Glam Rock, Bowie and Gender Bending

Bowie Icon of Glam Rock

Bowie Icon of Glam Rock

The early 1970s weren’t all Woodstock afterglow and flower power; these years played host to the Glam Rock era and the rise of a new kind of excess. Glitzing its way from British fine art schools into the wardrobes of David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, Glam represented liberation via sartorial escapism and the blurring of gender lines. Blurring gender lines is my aim within my own photographic exploits so Glam could be the ideal style to perhaps emulate with my gender bending subjects. But what is glam?

Glam was lots of things. On the one hand, it was a style that was theatrical, visually excessive and artificial. It exhibits ideas of camp, androgyny and irony, as reflected in the work of Jack Smith and Steven Arnold. At the front face of pop culture it was evident in the work of infamous gender benders David Bowie and the New York Dolls. Glam was a visually extravagant pop style that exploded across Britain during the 1970’s. The exciting, futuristic sounds, extravagant fashions and glitter-dappled personas offered an escape to fantasy in a period where the U.K was in social and political unrest. But Glam was more than just an aesthetic, it was an attitude, a particular way of thinking about visual culture, gender identity and personal style, which is what, makes it as riveting as a style. There are the drug addicts and drag queens in Nan Goldin’s pictures that are only too happy to flaunt their degradation whilst also highlighting the fluidity of gender. Goldin’s image of Kenny I feel is particularly poignant. But Goldin isn’t the only pivotal figure. There have been many artists, photographers and performers who constitute the glam era, in images that resonate, influence but what’s more glitter even today.

Kenny by Nan Goldin

Kenny by Nan Goldin

David Bowie is perhaps the most vital person to mention here in relation to glam rock and gender bending. Glam rock ultimately broke down barriers between genders and sexualities something Bowie’s persona encapsulated. In 1971 the world was introduced to Bowie’s glittering alter ego Ziggy Stardust. With Ziggy, Bowie began incorporating vibrant make-up, mime, sparkles and performance into his act but also the blurring of gender lines and sexuality. His appearance was the epitome of androgyny, he had a slender physique, high cheekbones and pretty features enhanced by glitter and extravagance. As far as his sexuality was concerned that too was a bit of a grey area. David Bowie married a woman, came out as gay, came out as bisexual, divorced his wife, claimed he was “always a closet heterosexual,” (Orlando Sentinel) and then married a woman again. Bowie was not entirely feminine, nor entirely masculine. He wasn’t gay, straight, bisexual or pansexual. Instead Bowie was all of these things which makes him the ultimate gender bender. David Bowie’s personas embodied the inherent contradictions in gender and sexuality-contradictions that popular culture sought desperately to rid itself of. However, Bowie’s image of gender-bending chameleon has had a radical influence on almost every element of modern day, especially androgyny in fashion, which is particularly evident in current trends for menswear for 2014.

Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 2014

Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 2014

Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 2014 man was youthful at heart, donned red lips, sequinned jackets with thin black bow ties (a look I have re-created with a fellow gender bender). The collection was all about glam rock and just as ambiguity was reaching boiling point, a steady flow of other designers took a card from Bowie’s genderless deck. Astrid Anderson brought the spandex. JUUN.J revealed twiggy legs with dangerously short shorts. JW Anderson continued what last season’s dresses and skirts started with skinny trousers and shoulder-baring tops.

Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 2014

Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 2014

Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 2014

Yves Saint Laurent Spring Summer 2014

This year even saw Bowie highlighting his own influence in the androgynous movement, featuring Tilda Swinton, Andrej Pejic and Saskia de Brauw in the bizarre clip for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’. Bowie’s lyrics cry out to ‘the stars’. “Here they are upon the stairs. Sexless and not aware” referencing them as the genderless shadows of his limelit past. View the video below:

Overall, ambiguous gender identities and gender blurring fashions are bang on trend. Glam rock and Bowie have definitely sparked inspiration and given me ideas of how to style my subjects to further reinforce their alternative gender identities and diversity.

References:

Sentinel, O (N.D) David Bowie Calls Himself ‘A Closet Heterosexual- 30 May 1993 [online] available from<http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1993-05-30/news/9305300344_1_david-bowie-mick-jagger-ziggy&gt&gt; (27th May 2014)

Savage, J (November 1980) The Face “David Bowie: The Gender Bender” [online] available from <http://www.bowiegoldenyears.com/articles/8011-theface.html > (30th May 2014)

Nakiska, T for Dazed Digital (2014) Sex: Bowie Doesn’t Care [online] available from<http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/16927/1/sex-bowie-doesnt-care&gt; (30th May 2014)

The Fashionista (2013) Coolest thing ever [online] available from<http://fashionista.com/2013/02/tilda-swinton-andrej-pejic-and-saskia-de-brauw-star-in-david-bowies-gender-bending-new-video/&gt; (30th May 2014)

Fallowell, D (2014) David Bowie, patron saint of gender bending [online] available from <http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/David+Bowie,+patron+saint+of+gender+bending/29523&gt; (30th May 2014)

The Guardian (2013) Glam! at Tate Liverpool: through a mirrorball darkly [online] available from <http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/feb/06/glam-tate-liverpool&gt;

Holloway, K (2011)“Bloodchild.” Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics. Durham: Duke University Press (p.25-66)

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