Are you a boy or are you a girl?: A History of Androgyny and Classic Rock

The Diversity of Classic Rock is best known for its LGBT posts. As a bisexual, I think it’s important to represent the LGBT side of classic rock. Many people think that “classic rock” is very straight, macho man music, but in reality, there are so many LGBT musicians and a lot of LGBT people behind the scenes. On top of that, many male classic rockers blurred the lines of gender expression and weren’t afraid to wear clothes from the women’s section or wear makeup. A few female classic rockers had an androgynous gender expression too. At the end of the day, clothes and makeup don’t have gender, but you have to remember that in the classic rock era it was a bold move to dress androgynously. In an artistic or creative field, sure, there’s a bit more leeway. But if you’re a regular, average guy from the 60s or 70s, dressing androgynously like a rock star would get you stares or rude comments.

It still amuses me that I’ll hear older conservatives say things like “back in my day, men dressed like men”. Oh really? Time to talk about all the times classic rockers said no to traditional gender roles:

Image caption for accessibility: Soviet propaganda poster with Russian word for ‘no’, ‘nyet’ in the upper corner. Pictured is a man with short hair wearing a suit eating steak and putting his hand up blocking a person offering a glass to him. On top of the class is the words: “traditional gender roles”.

My most read LGBT related blog post by far is LGBT Musicians of the 50s-80s, but I also have posts on LGBT musicians of the 90s, crossdressing/drag and classic rock, and LGBT songs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. You might want to check these out if you haven’t already. It seems like I’ve maybe already covered this topic in my Classic Rockers in Drag post, but I think we have to distinguish between crossdressing and androgyny and talk about this side of gender non-conformity.

Crossdressing versus Androgyny

Crossdressing is when someone of one gender dresses as another gender, such as a man dressing up as a woman or a woman dressing up as a man. A crossdresser does not identify as the gender they are dressing as. They’re very clear that they are either a man who likes to dress like a woman or a woman who likes to dress like a man, or a non binary person crossdressing. People crossdress for many reasons: to play a character, because they find it fun, it feels good, or they have a fetish. None of these reasons are wrong or bad. As long as no one’s rights are being violated, let it be and mind your own business.

It is important to say crossdressing is not the same as being transgender, which is when someone has gender dysphoria and transitions to relieve the dysphoria and live as their true, authentic selves. Do not confuse the two. There is nothing wrong with being a crossdresser or being transgender, but they are not the same thing. As well, crossdressing doesn’t mean someone is gay or bisexual. While there has never been a straight man on RuPaul’s Drag Race, remember that Drag Race is not the be all end all of drag.

Androgyny is something else. For some people, it’s a gender identity (in my case, I identify myself as an androgynous woman or androgynous female), although androgynous or androgyne seems to be a more old school term. Currently though, more people use non-binary, genderqueer, or genderfluid than androgynous as their label. Outside of western countries, there are many other androgynous gender identities specific to different cultures. For others, androgyny is gender expression, a mix of masculine and feminine characteristics, but not quite crossdressing. Not all people who dress androgynously are non-binary or identify as androgynous in their gender identity.

What both androgyny and crossdressing have in common is there is a lot of stigma, taboo, and misunderstanding. People who dress androgynously or crossdress often experience homophobic and misogynistic bullying and harassment. In many places, even some countries which we consider to be progressive, there is a lot of homophobia and misogyny and it hurts everyone, even those who aren’t gay or who aren’t women. The world needs to be a more accepting place for all no matter what gender or sexual orientation they are.

A History of Androgyny

Before we begin with the history of androgynous fashion, it’s important to clarify that what clothes are “for men” or “for women” are socially constructed – different societies (and eras) have different ideas of what “male” and “female” clothing are. Is there really such a thing as gender in clothing? No. It’s social conditioning. Dresses and skirts aren’t inherently female. Suits aren’t inherently male. People put clothes into these gendered boxes and these ideas were reinforced over time.

Since this isn’t a history blog, or at least one that goes many centuries back, let’s start somewhere more relevant – the 1800s. That’s the century where you can finally understand the literature, the Industrial Revolution started, and a lot of technological progress was made – so it makes sense that it’s more relatable than the centuries before it. The eras of the 1800s are the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian. Not sure what these eras would be called in countries outside the UK, but since most of the musicians from this blog post are British, we’ll stick with British eras for our purposes.

Obviously, as I’m an American who has lived only in English speaking countries, I will have a very western point of view. I cannot speak for other parts of the world and I won’t have as informed a perspective and I don’t want to pretend I know more than I do. I’m mainly a classic rock historian, not a fashion historian. Although I really do have an interest in fashion history, I don’t know nearly as much about that as I do about classic rock. I love these topics very much and I had so much fun writing and researching this. If you want to learn more about fashion history, FIT in New York City has an incredible fashion history timeline website with lots of pictures. I’ll find interesting sources and link them as I go, in case you want to do some more reading and are as big into fashion history as I am!

