A lot of people are often surprised when they find out I’m a huge Prince fan mostly due to the way I dress. One fellow (immaculately dressed) Prince fan commented on how it’s very uncommon to see someone like myself, an active part of the vintage scene, to enjoy Prince. I had never really thought of it that way before and it got me thinking about my relationship with the vintage community and sub-cultures in general. My own personal taste in vintage clothing, ranging mostly from 1940s to early 1960s, can make dressing as a fan, at times, awkward. Yes I wear seamed stockings and obsess over finding affordable bakelite in Scotland (no chance!) but I am not strictly committed to ‘vintage’ music tastes as such. Don’t get me wrong I love Little Richard – without him there would be no Prince – but I’d much rather listen to the purple one than Gene Vincent.
With thanks to my parents who have admirable music tastes I grew up in a house where Prince would often be playing in the kitchen. The first time I put a face to the voice was watching Prince bare his (wonderful) ass at the MTV Music Awards in the now infamous canary yellow jumpsuit designed by Stacia Lang. I remember feeling the magnetic fuzz of the television as I pressed my face up close to the screen gawking at His Royal Badness. Looking back I think this introduction really set me off on my path for overt displays of glamour and style that I continue to love to this day as a thirty year old woman. Things came full circle a few months ago in Minneapolis where I got to tell Lang just how much of an impact her creations had on me growing up and yes I did cry.
Fashion was incredibly important to me growing up. At the same time as I was discovering Lauren Bacall’s houndstooth suit in The Big Sleep I was also delving into charity shops for the first time and realising clothing didn’t have to just come out of Tammy Girl. Already a firm Prince fan it took me surprisingly 14 years to watch the film Purple Rain. I distinctly remembering staying up late to watch Prince writhe to Computer Blue through the bars of my (naturally) purple bed bunk and thinking to myself ‘why didn’t my parents tell me he did THIS too?’.
My first thought immediately went to the clothes in that film. Those clothes really spoke to me – all those rhinestones, lace, ruffles and high-octane glamour that mirrored my burgeoning interest in Old Hollywood. I vividly remember buying a pair of nylon lace gloves from a charity shop for 20p and a handful of tangled costume jewellery pearl necklaces in my first direct fashion ode to Prince in second year of high school. However I did not spending my teen years wearing high-rise nylon teddies from Marks and Spencers a’la Apollonia instead I spent a lot of time in my teens skanking away to bands like Reel Big Fish and Mad Caddies, wearing jumbo sky blue cords, two-tone anything and plastic jewellery (nothing changes there). I didn’t really feel like my side passion for Prince was relatable to my peers but I found my way of getting my purple freak on. One of the first nights of university, amongst a group of fashion students, I put on my beloved Prince box set and we all sat down to watch to Purple Rain. Previous to this we had all watched The Notebook on mass and the memory of watching my soon to be friends drop their jaws as Prince gleefully humps First Avenue’s floors is probably one of my most fondest memories.
As I mentioned previously this year I did something I never thought I would – I visited Minneapolis, Prince’s beloved home city. I was accepted to speak at the Prince From Minneapolis conference at the University of Minnesota and with the help of credit cards, overtly generous friends, family and strangers I made it to my purple mecca. Prior to touch down I knew I needed the perfect fashion homage to Prince and felt it fitting to recreate my own version of 1950s circle skirt complete with Prince felt appliqués. Novelty skirts were incredibly popular in the 1950s where home dressmakers and the department stores alike created whimsical thematic designs focusing on kitsch themes such as poodles, vegetables and circus scenes. My Mommie Dearest and I had the best time gluing our fingers together to make rhinestone Love Symbols and 3D felt Prince effigies. I went for Third Eye Girl P and classic Purple Rain era after an ill-fated foray in fashioning a felt Gemini Prince from Partyman but at least I tried. This skirt still feels like the perfect marriage of my identity lovingly rounded up in one garment, super glue stains and all.
Standing outside Paisley Park, the epicentre of all things Prince, I watched for 4 days as fans from all over the world jumped out of taxis, buses and insane yellow sport cars decked out in their Prince finery. Nods to The Purple One ranged from the unassuming (there was A LOT of immaculate purple manicures) to the wonderfully outrageous. One fan I met outside the Target Centre at the controversial Prince: Live on Big Screen show had worked for months with a seamstress to recreate the Raspberry Beret suit from head to toe. Boots included. Creative fans customised denim jackets with hand-made appliqués, pins, embellishments and fabric with a special shout out to the women I saw in First Avenue in FULL Dirty Mind garb – bikini brief and all.
I think the thing I admire most about Prince is his sense of self, something he remained unapologetic for throughout his career – ill-fated blue smurf suits and all. With every encounter I have with a Prince fan his style comes up with people remarking on how only Prince could pull off his eccentric ensembles. True there aren’t many people who can pull of the Gangsta Glam unitard and skates look but I love the fact that people do revel and rejoice in his clothing in their own individual way. Recently the EYE NO: Prince Lovesexy symposium at NYU filled my heart with such happiness as I saw scholars and fans alike decked out in polka dots in honour of the album’s iconic look.
Prince’s true sense of self continues to inspire me every day and rings true of my other coveted weirdos who make me who I am – John Waters, Elsa Schiaparelli, Carmen Miranda to name a few. Prince himself was inspired by other like-minded eccentrics and I like to think that I’ll continue to spread the good purple word wherever I go in life, all whilst wearing a raspberry beret of course.
Long may this celebration of outrageous glamour, race, gender, sexuality and self reign!