung on top, and it would be seamless. I mean, he turned chinos into a silver '70s statement by layering belly-dancing jewels and scarves as belts. Jimi’s hallmark style originated from Army & Navy store garb, embellished with buttons and embroidered flowers cut from Mexican shawls – it was all custom. The lesson here is to take every scarf you own and use it as a belt. All at the same time. Invest in patches, material swatches, sequins or buttons and get crafty with your vintage jeans and jackets.
Then we have the enduring style of Freddie Mercury. His skintight, sporty ensembles are what we all want out of a weekend outfit. He donned clingy retro tees with tight jeans or leather skinnies for years before off-duty '90s models made it a thing; why didn’t we take notice until Kate Moss did it? White was his signature but he loved a bit of colour-blocking, in a jacket or a bold unitard (à la festival wear 2016). Unlike Keith and Jimi, he wasn’t one for accessories but his minimalist approach was pretty great – a quality arm cuff or vintage belt was all he really needed. In his own words: “I have fun with my clothes... It’s not a concert you’re seeing, it’s a fashion show.” Next time we see a sunny day, try a tight slogan tee, white jeans, colourful braces and, of course, the famous aviators.
Before you start googling 'male '70s rock gods' remember that your male style icons don’t need to be actual icons. Try looking at the men around you. One of mine is my dad in his 30s. His style was out of this world; duster jackets over silk polka-dot shirts, chunky boots, baker boy caps and wrist cuffs. He was an off-duty rockstar, and still is.
Flashback to everyone’s favourite '90s couple: Kate Moss and Johnny Depp, dressed much the same in matching vintage leather jackets or tees. Johnny would wear a camel jacket and jeans, only for Kate to appear in the same outfit weeks later. All women should be more creative in how we define and present our gender. Taking influence from exclusively female sources perpetuates the notion that as women we must be feminine and ladylike. And that’s just what the patriarchy wants, people!
As Anne Klein said: “Clothes aren’t going to change the world. The women who wear them will.” So go forth, and wear the trousers.