1800s – Georgian to Victorian

In these eras, you can find elements of androgyny in the men’s fashion of the century (obviously not all of these were worn at once, but to give you a little idea of what men wore in the 1800s): wigs, top hats, frilly shirts, frock coats with an hourglass looking shape, capes, stockings, and knee high riding boots (and even some boots with heels). You will see some of these elements in classic rock (60s-80s) era androgynous fashion: dandies, glam rockers, goths, and new romantics. The Victorian dandies are such an important influence in classic rock and it’s only right that they get their own section in this short fashion history lesson.

Ladies’ fashion of the 1800s

Women wore dresses during the 19th century so you’re not going to see a whole lot of androgyny in women in the 1800s. Trousers were a no-no for women then, as there were laws against people wearing gender non-conforming clothing, which were on the books for another century. In the Victorian era, there was a thing called “dress reform”, which rebelled against clothing they considered to be restrictive: mainly big heavy skirts and wasp waists. There were multiple dress reform movements in the length of time the Victorian era spanned (64 years, wow!). The goal was really just to wear practical clothing that was functional. It was a first wave feminist movement and many of the proponents were well-off women. Working class women on the other hand were just focused on surviving, as in those days they didn’t have social safety nets, not like the social safety nets these days are any good.

If you’ve studied any bit of Victorian fashion, you’ll know about the infamous (and in actuality not as bad as it sounds) corset. Just a primer on 1800s undergarments: before the Victorian era, women wore stays, some of these were longer and covered the torso, but others were shorter and stopped below the bust. The silhouette of dresses were different in the first few decades of the 19th century. If you’ve seen Bridgerton, you’ll notice that the dresses all have empire waists (just under the breasts), so there’s not really a need to have the waists look so tiny if they’re just going to be hidden by the cut of the dress.

Now this all changed in the Victorian era: skirts got wider and bigger, the waists of dresses moved downwards and got tinier in proportion. Since the Victorian era spans a lot of time, the sleeves and skirts changed a lot, but one thing remained constant: cinched waists. Let’s first get one myth out of the way: as much as tightlacing was in vogue, it was not the norm. The attitudes towards bodies were really different in the Victorian era were really different. They didn’t really have plastic surgery then and with the fashions changing, people weren’t expected to change their bodies. Instead, they padded out their bodies to fill out clothes differently, which created the illusion of a really small waist.

Obviously in very fashionable circles, like those who worked at fancy clothing stores or those who were really looks conscious, women would endeavour to get their waists below 20″, but on average, anywhere from 22″-26″ was normal! Waists were reduced by 2-4″ and often corsets had gaps in the back so they weren’t worn at their absolute smallest. Men saying “ewww I don’t like women wearing corsets, it’s ugly, freakish, and unnatural” reminds me of men who go “ewww I don’t like women wearing makeup, I like my women natural” or “ewww fake boobs”. Men just don’t like extreme versions of these things. No matter what women do, men will criticise. I rest my case. It’s also important to note that to a lesser extent, men wore corsets too (mostly for back pain and hiding dad bods). I honestly can’t find a good statistic on how common it was for men in the 19th century, and I don’t have a time machine like Bill & Ted, but those are the facts.

Below, you can see a demonstration of that difference because I find visuals really help because they speak for themselves. This is me wearing the same dress: on the left is my natural body and on the right is the same dress, but with a corset underneath.

inb4 judgemental folks and concern trolls: I have back pain and anxiety, please don’t shame me or tell me “you looked better natural”. This is a body shaming/snark/harassment free zone. Thank you.

Think of it this way, Kim Kardashian – love her or hate her – is a big fashion icon and beauty standard of our generation and all over Instagram and TikTok, you’ll see women and girls try to emulate her looks. Most people don’t have the kind of money to get her look – it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to get her look. But not everyone goes around trying to look like Kim Kardashian. Everyone likes different things, and honestly, that’s a good thing. I like variety!

There were some exceptions and some trailblazers during the Victorian era like abolitionist and surgeon Mary Edwards Walker. The garment known as bloomers, which are a sort of trousers that were Turkish influenced and less restrictive, were named after feminist Amelia Bloomer. Bloomers were great for riding bicycles and you’d see women sometimes wearing them in the early 20th century.

Also of note is that in the Victorian era, makeup was a big no no. If you were a proper society lady, you couldn’t be seen wearing visible makeup or your reputation would suffer. Heavy makeup was associated with prostitution in those days. Makeup was purchased, but on the down-low and used sparingly so it could be practically undetectable.

A more stylish kind of dress reform was the Aesthetic/Artistic Dress Movement of the 1880s and 1890s. Victorian dresses were elaborate, complicated, and fussy. They saw modifying a woman’s body shape as ugly and dishonest (yeah, I’m not a fan of bustles, never understood the appeal of those). Aesthetic Dress’s response to that was beautiful yet simple fabrics and simpler cuts and silhouettes. Lots of velvet, silk, wool, and muted tones. Pretty!

