All-American hero, songwriting colossus, rock n’ roll star … under-appreciated fashion icon? Pete Douglas shines a light on the best of The Boss’s looks through the years.
You could say that I’m quite a big Springsteen fan. I’m the kind of fan who converts the top 200 songs from an expert ranking of everything he’s ever officially released into my own playlist on Spotify, listens to it a lot, and then thinks “this is great, but I wonder if ‘Countin’ on a Miracle’ could be slightly higher than number 188?” (Probably not to be very honest – that list is perfect.)
If I have a problem in my life, I lie down on my bed and imagine that Bruce visits me. Playing a few licks on his trusty telecaster, he pauses thoughtfully before dispensing some sage yet economical advice to me, which naturally solves all my woes, before he leaves to the triumphant blast of the sax solo at the end of ‘Bobby Jean’, just like he does for John Cusack in the film adaptation of High Fidelity.
Now I feel it is time to shine a light on one part of his legend that is often taken for granted – his amazing sense of style over the years. Bruce isn’t admired for his fashion in the way contemporaries like Bowie, Prince or Madonna have been, but in his own working man way he has proven he can be just as iconic.
And so here are Bruce’s six greatest fashion eras ranked from worst, to best:
6. Long-hair Bruce
Before fame Bruce was playing in garage and bar bands, experimenting with blues and psychedelia and rocking extremely long hair, like any good kid of the 60’s. To be honest, it doesn’t suit him, but top marks for commitment, and how it kinda makes him look like songwriting legend Carole King.
5. Contemporary-waistcoats-and-other-odd-accesories Bruce
Modern day Bruce is in such good shape it’s ridiculous but his fashion choices are pretty dubious, given he is after all the greatest human on the planet. Dodgy waistcoats are often paired with an ill fitting tie, or worse, a delicately placed scarf (!) and as a full blown and utterly deluded Springsteen apologist, I can only put all of this down to someone else making these fashion decisions for him.
4. Why-the-hell-would-you-wake-me-up-at-this-hour? Bruce
This is less about the clothes and more about the vibe; but from 1978-1982 it seems that every photo in existence of Bruce looks like someone just got him out of bed and made him grumpily pose for them. It’s not just the bed hair, but also the look of borderline disgust with the photographer coming in at 3am and shaking him awake for another god damned photo shoot.
3. Beardy-street-urchin Bruce
Now we’re talking. This is a pretty well-known look. The scruffy beard, black leather jacket and trusty telecaster strapped over his shoulder, this is a styling essayed most prominently on the cover of Born to Run, where he casually leans son saxophonist Clarence Clemons (RIP), and is how the world at large first met Bruce. This album, and the title track, loom large in the Bruce legend, and will remain so no matter how many Jimmy Fallon parodies we must endure.
2. Tunnel of Love Bruce
A personal favourite. On the cover of his 1987 album Tunnel of Love, Bruce donned a suit for the first time…well it seemed like possibly ever, and kept this look up for the ensuing “Tunnel of Love Express” tour. This is the one era that is made great by a single fashion accessory – the bolo tie. For the life of me I can’t understand how 30 years later it hasn’t yet made a comeback, though I’m so so ready and waiting patiently for it when it does.
1. Born in the USA Bruce
The definitive look. In the context of his mid-’80s battle with fellow pop superstars Prince and Michael Jackson, Bruce’s appearance in this era is the equivalent of “good song bro…but do you even lift?”. Buffed to within an inch of his very life, Bruce spends the years 1984-1986 wearing bandanas, tees and singlets at least one size too small for his frame, and often is closer to resembling John Rambo about to slay hundreds of faceless baddies in the jungle than any kind of musician.
There is an almost zealous commitment to fashion at this stage – in his autobiography Bruce recalls a story where he and Steve Van Zandt are refused entry to Disneyland for wearing bandanas that they just won’t take off because it’s not right.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this era is that Bruce is far from the worst dressed member of his band, as nicely illustrated in the video for the hit ‘Glory Days’, which contains so much zany ‘80s colour I have to warn you – if you suffer from epilepsy, please view with the utmost of care. (Special shout out to guitarists/pirate twins Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren here – amazing stuff.)
If there are any misgivings about the fashion of this phase then the absolute clincher is the greatest white-man-shuffle dance of all time. Truly a gift to bad dancers everywhere (me) Bruce shuffles his way into pop history with Courtney Cox in the amazing video for ‘Dancing in the Dark’. As a great man once said – you can’t start a fire, you can’t start a fire without a spark.