The Many Styles of Pop Icon Michael Jackson

Michael was a pioneer in every sense of the word, from his music to his lyrics to his dancing movements to his dress sense, and he continues to influence some of our generation’s finest musicians, including Madonna, Beyonce, David Bowie, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Janelle Monae. The music star’s fashion influence is unrivaled. Today’s best musicians owe him a great creative debt.

Even though the latter half of his career was tarnished by ongoing controversy, every impossible dance step he performed, every magnificent high note he performed, and every bizarre outfit he donned became part of his distinctive, legendary legacy. Michael Jackson always conveyed an artistic statement through a holistic style, and he set the bar for every subsequent pop performer.

The icon was the first pop star to define what it meant to be a true fashion trailblazer. He invented the trophy jacket style in the 1980s by immortalizing military clothing and those distinctive glittery gloves. He was a fashion icon in every sense of the word.

While we’re on the topic, you might also want to inspire yourself with these great quotes from fashion icons.

Below, we’ll look at Michael Jackson’s various styles and how they’re still popular in today’s culture.

All Embellished Everything

Michael Jackson’s fifth album, Off the Wall, yielded mega-hits like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and ushered in an era marked by Michael Jackson’s fondness for glittery separates and over-the-top embellishment.

Balmain’s SS09 collection, while Christophe Decarnin was still the brand’s creative director, was one of the most notable homages to Michael Jackson’s spangled style. Jackson’s high-octane, pop-peppered energy is legible in practically every outfit, and the collection was full of power-shouldered, street-inspired glitz and glamor. The late pop sensation also wore Decarnin’s most recognized outerwear.

Olivier Rousteing, the creative director of Balmain, draws inspiration from Jackson’s visual heritage daily, even posting a photo of Jackson wearing his signature military-style jacket on Instagram.

The Fedora


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Michael Jackson sported a blue shirt, fine white suit, a white tie, and, of course, a white-and-black hat in the 1988 video for “Smooth Criminal.” This was a clear nod to MJ’s idol, Fred Astaire, who wore an almost identical ensemble in the 1953 musical “The Band Wagon.”

Then, fast forward thirty years to the 2014 Grammy Awards, when Pharrell wore a big vintage Vivienne Westwood hat, becoming an era-defining pop-cultural moment. Pharrell continued to wear the buffalo hat to the point where Westwood’s husband had to intervene.

MJ’s characteristic fedora set a precedent for how a singer may employ accessories as a style signature, even though the two hats had vastly different silhouettes. Bruno Mars wears a striking fedora that appears like it was taken right from Michael Jackson’s tour gear practically every time he performs.

The fedora made a resurgence among the fashion set thanks to Chanel’s Resort 2017 presentation in Cuba. Jackson’s iconic fedora from his “Smooth Criminal” music video was auctioned last year and sold for nearly $11,000 to a Belgian collector, despite its waning street-style appeal. That is how classic it is.

Thriller Jacket

Jackson’s red leather jacket with zippers, which he wore in the video for “Beat It” in 1983, immediately became an iconic and frequently reproduced item of his fashion heritage. Michael himself was a fan of the red jacket, and he wore a similar tomato-colored version in his following “Thriller” video.

The fashion elite has frequently cited Jackson’s infamous “Thriller” jacket. Maison Margiela released a leather jacket in 2008 that was almost a carbon copy of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” jacket. The classic “V” logo remained red despite the inversion of the primary colors.

The Letterman Jacket

Like today’s pop royalty, Jackson had an incredible ability to take unexpected parts and turn them into trends. For example, when Michael Jackson donned a varsity letterman jacket, it immediately became the epitome of casual cool. MJ wore a red and yellow varsity jacket as a decent guy turned wayward werewolf/zombie in his legendary mini-movie Thriller.

Varsity jackets have become a throwback staple brought back into the spotlight regularly since then. They were all the rage in 2011, and designers like Givenchy and Rag & Bone amplified the classic varsity jacket while pairing it with feminine elements for a more modern version.

Military Jacket

Michael Jackson during the Dangerous World Tour in 1993 wearing a military jacket outfit

Jackson’s military-style jackets were a staple of his clothing throughout his career. They were generally sequined and combined with slim-fitting, cropped slacks that showed off his socks so that when he danced on-stage, you could see his great movements.

Colorful Prints

Michael Jackson was not only a pint-sized style hero in the Jackson 5 before becoming a fashion superstar. By the age of 13, Michael Jackson had a slew of number one records under his belt, as well as an outrageously cool on-stage costume. Pair a white ruffle-lined shirt with a groovy waist jacket for an expert lesson in wearing vibrant patterns.

Jackson’s penchant for combining prints has long been an on-and-off phenomenon on the glittering runways. Miu Miu’s FW17 collection revived psychedelic prints, and the prints appeared to have been lifted directly from Michael Jackson’s pre-teen wardrobe. Mrs. Prada’s collection has wonderfully clashing sparkling jewels, psychedelic-print tunics and flares, and big-shouldered knit sweaters and skirts that appear disco-fingered straight out of the early 1970s.

Space Age Fashion

The multimillion-dollar, spaceship-set “Scream” video from 1995 is still the most costly music video of all time, and Michael’s style took a futuristic, club-kid turn in the classic piece. Michael and his sister Janet wear matching spiked shirts and black leather leggings in the video.

While the song included some of the singer’s most outspoken lyrics to date, the duo’s space-punk style has frighteningly contemporary resonance today among a new generation of streetwear labels like MISBHV and the underground club aesthetic pioneered by the now-defunct Hood by Air.

Eternal Fashion Icon


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Michael Jackson was not just the most influential artist of the twentieth century. Still, his courageous attitude to putting aesthetics on par with his music redefined pop culture (as among the icons of the 20th century) and music as we know it today. Though the king of pop will always be remembered as a great artist, his unrivaled prominence as a fashion icon stems from his true medium: the music video, in which he unabashedly displayed his inventiveness.

Jackson only needed a billowing wind machine on the ends of his statement threads to cause a furious stir in an audience when playing live. MJ was always ahead of his time, from his most iconic bedazzled military-inspired ensembles to his eternal red leather numbers, and that’s why he continues to influence all our faves, even now.