In music, the adage that it’s what’s on the inside that counts holds true … sometimes. Though there are countless mainstream performers out there who possess both musical ability and style, there are few who only possess the former (We’re looking at you, Susan Boyle.) In fact, if you had to choose between the two, it’s almost safer to go for style over substance (Hey, Britney).
Unfortunately, musicians are books whose covers are constantly judged. And as much as you may not want to buy into the whole “image” aspect of your craft, the fact remains that industry players are looking at you as a marketable package. That means your music and your look need to translate to the masses.
The good news is, the sky is the limit when it comes to what your look can be. If Flea is allowed to rock a diaper, and Prince gets away with ass-less chaps, then chances are your personal style won’t be a hindrance to your career, no matter how off-center it is.
That said, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
• If you’re in a band, cohesiveness is key. Choose one general look and try to stick with it. Separate characters may have worked for the Village People, but you probably want your music taken a little more seriously.
• Choose a look that represents your music. Though sometimes the element of surprise can be a good thing, in general you want to try to avoid any big disconnect between your look and sound. Meaning if you’re a hard core rapper, you probably shouldn’t dress like Stevie Nicks onstage. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule … Gnarls Barkley somehow pull off their hip hop/pop dressed as 1970s tennis players and storm troopers. But gimmicks aren’t for everyone—whatever you choose, make sure it feels right for you.
• Cultivate your individuality. You might love suits, but that look isn’t exactly going to set you apart from the hundreds of other indie bands who do too. Same thing with saggy jeans and gold chains for hip hop artists. Though you want your look to represent your music, there is still room to put your own unique spin on your wardrobe. If you’re L’il Wayne, you go for tighter jeans. If you’re Katy Perry, you go pin-up model. And if you’re Lady Gaga, well, you go off the deep end.
Developing your own look can be as simple as adding a signature pocket square to your suit, or as complicated as sewing an army of Kermit the Frogs to your sweater. The main rule of thumb is to stretch your imagination while staying true to yourself. If you can do that, you’ll be covered.