People who wore these clothes were artistic and creative people or at least wanted to give that appearance. One of the most famous proponents of this style of dress was the author Oscar Wilde, who was no doubt an inspiration to 60s dandies. You might find his essay The Philosophy of Dress interesting. In this essay, the importance of proportion, dressing for your shape, and colour theory in fashion are discussed. My favourite quote from the essay: “What is beautiful looks always new and always delightful…”. I don’t agree with all of the essay, but it overall has a good message: stop following over the top trends, wear clothes that are timeless, classy, and make you feel your best. Comfortable too! Looking your best is an investment in yourself. Isn’t it great that now we have the choice to wear what we want?

Macaronis and the OG Dandies

These subcultures deserve their own section. They’re the grandfathers or great grandfathers (I’m not a mathematician, go easy on me) of the 60s dandies/peacocks. Without the Macaronis and the OG Dandies of the 1800s, we would not have the 60s dandies and peacocks. So a big thank you to these trailblazers and inspirations.

The Macaronis were the fathers of the 1800s Dandies and were very flamboyant, extra, and weren’t afraid to embrace their feminine side. The song “Yankee Doodle” actually references this subculture: ‘he stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni’. When I was a kid, I thought that made no sense because what does that have to do with mac and cheese? Food was always on my mind when I was a kid. Macaronis were also called “fops” – people who were really obsessed with their appearance.

Like the 60s Mods that you may be more familiar with, Italian style was a huge inspiration to them. You know the Kinks song “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”? That song was a parody of the fashion obsessed dandies of the 60s. Well that’s what the macaronis/fops were, 200 years before that song even existed. There were satirical cartoons making fun of them with their exaggerated powdered wigs and bougie ornate clothes.

Dandies on the other hand were refined, toned down, more masculine Macaronis. Very stylish. The best known dandy of all was Beau Brummell. He was the dandy and an early example of a celebrity – someone famous for being famous. In every portrait of him, you can see how immaculately dressed he was. He was also one of the early adopters of trousers, and after he wore them everyone else wanted to copy him. Before trousers, breeches were worn.

He came from a family that had a decent amount of money (but not aristocracy), was surrounded by a lot of high society friends, and was even friends with King George IV, but they had a fight and Beau Brummell left for France. He died poor and in debt, which was a stereotypical thing of dandies. Dandies were basically new money and relied on status symbols to show that they made it. If you know your 60s music history, you might recognise that name. The band The Beau Brummels (yes, that’s how they spelled the band’s name) named themselves after him, but also so they could have a British image. Some say it’s so they could be next to The Beatles in record store bins. Hey, that’s a pretty smart marketing tactic, but just an urban legend. Unfortunately, they didn’t dress like dandies. Missed opportunity!

One more OG dandy to talk about and there’s a little classic rock connection here too. This one ended up being Prime Minister of the UK from 1874-1880. He was Benjamin Disraeli. If you know your classic rock album titles, you’ll recognise that name because of Cream’s famous 1967 album Disraeli Gears. When he was young, he was known for his curly black hair, flashy clothes, and expensive jewellery.

Dandies came back at the end of the 19th century and beginning of 20th century with writers like Algernon Charles Swinburne, Robert de Montesquiou, and Oscar Wilde and artists like James McNeill Whistler and Salvador Dalí. You know the Mott The Hoople song “All The Young Dudes”? Well, in America, dandies were called dudes in the early 20th century and the king of the dudes was the socialite (read: trust fund baby) Evander Berry Wall.

Can women be dandies? Yes! The female equivalent was called a quaintrelle, dandyess, or dandizette. People saw them as just as absurd as the male dandies, but I’m definitely thinking since the 1800s were a very sexist time when women were seen as second class, women were even more ridiculed. Men loved to condescendingly explain women’s fashion to women even if they had no personal lived experience with it. Men’s complaints of women sound like the meme: “Any female born after 1993 can’t cook. All they know is McDonald’s, charge they phone, twerk, be bisexual, eat hot chip, and lie”. Victorian men be like: “Any female born in the 19th century can’t think. All they know is spend my money, tightlace, drink tea, faint, hysteria, and lie.”

If you want to read more about dandies, there are quite a few blogs all about it. Dandyism have an interesting list of Dandy characteristics, see how you measure up!

The 20th century: 1920s flappers to WWII

During this time, mainstream men’s fashion wasn’t all that androgynous, so I don’t have much to say here.

It was finally in the 20th century you saw women adopt more androgynous styles. Famously in the 20s, the silhouette underwent a big change. No longer were the clothes close fitting and curve friendly, now they were straight up and down – a revolution! Certainly great for some women, but not so great for others. Different clothes and fits suit different people.

During the Edwardian era, women had long hair, which they would usually pin up in a nice up-do, but in the 20s it was all about the bob! The look was boyish, or gamine (which came back in the 60s). No question about it, WWI killed off the corset for good (at least in the mainstream – not talking about period films or people with back problems), as steel was needed for the war. In the 1920s, the war ended and the world came out of a pandemic and what did people want to do to make up for lost time? Dance! And dance more wildly than before. Think about it, could you imagine trying to dance in heavy, restrictive clothes? The aesthetic too of the 20s was Art Deco, all about straight lines, which goes hand in hand with androgyny. One more big thing was women* finally got the right to vote, a big step forward.

