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3 Stage Costumes that Shocked the World!

Never underestimate the provocative power of clothing.

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Many musicians understand the importance of their appearance. Be it on stage or live TV, a performer’s image is a marketing tool. It shapes audience perception, captivating the masses through the superstar’s unique stage persona.

Outrageous fashion might be used in PR stunts, to promote a new album, or simply to show off a singer’s rebellious streak. In the world of stage performance, various stars have worn statement-making outfits that are embedded in our minds to this day. This list will take a look at some of the most controversial stage costumes to ever take to the stage!

Shocking Outfit 1. 

David Bowie, Top of the Pops, 1972.

You can't begin this list without mentioning the Starman himself.

In the 1970s, David Bowie crash-landed onto the music scene as Ziggy Stardust. An image of androgyny, Bowie’s striking appearance was unlike anything seen before. His career really took off after an iconic performance of Starman on Top of the Pops. When it aired in 1972, the broadcast raised some eyebrows.

Controversy emerged because Bowie had casually put his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson on stage. This simple gesture set off alarm bells in a society which wasn’t as open or accepting as the one we know now. The behaviour was described as ‘dangerously queer,’ a telling sign that open awareness about LGBTQ+ communities had a long way to go. But this did not stop Bowie, announcing he was bisexual in a 1972 issue of the popular Melody Maker magazine.

The outfit from the Top of the Pops performance was designed by Freddie Burretti, who Jackie Mallan calls one of ‘fashion’s unsung designers.’ Bowie had two influences in mind for the look. The former was the utilitarian overalls of the Droogs in Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, and the latter being his love for exotic patterns and vibrant colours.

Freddie Burretti – A Fashion Designer for David Bowie

Freddie Burretti – The man behind the look.

With these ideas in mind, Burretti designed a stunning two-piece suit. The quilted fabric – taken from a Liberty of London pattern – was covered in a paisley print of vibrant blues, reds, and golds. It was form fitting to accentuate Bowie’s long and dramatic body. By mixing masculine and feminine elements to the silhouette, the star encapsulated a fluidity of gender expression. To complement the two-piece, Burretti paired it with glamorous red patent boots that had green tie-up laces; a striking addition to the look.

Adding to the theatricality of Bowie’s space age persona, the hairstyle was equally as bold. Styled by hairdresser Suzi Fassey, the famous cut and colour was inspired by Japanese Kabuki culture. Bowie was intrigued by this staple of historical Japanese entertainment. Stemming back to the Edo Period, Kabuki theatre is characterised by exaggerated hair, make up, costuming, and movement. These highly stylised elements were the perfect influence for Bowie, inspiring him to heighten the theatricality of his own performances.

Shocking Outfit 2.

Marilyn Manson, MTV VMA Awards, 1997. 

In 1990s America, Marilyn Manson was determined to shake up a conservative society. Through provocative visuals and lyrically offensive tunes, Manson and his band were ready to shock the nation. This transgressive fervour culminated in one unforgettable performance on live TV which upset Christian communities nationwide.

To promote the 1997 album, ‘Anti-Christ Superstar,’ Marilyn Manson performed single, ‘The Beautiful People,’ at the MTV awards. After patriotic instrumentals were played by a marching band, Manson began with a satirical speech; podium included. He called for audiences to reject the concepts of ‘Christianity’ and ‘beauty’ and rebel against the status quo. In this battle for self-expression and authenticity, there was no time to appease the masses.

Manson’s live rebellion was complemented by a daring stage outfit. Although he began the performance wearing a floor-length jacket, this outer layer was soon ripped off. His ensemble underneath was certainly risque. With a fair bit of skin on show, Manson owned the stage in a fetish-wear inspired look. 

Tied around his waist was a black corset, cinching him in to create an androgynous silhouette. Below he wore a black g-string, baring his lower half without a care in the world. Finishing off the look, Manson kept his staple slick and long black hair, striking white face, and decorative black make-up.

This performance reached out to the alternative kids of the 1990s. Manson was a voice for the kids who hated conformity and wanted to express themselves differently through loud clothing and music. 

However, his desire to stand out got him bad press. He had to defend himself an episode of the Phil Donahue show; where older generations were fearful about moshing and violence at his concerts. Despite this scapegoat status, Manson remained true to himself and didn’t yield to the press. 

A proud misfit to the very end.

Shocking Outfit 3.

Lady Gaga, The Grammy Awards, 2010. 

In the twenty-first century, you would think it increasingly difficult to shock desensitised audiences. But, in the case of Lady Gaga, there are always boundaries to push. Mixing shocking stage performances with avant-garde costuming, her long stint on the music scene has led to some explosive results! 

A notable example was a 2009 performance of Paparazzi when she shocked audiences as blood began pouring out from her rib cage on stage. 

Another shocker happened at the 2011 Grammys when she burst out from a large egg! Although she is more toned down nowadays, her ability to keep the mainstream music industry interesting will always be remembered.

A huge controversy emerged from her appearance at the MTV music awards in 2010. As Gaga was not performing that night, her outfit needed to compensate for her on-stage absence. Walking down the red carpet to collect eight awards, Gaga turned heads (and noses) in a dress made from raw meat.

Lady Gaga’s stylist, Nicola la Formachetti, had called up LA based designer and artist, Franc Fernandez. She had originally asked for Fernandez to make a meat purse for the star, yet he decided to go all out and make a dress entirely from raw, Argentinian matambre meat.

The meat was strung around a mannequin first. It was then structured into a full garment with a cowl neck and asymmetrical skirt, and stitched together using heavy duty nylon thread. 

After the dress’ daring debut on live TV, animal rights campaigners were out for Gaga. The founder of PETA was especially upset. Ingrid Newkirk criticised the musician, stating how this would badly impact her record sales. She reasoned that the appearance of raw meat was more likely to upset than impress her audience. 

Whatever you think about the dress, you cannot deny its scandalous place in media history. 

(Now, the dress has been preserved like beef jerky! It has been shown to the general public in galleries a few times already.)

Making a Statement with Fashion.

Be Bold.

If parading around your neighbourhood wearing a dress made of raw meat (or your underwear) isn’t quite your thing, you can still make an impact with what you choose to wear. Whether this post has inspired you to pull out your fishnet tights, go get the tattoo you’ve always dreamed of, or start experimenting with colourful eye shadow; take the opportunity.

Remember, if you’re not confident enough yet, start out small. Maybe after rocking a more daring dress, you’ll slowly gain the confidence to take things further. In my style journey, slowly gaining the confidence to wear what I love has made me a happier person overall. Once you start experimenting and developing your own style, you’ll find your personality shining through each look!

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