Although many hit-makers these days seem to enjoy the services of not just a single stylist, but an entire imaging department, there have been many rock 'n' rollers, soul singers, blues guitarists, rappers, and even pop stars who made it big while maintaining a strong sense of self and impeccable style. Below are 11 such musicians and the fashion styles they inspired.
1. Kurt Cobain // Jeans, flannel, thrift store sweaters
Most trends don't start consciously, because real trendsetters (especially musicians) don't set out to start trends. They just want to be themselves and make music. Cobain was no different. His short yet epic ride in the cultural sun, however, changed music and fashion forever, opening up a whole new corner of the wardrobe closet to the American male. Kurt probably just put on whatever was comfortable and closest to the bed he rolled out of each morning, but his clothing instincts were like his chord progressions—untouchable. Cobain solidified the modern grunge style, Paul Bunyan meets thrift store chic. No one before and no one since has made jeans, flannel, and cardigan sweaters look so effortlessly, disaffectedly cool.
2. Bob Marley // M-65 jackets, adidas
Until Bob Marley, casual military garb was the purview of dictators and revolutionaries. But the most famous Rasta of all time turned the M-65 jacket on its head, employing its deep front pockets for weed storage, not ammunition, and making it the choice jacket for a generation of pacifist stoners. And just as he humbly spread the good word of brotherly love, Bob unassumingly bolstered the Adidas brand, nonchalantly sporting a half dozen of their sneaker models over the course of his career and making track suits stylish well before Run DMC.
3. Eazy-E // snapbacks
All of the three original members of N.W.A., including gangster rap stalwarts Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, had serious swag, but no one brought it all together quite like unofficial frontman Eazy-E. His mostly black wardrobe, featuring jeans, Adidas, and athletic wear, was West Coast streetwear refined, a classic, simple counter to his outrageous and often crude lyrics. But what made the look pop was Eazy's giant gold chain and crisp snapback L.A. Kings/Raiders caps. The influence of Eazy-E's snapback skills can be seen up and down today's hip hop charts.
4. Andre 3000 // retro-prep
Perhaps Andre's biggest contribution to fashion was his ability to push boundaries and get a little weird without losing his street cred. But when he was sporting absurdist art pieces or neon overalls, Andre was classic country club gentleman with a touch of color and flair—able to channel vintage prep through a hip hop lens. At a time when other Southern hip hop stars were flashing grills and rocking headbands, Andre was sporting bow ties and suspenders. His fashion footprint can be seen left in the forward-thinking wardrobes of today's hip hop stars like Pharrell, Kid Cudi, Kanye, and others.
5. The Beatles // mop-top
The most iconic pop-rockers of all time inspired many trends: collarless suits, the outlandish psychedelic peacock style of their Sgt. Pepper days, Lennon's round wire-frame glasses. But their most famous contribution was the mop-top, those four floppy boyish hairdos—long swooping bangs, hair-covered ears, and shaggy all over. Today, it's a run-of-the-mill middle school cut, but in 1964, it was revolutionary.
6. Diana Ross // big bling
Before Rihanna implored her peers to "shine bright like a diamond," the lead singer of the Supremes was beaming brighter than a pulsar. Always big but never gaudy, Diana Ross was one part elegance, one part shine. Big hair, big diamonds, and plenty of sparkle.
7. Madonna // messy chic
Madonna's storied career is a case study in consistency—in terms of quality music, that is. Her sense of style, on the other hand, is a schizophrenic roller coaster ride through a Hollywood costume closet. That's not an insult; it's just to say Madonna switched things up a lot. Amidst the madness, though, there were definite highlights—conical bras, wedding dresses, kimonos, to name a few. Even though Madonna rocked dozens of sexy and iconic looks, her most mimicked was her go-to early '80s music video outfit: lots of and lots of religious low hanging necklaces, oversized hair bows, and lace gloves.
8. Elvis Costello // coke-bottle glasses
Before tightly tailored suits and V-necks went mainstream and hoards of fashionable millennials rendered the word "hipster" meaningless, there were some authentic hipsters. But even before that, there was Elvis Costello. His aim was true, and so was his style, marrying blazers, skinny jeans, and big glasses before anybody knew it was a winning combination.
9. Stevie Nicks // gothic romance
Nicks' run with Fleetwood Mac was full of hits; it was also full of flowing chiffon, lace, velvet, and platform boots. With her seductive voice, handkerchief skirts, and wild mane, Nicks was the full package—the siren of the seventies.
10. Joan Jett // Leather
Suzi Quatro was the first woman to make leather stagewear fashionable, but it was Joan's success on the U.S. charts and frequent MTV appearances that popularized the look. Whether it was a leather jacket, leather pants, a pair of leather boots, or just a belt, the godmother of punk rock proved being a bombshell and bad-to-the-bone weren't mutually exclusive.
All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.