*Note that black men and women were disenfranchised in the south though with discriminatory voter suppression tactics like poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and “literacy tests”. Native women didn’t all get the right to vote in 1920. Asians frequently got denied rights, including citizenship, which is necessary to vote. Hispanics were also disenfranchised.

If we look at the 1930s, between the World Wars, there were two female androgynous icons: Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn. Both would frequently wear trousers. In Vogue, there was a spread of women wearing trousers in 1939. Women still more often wore dresses during this time though. Trousers were something that you’d wear if you were going camping or doing outdoor/sporty activities.

During both world wars, while men were fighting, women took over in the factories. You can’t wear dresses in a factory, it’s just not practical. In the 40s, short hair was in because it was more practical. Clothes were simple, as there was rationing. The response to WWII fashion was a return to hyper-femininity with the post war New Look. Finally in the late 50s, California passed a law that said that workplaces had to allow women to wear trousers if they choose to. A bit more freedom in the workplace, but not quite there yet! And even now, there are still ways that women are not equal in the workplace.

Things all changed in the 60s though with a return to gamine looks for women and men embracing their feminine side again. Fashion underwent a shakeup in the 60s. It really all began in 1964, that’s when the 60s found itself. Before that, the clothes were really just a continuation of the 50s. The skirts got shorter and men’s hair got longer. Let’s have a look at the classic rock era and see who was blurring the lines of gender expression:

Androgynous Classic Rockers: A Timeline

Note: This is not an exhaustive list, but really just some highlights and examples to get you to understand androgyny in rock and roll. There will be photos in this blog post as visuals. I don’t own any of these photos. If you own them and would like me to credit you or take them down, please contact me on this form. Thank you.

Even before the 60s, you had a couple of musicians who were really androgynous.

Liberace:

One of the trailblazers was Liberace. Long before the outrageously dressed and talented Elton John, there was Liberace, a piano player famous for his flair, showmanship, and crazy outfits. He was a child prodigy, but went through adversity as a child: the Great Depression caused financial difficulties for his family and at school he was bullied for not being a macho man and filling those gender roles. He didn’t care about sports, he just wanted to play piano. He would find work playing piano wherever he can and while his parents didn’t like it, it did help the family pay the bills. In the 40s, he went from being in a few Soundies (precursor to music videos) to going to Vegas and playing shows with celebrities in the audience. And then in the 50s, he was name dropped in “Mr Sandman”, making 5 figures a week playing shows in Vegas, had hundreds of fanclubs, but he was ridiculed by comedians for his flamboyant dress. He always gave his all at live shows and invited the crowd on stage to touch his piano, clothes, and jewellery. He would even hug fans.

No doubt that without Liberace, we wouldn’t have Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and Lady Gaga.

Below, you can see his performance of “Tiger Rag” in the 40s:

And here’s him in the 80s. Look at that sparkly suit! The definition of extra, but I like it!

Little Richard

Moving onto rock and roll, we have Little Richard. The Innovator, The Originator, The Architect of Rock and Roll. Like Liberace, incredibly talented and with showmanship. You’re getting great music and a great show too! What more can you ask for? Black and white Americans loved Little Richard, he was one of the first black musicians to really crossover and you’d hear white rock stars cover his songs all the time. We also have to talk about how he was an early rock and roll androgynous icon, doing this long before the swinging 60s. The cultural impact! Even in the conservative 50s, Little Richard dressed flamboyant. It was who he was. In the 50s he would act flamboyant on stage, wear makeup, and wear his hair in a pompadour and he took it even further in the 60s, wearing outfits inspired by Jimi Hendrix. Here’s him in 1956 performing a classic “Long Tall Sally”. You can’t keep your eyes off him!

If you want a bonus connection, here’s a video of him and Liberace on the Mike Douglas Show in 1970! At about 8 minutes and 40 seconds in, Liberace encourages women who want to dress like him to dress like him. What an icon! At 18 minutes in Little Richard shows up in this disco ball looking fringed mirrored outfit. That’s very glam rock! “The Beauty’s on duty!” as Little Richard said.

“That’s the marvellous thing about the clothes, she said could a lady wear something like this. They’re wearing those jumpsuits and slacks and all of that.” – Liberace

Mick Jagger & Brian Jones

So we’ve arrived to the 60s and Swinging London. Look at any photos of musicians from England in the 60s and you’ll be thinking like that Barbarians song: “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?“. The clothes got more form fitting and the hair only got longer. There’s a few androgynous moments for each of these band members.

Let’s start with Mick Jagger. Mick Jagger wasn’t afraid to wear eye makeup or feminine looking clothes, as you can see . The long hair and plump lips make him look incredibly androgynous and that was what made him appealing. One of my favourite fashion moments of his is him at Hyde Park in 1969: This is androgynous fashion.

