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B Side, Fashion & Style

The Timeless Style of Michael Jackson and Its Echoes in 21st Century Fashion

Fifteen years after his passing, Michael Jackson’s lasting impact on fashion still shapes global trends in both streetwear and haute couture.

  • Ebube Okereke
  • 25th June 2024

When you hear Michael Jackson, you think moonwalk, iconic music, and throngs of adoring fans. But another essential aspect of his legacy is his remarkable influence on fashion. As one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century, MJ left an indelible mark not only on the music industry but also on the world of style. From his over-the-top performance outfits to his unique sartorial choices, Michael had a keen eye for fashion. Collaborating with renowned brands like Dior, Tom Ford, Givenchy, and John Galliano, he curated avant-garde looks that were both personal and exceptional. His style was deeply influenced by his love of fantasy and theatrics.

Fifteen years after the passing of the King of Pop, designers and fans alike continue to look to Michael for inspiration. The resurgence of 80s and 90s fashion in recent years has brought his style back into the spotlight, proving that his influence is truly timeless.

Michael Jackson’s fashion influence is unparalleled. Today’s biggest musicians, including Beyoncé, Kanye West, Madonna, Janelle Monáe, Lady Gaga, Pharrell, and Rihanna, owe him a huge creative debt. It’s only appropriate that the people of Bounce take a moment to reflect on his impact on fashion.



The Early Years: The Jackson 5 and Funky Fashion


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, young Michael Jackson burst onto the scene with The Jackson 5, sporting vibrant, eye-catching outfits. The group’s style was characterized by bright colors, bold patterns, and flamboyant accessories, reflecting the exuberance of the era. Sequined jackets, wide-collared shirts, and bell-bottom pants became their signature look, establishing Michael as a fashion-forward artist even in his youth.


Jackson 5



Solo Stardom: The Birth of Iconic Looks


As Michael embarked on his solo career, his fashion sense evolved, becoming more sophisticated and distinct. The release of the Off the Wall album in 1979 marked a significant shift. MJ adopted tuxedo jackets, glittery socks, and loafers, an ensemble that combined elegance with a touch of glam. This era also saw the introduction of his famous single white glove, which would become one of his most enduring symbols.


Michael Jackson Off The Wall




The Thriller Jacket


The 1983 release of “Thriller” catapulted Michael to unprecedented fame, and with it came some of his most iconic fashion statements. The red leather jacket with black stripes, designed by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, became an instant classic. This jacket not only defined the “Thriller” music video but also influenced street fashion and high fashion alike. 




Michael’s Moto Jacket: Embellishment Galore


Michael Jackson’s fifth album, “Off the Wall”, brought us giant hits like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and introduced an era defined by his penchant for sparkly separates and all-embellished-everything. One of the most memorable homages to his spangled style was Balmain’s SS09 collection, led by Christophe Decarnin.




The collection was filled with power-shouldered, street-inspired glitz and glamor, channeling MJ’s high-octane energy. Michael was known to wear plenty of Decarnin’s most recognizable outerwear. Kanye West even took note, wearing a Michael Jackson-esque red leather jacket at a Balmain fashion show during Paris Fashion Week in 2011, and another embellished Balmain look at the Met Gala 2015.


Kanye West Inspired By Michael Jackson



The Smooth Criminal Suit and Fedora


Another iconic look from MJ’s repertoire is the white suit and fedora from the “Smooth Criminal” music video. This outfit has been referenced in fashion editorials and red carpet events ever since. The sleek, tailored suit paired with a matching fedora created a silhouette that was both classic and modern, showcasing Michael’s ability to blend different fashion eras seamlessly. The fedora was a signature part of his look for quite a while, but its most memorable rotation was in the 1988 “Smooth Criminal” video.


Michael Jackson Smooth Criminal



The Letterman Jacket


MJ had an uncanny ability to turn unexpected pieces into trends, much like pop royalty today. For example, when MJ wore a varsity letterman jacket, it quickly became the epitome of casual cool. In his iconic mini-movie “Thriller”, MJ donned a red and yellow varsity jacket, cementing its place in fashion history. Designers like Rag & Bone and Givenchy have since modernized the traditional varsity jacket, pairing it with feminine basics for a contemporary update. Today’s fashion muses, like Rihanna, often don letterman jackets as part of their athletic-inspired style.



Rihanna’s massive hit “Please Don’t Stop The Music” sampled Michael’s track “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” highlighting his continued influence.



Military Style


With the release of the Bad album in 1987, Michael’s style took on a more edgy and militaristic tone. Black leather, buckles, and metallic accents became staples in his wardrobe. The “Bad” music video featured MJ in a black leather jacket adorned with numerous zippers and straps, a look emulated by countless artists and designers. His affinity for military-inspired clothing continued throughout his career, with ornate jackets featuring epaulets, gold braiding, and intricate embroidery becoming hallmarks of his concert tours and public appearances. Designers like Balmain and Givenchy have drawn inspiration from Jackson’s military chic, incorporating similar elements into their collections.


Michael Jackson Bad



Streetwear and Pop Culture


The influence of Michael Jackson extends beyond high fashion into streetwear and popular culture. Graphic tees, jackets, and accessories bearing his image or inspired by his iconic looks are prevalent in street fashion. Brands like Supreme and Off-White have paid homage to Michael, integrating his style into their contemporary designs. The fusion of music and fashion has kept his legacy vibrant and relevant.





Fifteen years after his passing, Michael Jackson’s influence on fashion is as monumental as his musical contributions. From his early days of vibrant ensembles to his sophisticated, iconic looks, Michael’s fashion sense continues to inspire and resonate. As we see echoes of his style in 21st-century fashion, it is clear that Michael Jackson’s sartorial impact will endure for generations to come. His legacy, both as a musician and a fashion icon, remains timeless.


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