My final post of the term here: a perceptive reflection by Robin Givhan in the Washington Post on the significance of Prince’s visual style. Like Davie Bowie (whom, strangely, she doesn’t mention), Prince used his clothing and performance style to flagrantly transgress boundaries of gender, sexuality, race, and genre. But unlike Bowie–who later acknowledged that his transexuality represented trangresiveness for its own sake–Prince’s dress and performance were a revelation of his most pure self. As Givhan says, Prince wasn’t armoring himself with fashion, but instead “stripping himself bare.”
This was especially important in the 1980s, where public life saw, to some extent, a return to bland normality and cultural re-segregation in the wake of the civil rights actions and sexual revolution of the 1960s-1970s. Vietnamese immigrant Sonny Lê brilliantly attests to this here: “Weirdo like me: Prince and Davide Bowie helped me find my place in America.”
My spouse, a huge Bowie fan who never really listened to Prince, asked me “Was Prince gay?” I stammered for about 47 seconds before finally coming up with “He was Sex.” This, I think, was his statement about himself and about what (in part) makes us human. Absent from this article, though, is something not really visible in his style, his enduring love and devotion to God, which he articulated in some of his lyrics, in liner notes to albums, and in brief statements at shows. Someone could do an interesting analysis of the charged mixing of those two–visually transgresive sexuality and spiritual devotion to God (and an increasingly conservative one, as he became a Jehova’s Witness).
And then check out Billboard’s 45 photos spanning Prince’s career: http://www.billboard.com/photos/1500115/prince-fashion-evolution-photos/1