Earlier, I mentioned Oscar Wilde. Well, The Rolling Stones referenced his 1895 trial in the music video for “We Love You”. Mick Jagger plays Wilde and Marianne (in drag) plays his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. You can see that both Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull are wearing a green carnation, which is a Victorian era symbol for gay men. Gay men would wear these and that’s how they’d identify each other. If you’ve ever seen the music video for Pete Shelley’s “Homosapien”, you’ll notice that he was wearing a green carnation in that video.

Brian Jones however was the epitome of dandy style and in my opinion one of the best dressed men in classic rock. Ruffled shirts, long hair, impeccable tailoring, doesn’t get more 60s dandy than that.

Phil May

The Pretty Things were The Rolling Stones’ rougher, wilder rivals. He was said to have had the longest hair of any male rock star in the 60s. A pretty big claim. Look at photos of him in 1964 and you can believe it. I can’t think of any other male rock stars whose hair came to as close as long as his in 1964. If you only look at him and block out everything and everyone else in the photo, you’d think that picture was taken in 1967. Not only was his hair androgynous, he was a bit campy and flamboyant in his stage presence and not afraid to sneak in a pronoun switch in songs to make the songs about whatever gender he felt like. Unfortunately, Britain was still quite conservative in the 60s and the band would get into some fights because of how they blurred the lines of gender expression.

David Bowie said that Phil May was one of his biggest inspirations, even listing him in his address book as “God”. Like Phil May, David Bowie wore his hair really long in 1964, like Phil May, but with fringe. Here’s a pre-fame video of Bowie talking about long hair in 1964.

Here’s an early photo, you can see his hair is practically touching his shoulder in a time when people thought The Beatles had outrageous hair.

Fast forward a couple years and you can see him in that popular dandy look with even longer hair.

If you’re more of a video person, here are The Pretty Things performing “It’ll Never Be Me” as The Electric Banana in What’s Good For The Goose. Bonus androgyny: look at the drummer, Twink! Those beautiful curls!

His hair got even longer in the 70s. Here’s what he had to say about his own image:

“I didn’t think I was God’s gift as a singer, but I felt I was pretty sexy in an androgynous way, and I enjoyed it very much.”

Dave Davies

Many people don’t think of The Kinks as any bit campy or gay, but the truth is they acted very campy (to the point where Mick Avory was actually thinking the whole band were gay) and they embraced the dandy trends before the dandy look was in. Look up photos of them in 1964 and you’ll see them in their Victorian red riding jackets and yellow ruffly shirts. No minimalism here! Looks kinda Austin Powers and that’s why I live for that look.

His twitter is legendary (also his tiktok).

People don’t really think of Dave Davies as much of a style icon. If you ever see photos of him in the 60s, there’s no doubt about it, he’s an androgynous icon and he had drip. Being the little brother, he had to do something to get attention and that included powersliding into the audience and occasionally ripping his trousers. He also did duckfaces.

Around 1966-1968 he was dressing so outrageously. Just watch the TV performances of “Death of a Clown”. I think that has to be my favourite look on any classic rocker. He wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Bridgerton or in a period drama about the Victorian era. Also he wore thigh high boots.

Also let’s just talk about the hair again. In 1964/1965 his hair was pretty long and sometimes he’d wear it in a beehive or one time he even had a bubble flip look going on:


Here he is performing “Death of a Clown” in a very dandy outfit plus some sassy moves:

I don’t care what you have to say this is style goals.

PJ Proby

Another really long haired musician of the 60s. He’s not British, but rather, American even though he’s associated more with the British scene in the 60s. He was born James Smith in Houston, Texas, but that doesn’t sound like a rock star name. A friend of his, songwriter Sharon Sheeley, suggested it as a stage name, named after a boyfriend she had in secondary school. He started off in America as an actor and songwriter before going to the UK and finding success. When he went to London, Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley introduced him to TV producer Jack Good (producer of 50s rock and roll show Oh Boy!). He got multiple top 10 hits in the UK with “Hold Me”, “Together”, “Somewhere”, and “Maria”. He recorded a Beatles composition that the Beatles never recorded and released: “That Means a Lot”.

By the mid 60s, he was sporting hair similar to Phil May’s but with fringe. He said this in Stephen Tow’s book London, Reign Over Me:

“Me and Phil started it,” said Proby. “I mean, I had the pony tail, but a lot of times I didn’t wear it in a ponytail, I wore it down like in a page boy, kind of like a girl would wear . . . even the day that I met Phil May [in 1964], his hair was down to his waist, already. So he was the first one that ever wore it that long. And then I started wearing it that long.”

Pete Townshend

What’s androgynous about Pete Townshend, you might ask? Well it’s more in his identity, but even in the mid 60s he dressed a bit dandy, pretty much every rock star was then. In The Who’s beginnings, they dressed like mods since that was what was “in” in 1964, but mod stopped being cool once everyone adopted it so it evolved into dandy/peacock style: essentially a marriage of mod and psychedelic, with a lot of throwbacks to Victorian/Edwardian style. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Look at that ruffly shirt and really busy sequinned jacket and jewellery. Looks amazing on any gender. T Pose to assert dominance!

