In describing something which was remarkably versatile and subjected to as much change and experimentation as his music, it’s easy to oversell the impact of David Bowie’s fashion. But beyond its breadth lies true justification for his success in influencing the clothing of generations of shamelessly strange teenagers.

'The unreserved strangeness of his style has left Bowie a legend of androgyny'

Scope is one thing, and may account for the fact that, from decade to decade, there is always something that David Bowie wore we consider trendy—but his fearless dedication to constant innovation, his creative confrontation of social and stylish norms—these are what we remember him for.

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The above said, it’s worth admitting that what proclaims itself to be ‘countercultural’ is often banal or kitsch. Being outlandish is more often trite than it is ground-breaking. Yet Bowie’s strangeness was never cliché– perhaps because he never stayed in one place, stylistically, for long. He had more eras than I have outfits. More importantly, radical evolution requires radical creativity, and in Bowie’s creativity there was an eye not only for the future but for the foibles of the present, and for expressive ways of overcoming them.

Our culture scorns femininity. Women were wearing trousers and padded shoulders as legitimate fashion long before men were praised– and not in mirth– for wearing dresses. Bowie opting for elegance in the place of masculine aesthetic virtue was not only an artistic choice, but a political one.

He was of course by no means the first to transgress boundaries that are rigidly enforced. But the public nature, the bold experimentation, the unreserved strangeness of his style has left Bowie a legend of androgyny.

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There is something of a charmingly revolutionary spirit in fashion that is used not only as a radical art form, but a countercultural one. Bowie was swimming against a current not merely for the sake of controversy but in such a way that individuals might find themselves liberated, expressed, represented. Perhaps that’s why so much of Bowie’s spirit has always resonated with young adults– namely teenagers. Perhaps that’s why he’s quoted in The Breakfast Club. It’s definitely why I respect red platform boots, vertically striped jumpsuits and shamelessly indulgent face-glitter as much as I do. Mod, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Romantically or Baroquely clad, Bowie searched constantly for iconic, beautiful, weird and wonderful looks.

So, although it’s perhaps the most memorable element of his style, Bowie’s merging of the masculine and feminine isn’t its most extraordinary aspect. David Bowie forged new avenues for self-expression and in so doing made the avant-garde and experimental more permissible. There was sincerity in it, bravery, and rare originality. Few had done it before. His impact has been legendary.

Many found it controversial; many were outraged by the thick, patterned woollen jumpsuit and flouncy shirts he donned. Perhaps many still are. But while embracing change is difficult, especially as we grow older, change in art is essential.

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There are hundreds of online articles tracking the trajectory of Bowie’s style, justifiably proclaiming him to be miles ‘ahead of the curve’. But he was more than a pioneer, and to label him as such would be to overlook the essence of his style: its timelessness. Salvador Perez said of the oddity of Bowie’s image, “For him, it wasn’t about being outrageous. It was natural, artistic expression.”

Art breathes from variety—Bowie’s style demonstrated that. We never grew sick of him because, quite simply, we didn’t know what to expect next. His image was and continues to be iconic, and yet we cannot streamline it. Bowie looked beyond the future, looked to the fantastic and absurd. At times he was absurd. At others he was outrageous, gaudy– prolific in an oddness that only he, paradoxically,  seemed able to pull off.

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He could also be ‘toned down’: he could be as sombre as he was bizarre. But vitally, he was always a style as well as a musical icon. Bowie encouraged us to ‘turn and face the strange’. It is a legacy to continue to be inspired by– especially as new generations of teenage icons, weirdoes, and artists emerge. The most important thing I personally have taken away from Bowie’s image over the years is to be externally as fearlessly expressive as I, internally, feel revolutionary, radical and creative.

Bowie expanded horizons– but his legacy was to leave us free to expand them further