Michael Jackson's Greatest (Fashion) Hits
One year after his untimely death, it’s clear that Michael Jackson’s legacy lives on: His influence over the worlds of music and fashion is still such that Lady Gaga—currently both the reigning queen of the charts and an undisputed master in the Jackson-pioneered art of generating buzz—recently raised her own star even higher by announcing that she’d been asked to open for (and duet with) the King of Pop on his ill-fated “This Is It” tour. Last year, we celebrated him with a gallery of his most frequently copied fashion innovations; this year, we’ve decided to toast his inimitable style by compiling a slide show of his top ten looks.
#1: Psychedelic Prints
At just thirteen, Michael already had a handful of #1 hits...and a deeply groovy on-stage wardrobe. In this shot from December 1, 1971, the pint-size pop star demonstrated his adeptness at mixing patterns, pairing a Missoni-style shirt with a pair of kaleidoscopic green-on-green bell-bottoms.
#2: Sparkling Separates
Off the Wall
was Michael’s fifth solo album, but it was his first with the producer Quincy Jones; self-penned smash-hits like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” provided the first glimpse of the hybrid pop/soul/funk/disco sound for which he became known. In January 1979, eight months before the record was released, Michael donned an ensemble that likewise presaged his future signature look: Menswear basics (in this case, a sweater-style shirt paired with black pants, a white collar shirt, and an oversize bow-tie) rendered with maximum sparkle.
#3: The Red Leather Jacket
The zipper-bedecked red leather jacket that Jackson wore in 1983's “Beat It” video quickly became iconic and widely copied. Michael himself opted for a similar tomato-colored style in his subsequent “Thriller” clip.
#4: The Sequined Glove
Performing at L.A.’s Dodger Stadium in 1984, the King of Pop wore an outfit that combined several of his favorite trends: abundant shine, a military-style jacket (complete with golden epaulets), and most notably, his famous single, sequined white glove.
#5: Zippers, Buckles, and Chains
In many ways, the Martin Scorcese-directed video for “Bad” functioned as a kind of sequel to the earlier “Beat It” clip: Both were inspired by West Side Story, and the heavily-ornamented black leather Jackson wore in the 1987 video looked like a tougher version of his old red jacket.
#6: The Classic Suit—with a Twist
This look from 1988's “Smooth Criminal” video—a sharp white suit, worn with a blue shirt, white tie and a white-and-black fedora—was an explicit homage to his dance idol, Fred Astaire, who donned an almost-identical outfit in the 1953 musical The Band Wagon. (Astaire admired Jackson, too: “That’s the greatest dancer of the century,” he said of the pop star.) But the armband was all MJ: It’s been reported that the oft-present accessory was his way of remembering suffering children around the world.
#7: Attention-Getting Accessories
High-water pants—paired with white, often-sparkly socks—were another favorite of Michael’s, and they served a purpose, drawing attention to his fancy footwork (seen here in the groundbreaking 1991 video for "Black or White"). The cast-like brace he often wore functioned the same way: It accentuated his awesome movements. (His wrist was reportedly fine.)
#8: The Space-Age Suit
For 1995's multimillion-dollar, spaceship-set “Scream” video, Michael’s style took a futuristic, club-kid bent—he and sister Janet donned matching spiked shirts and black pleather pants. The song featured some of the singer’s angriest lyrics ever, but it was pure fun to watch him sing, dance, and goof around with his little sis.
#9: Upscale Armor
Knee pads were an MJ staple. He wore this gold-accented pair, which were reminiscent of the lowest quadrant of a suit of armor, with a sequined white bandleader jacket while performing in 2002 at New York City’s Apollo Theater, after the release of his last full album of new material, Invincible. (The frequently seen finger bandages also make an appearance here.)
#10: High-Fashion Labels
Fashion designers had long been influenced by Michael’s aesthetic, but it wasn’t until the last year of his life that the singer began to reciprocate, regularly stepping out in recognizable, straight-from-the-runway styles. Always a rule-breaker, Michael frequently opted for tops, jackets, and even pants that were originally shown on female models. In this picture from 2009, he wears a jacket and vest by Givenchy; Balmain was another favorite.