Not only did he dress sassy, he even had some sassy moves:

And he even wore some makeup. Here’s a photo of The Who all wearing eyeliner:

And one of Pete putting on mascara in the mirror:

In 1989, he said this about his gender identity in an interview with music writer and radio host Timothy White:

“I know how it feels to be a woman because I am a woman and I won’t be classified as just a man.”

As far as I’m aware, Pete never identified himself as non-binary or genderqueer or bigender or has indicated preferring they/them pronouns, but still really cool to read. I think that older generations have a different understanding of gender than younger generations. What is now called nonbinary may have just simply been called androgyny 50+ years ago.

Dave Dee

A quick one here, but you can see Dave Dee dressed up in some dandy clothes and cracking a whip on this performance of the hit “The Legend of Xanadu” on Top of the Pops. Iconic!

Jimi Hendrix

A favourite fashion icon of many in the classic rock fandom, and I have to agree! His dress sense was very colourful and flamboyant, going perfectly well with his guitar playing. In 1965, he was just a backing guitarist for musicians who would play the Chitlin Circuit like The Isley Brothers and Little Richard. Even though Jimi had the tendency to show off and upstage the singers, he dressed pretty ordinary on stage, but in 1966 when he moved to London, everything changed. He became a household name and started dressing the way he wanted to. He’d wear floral shirts and clothes with William Morris looking prints paired with velvet trousers and Beatle boots with a heel. His style was even dandy like.

Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd had some of the best dress sense in rock and roll and I don’t want to be a broken record, but I love the colours and prints of the psychedelic clothes they wore. If it weren’t so difficult to find affordable androgynous looking clothes like this, I’d be dressing like this! As well, Syd Barrett would wear his hair big and curly and it definitely made him look beautiful. Kinda reminds me of Marc Bolan, who we will be discussing later in the post.

And in colour…

Paul Revere & The Raiders

So earlier in the post we talked briefly about the macaronis/fops and how that shaped to some extent the fashion of the 1800s dandies. Now the macaronis were around during American Revolutionary times. For the international readers, if you know your American history, you’ll know that Paul Revere was the guy who rode on his horse and essentially was like “The British are coming!” to warn the colonial militia and make sure they’re prepared for the battles at Lexington and Concord. He was basically the eyes and ears: spying on British troops and keep the Americans posted on their next moves so they’re ready to fight. There was a poem named after him called “Paul Revere’s Ride”, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1861.

Speaking of The British are coming, well that’s what was happening in the 1960s, but not colonisation. More like music. I’ve said this many times and I’ll say it again. You did not want to be an American band before 1964 because chances are your career was done once the British Invasion hit America. There are some notable exceptions like The Beach Boys, but most bands aren’t The Beach Boys – they’re not ordinary, average, or a one trick pony. American rock music did make a comeback, but there were new faces, and I think that’s a good thing.

Anyway, Paul Revere and the Raiders were a garage rock band formed in the late 50s in Idaho, part of that Pacific Northwest garage rock scene. They managed to have a lot of success even with the British Invasion with hits like “Just Like Me”, “Kicks”, “Hungry”, “Good Thing”, “Him or Me – What’s It Gonna Be”, and “Indian Reservation”. They stood out because of how they dressed:

Marc Bolan

Now we get to the 70s and there’s a new kind of androgyny in town and a new dominant rock and roll style: glam rock, aka glitter rock. Marc Bolan was one of the big solo names in it, along with David Bowie and they had a rivalry of sorts, but it was still a friendly one. Don’t be fooled by his flashy clothes and short height, he was a powerhouse and incredibly talented. Amazing songwriter, impeccable style, high taste level. He wasn’t as big in America as in his home country of the UK, where in the early 70s he was all over the charts. His first 8 singles of the 70s went to #1 or #2. In fact, he did better in the charts than Bowie at that time. I love both of these musicians so much and they were true visionaries and artists in glam rock and really made it more than just fun, trashy dance rock party music.

Even before the fame, Marc Bolan dressed well. As a teenager in the 60s, he was a mod. This is him at 15:

By the late 60s, his hair was long and curly and in the 70s. He wasn’t just a glam rocker, he was a poet too and The Warlock of Love is a poetry book he wrote. I love this gothic dandy look he had in this photo and his big curls and short, slight build make him stand out, it’s those unique features that make someone beautiful.

Speaking of Dandies, he loved to wear top hats and capes. He wore a top hat on the album cover for The Slider.

One of his trademarks was his glitter tears makeup look:

We can’t forget that he had a song called “Dandy in the Underworld”:

David Bowie

This wouldn’t be an androgyny article without Bowie! As mentioned earlier, he grew out his hair long and an early inspiration of his were The Pretty Things, and especially their frontman Phil May. He loved them so much, he covered “Rosalyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” on his Pinups cover album. Marc Bolan was the poet of glam rock, and sadly gone too soon so we have no idea what would have become of him in the 80s, 90s, and beyond. David Bowie was the visionary and someone who never stopped moving. “Changes” is right, that’s what he did. Before Madonna, he was reinventing and creating all sorts of personas for each of his different eras: The Man Who Sold the World, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, on and on. Sure, The Beatles did Sgt Pepper and sort of reinvented/made a new persona for themselves, but they walked so Bowie could run.

Easily, his most androgynous periods were in the early to mid 70s. My personal favourite aesthetic is his early 70s long blonde hair. I think you can tell what my type of men are (ones that basically look like women). Just a few of my favourite looks of his:

Also David Bowie knew about memes. I mean, he was in the Atlantis Squarepantis episode of Spongebob and his song “No Control” (co-written with Brian Eno) was in the Spongebob musical.

Brian Eno

Close friend of David Bowie – collaborated with him on the Berlin Trilogy. He got his start in glam rock with Roxy Music, but left after two albums. He went solo and his first songs were still art/glam rock and experimental, but after that he went ambient and that’s what he’s best known for. His ambient music is some of my favourite music for calming down my anxiety. If I ever have trouble falling asleep (and that’s pretty much every night), I either will put on some Brian Eno or Wes Montgomery, every time! In the early 70s, he had long blonde hair and wore androgynous looking glam rock clothes. Here he is looking like a dandy in makeup and a big fur coat:

Here’s Brian Eno with colourful streaks in his hair long before it was cool. And he’s pictured with the extremely stylish Bryan Ferry:

Elton John

We can’t forget Elton John and his loud outfits. As seen in Rocketman he spent lots of money on clothes, and still loves buying nice things! There are too many iconic looks to name, but what they all have in common is that they stand out in a crowd, are campy, lots of sparkles and you can see how shiny his outfits are from the nosebleeds, very flamboyant. He always made sure to pair his outfits with the perfect pair of sunglasses.

Look at him in the 60s!

With the equally iconic Cher:

Jobriath

First openly gay rock musician to get a record deal. Very Bowie like and I’m sure he was an inspiration for the film Velvet Goldmine.

New York Dolls

One of the early punk rock bands, but with a glam rock aesthetic. Not only would they dress androgynously, the lead singer, David Johansen would also dress in drag.

Eddie Jobson

Prog rock violin player. He worked with many rock bands like Curved Air, Roxy Music, UK, Jethro Tull, and was even in Frank Zappa’s band. Here’s him at his most androgynous:

Also check out this cool violin:

Steven Tyler

Aerosmith lead singer and you can easily see similarities in his appearance and Mick Jagger’s appearance (Mick Jagger even imitated Steven Tyler on SNL – I have a lot of memories of the classic rock fandom on Tumblr talking all about this). Of course, Steven Tyler is a huge fan of the Rolling Stones and they were a big inspiration for him.

Of his appearance he said:

“As you know, I’m androgynous. I can wear a jacket that most guys wouldn’t put on. But you make it in guys’ sizes, and suddenly they’re wearing them. I think styles should get back to getting people to wear things that look so good that they don’t care.”

Freddie Mercury & Roger Taylor

Another big name on this list. As you may have seen in Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie wasn’t afraid to cross over to the women’s section and try on clothes. As long as it looks good, that’s what matters. Freddie Mercury clearly had an influence in how the other band members dressed and inspired them all to step up their game in style and it shows in photos from the mid 70s. He was an artistic and had a good eye for aesthetic stuff like that. Roger Taylor on the other hand had long blonde hair in the 70s and he at one point, before Queen were famous, grew facial hair because he was tired of people saying he looked like a girl. But that’s why we love Roger!

I’m gonna sound like a broken record, but Freddie’s Zandra Rhode’s outfit is one of my favourite ever looks in classic rock.

My favourite Queen photoshoot!

Sylvester

To finish up the 70s, let’s talk about the androgynous disco musician, Sylvester. He was born in LA and grew up singing in church, but when he came out as gay, he was rejected and so he left the church. He went to San Francisco and befriended drag queens and trans women. Before he was famous, he was in a drag troupe and even tried his hand at rock music. At the age of 31, he got famous with the big disco hit “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”. His look was very androgynous with him wearing makeup and shiny outfits. Not too different from glam rock, but a whole different sound.

Pete Burns

And now we enter the 80s. A new kind of androgyny can be seen in the 80s with the goths and New Romantics. Hair got even bigger and makeup even louder and more colourful.

Pete Burns was the lead singer of Dead or Alive. He was blessed with such beautiful androgynous facial features naturally. Even as a teenager, he liked to dress outrageously, with him dropping out of school at 14 after coming to school with a pierced ear, shaved off eyebrows, and bright red hair.

I love his pirate look here and the pale pink lipstick, a nod to the 60s?

He did make it clear though in his autobiography that he is a man, and happy to be one.

“It freaks me that someone could think I was a woman. Don’t get me wrong – I love women; I love men, too, and I’m very proud to be a man.”

Prince

Prince’s style was definitely influenced by Little Richard and glam rock and maybe a little bit of 60s dandy. He was also a visionary and true artist and never stood still. Much like David Bowie. Wasn’t afraid to try different styles of music. Very prolific too!

Like Marc Bolan, he was short and thin and that definitely added to his androgynous look. He’d frequently wear frilly shirts, feather boas, tight pants, jewellery, and makeup. Every look of his was iconic: people of all genders wanted to either be him or be with him, or both. He was definitely one of the big New Romantic icons: a subculture that took a lot of inspiration from Victorian looks, 60s dandies, and glam rock. Some say it was a response to the more masculine, rougher, edgier, anti-fashion punk subculture. It had a lot of different names: New Dandies, Romantic Rebels, and Peacock Punk, but New Romantic stuck.

In the music video for “Raspberry Beret”, you can see women dressed just like Prince:

Boy George

New wave singer inspired by glam rockers Bowie and Bolan. Gotta love his androgynous style and bright makeup and colourful hair.

If you want a Victorian era inspired music video, look at “Karma Chameleon”. Definitely not the most historically accurate (and I’d imagine Bernadette Banner would rip the video to shreds as far as costume accuracy), but fun! Love to see the dandy look again.

Adam Ant

New wave singer, lead singer of Adam and the Ants. Like other musicians of the 80s, his style is clearly inspired by glam rock and even a bit of the 60s. That military jacket he wore reminds me a lot of ones Jimi Hendrix wore in the 60s. The 80s were the golden age of music videos and the image was just as important as the music. I love the face paint!

Robert Smith

Lead singer of post-punk/goth band The Cure. His trademark look is smeared red lipstick, a smokey eye look with lots of eyeliner, and tousled black hair. You can see this in music videos like this one:

Women’s Androgyny in Rock and Roll

Remember that in the 60s, it was still most common for women to wear dresses as everyday clothing. Sure, trousers were getting more and more common as the decade progressed, but ordinary women had a lot more freedom in what they wore. Music even before music videos was still a looks based business and women were expected to have a marketable image. A lot of images of famous female singers, models, and actors appeal to the male gaze: lots of skin showing, a sexual image. Sex sells, as the saying goes. Of course, there are going to women who love doing that, but there are many women who don’t like it and want to let their talents speak for themselves and not be seen as an object.

Suzi Quatro

Suzi Quatro is known for that badass tough girl glam rock image and definitely an early female classic rock androgynous icon. She never wanted to be cheesecake or a pop star. She wore a lot of leather jumpsuits and had shoulder length hair. Love it! Before her, there weren’t a lot of tomboy women in rock, or even women in rock really. She’s said in the past that she didn’t have a lot of female music idols besides The Shangri-Las and Billie Holiday.

Grace Jones

Jamaican born singer and model. She was a big inspiration to drag queens of the 80s, 90s, and even today. Pop stars like Madonna, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga love her style too. At 18, she got signed to Wilhelmina Models in New York and in 1970 she moved to Paris. The French public loved her dark skin and androgynous appearance. In the mid 70s, she started recording music. “I Need A Man”, recorded in 1975, topped the dance club charts in 1977. Sound wise, her music spans all sorts of genres: disco, new wave, post punk, art pop, industrial, and reggae.

In the 70s, she was a muse to photographer Jean-Paul Goude. He designed her album covers and directed her music videos and influenced a lot of her image.

Below, you can see the music video for “Pull Up to the Bumper”:

Patti Smith

The punk rock poet and outspoken egalitarian, leftist, and LGBT ally. In photos of her in the 70s, you’ll often see her in menswear with a long bob with fringe. You can see this look on the album cover for her debut album, Horses. Her close friend, Robert Mapplethorpe took the album cover photo at his boyfriend, Sam Wagstaff’s flat. Before the fame, she didn’t have a lot of money, so she would shop at thrift shops. Her shirt came from a thrift shop. Feminist academic Camille Paglia called the album cover “one of the greatest pictures ever taken of a woman”.

Joan Jett

She got her start in all girl rock band The Runaways. In the 70s, she had a popular androgynous haircut called the shag. She has said that her biggest style influences are the 20s aesthetic of the film Cabaret, glam rockers like Bowie, Bolan, and Suzi Quatro, and Keith Richards. Great taste! As someone who naturally had a flat chest, I really liked seeing Joan Jett rock it with confidence. I wish I could have done that.

Annie Lennox

Lead singer of The Eurythmics. She famously wore her hair in a cropped style coloured orange and wore a men’s suit in the “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” music video. The video says it all:

Siouxsie Sioux

A goth icon. I love her style so much and I love that eyeliner. If only I had the skills to do it! Goth and punk were both subcultures that didn’t care about gender rules. Punk was all about breaking rules. Everyone wears big, spiky hair coloured black or in bright colours. You can even see her wearing ties and men’s shirts.

Conclusion:

There are so many flavours of androgyny and it’s so cool to see how it has evolved and what its roots were. I had a lot of fun writing this post and researching it, as I love both music and fashion and it’s so fun to combine two of my interests to mix it up. Happy Pride Month!

Shoutout to Patrick and Jeffrey from Maryland for supporting the blog!

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