When we close our eyes and conjure up an iconic Prince image, many of us will think of him in Purple Rain (1984), perched upon a customised purple CM400 Hondamatic motorcycle, wearing a purple trench coat studded in glistening chains and rhinestones.
This image has cemented itself as the epitome of Prince’s look during the 1980s and the foundation of his forty-year long career in the music industry so what makes the outfit so memorable?
Purple Rain, undeniably one of the greatest rock musicals of all time, was released 35 years ago today. The film was a monumental worldwide success to everyone (except Prince of course) and with the release of the film came the birth of ‘Prince-soir’, a term coined by an avid fan to describe her Prince-inspired outfit to attend the Florida leg of the Purple Rain tour. With as much impact as it had back in the day, the iconic style of ‘The Kid’ is now very much part of our popular culture.
So let’s take a look at The Kid’s signature look:
One of the key additions to Prince’s look during the filming was the ruffled shirt. The shirt was one of the first designs costume designer Marie France sketched for Prince during their initial meeting.
I actually made a sketch of the ruffle shirt on the spot, cause one thing I had noticed in his music videos was that he was wearing one of those kinds of tacky tux shirts. And I said you need something much better than that. You need something you know, more Prince-like, literally. So I thought of the romanticism of the 18th-century ruffled shirts and I made some quick sketches.Costume designer Marie France
The shirt was loosely inspired by the romanticism of 18th-century shirts (see photo below) and famously featured a signature jabot/cravat hybrid fastened with pearl buttons that perfectly encapsulated the New Romantic Era. Sleeves were puffed and gathered, ornate cuffs adorned with frills and finished with outlandish cabochon cuff links.
The addition of the ruffled shirt was an important inclusion in Prince’s look. Prior to Purple Rain Prince had experimented with the upper half of his wardrobe, pairing the trench coat with off the rack pin-tucked tuxedo shirts, dicky bows and bare skin. The shirt heralded a softening in Prince’s visual identity, a softening of the perverse punk provocateur of the early 1980s. The romantic ruffled shirt, with connotations of the soft, poetic sensualities of dandies gone by, introduced Prince the Love God. Prince’s image was now more palatable for the mainstream masses however still challenged societies perceptions of how a young black male musician from Minneapolis should dress and act.
The Trench Coat
The trench coat first worn during the Dirty Mind era was Prince’s introductory foray into tailoring and was originally purchased second hand from an army surplus store (Smith 2018). Fans could easily replicate this look for a low cost and could style it however they pleased. Throughout his career, Prince disregarded the rules for the traditional trench coat and experimented with colour, fabric and embellishment. As the band’s success grew the shop-bought trench coat was retired and André Cymone’s seamstress sister Sylvia was credited as creating the original bespoke trench coat for Prince and his band (André Cymone interview in 2014). The trench coat followed Prince throughout his meteoric rise to mainstream superstardom following the success of Purple Rain (1984). The punk provocateur beginnings of The Revolution honed Prince’s personal style and effectively mapped out his fashion evolution from Minneapolis Rude Boy to global star.
With many rumoured inspirations (David Bowie, Quadrophenia (1979), Adam Ant to name a few) Prince adopted the trench coat from 1980 to 1985. The garment needed to be adapted for on-screen. Marie France altered the pre-existing trench coat fabric, investing in high-quality silk that worked better in the camera lights. The upper collar was altered so that it mimicked a mandarin collar with an abundance of ruffles spilling from his chest.
He fetishised the traditional garment with punk rock silver studs, rhinestones and altered the traditional functional fabric to lace, lame, satins, etc. The masculine tailored lines were off shot with feminine ruffs of lace and chiffon. Costume designer Louis Wells who collaborated with Prince from 1981 recalled introducing lace fabric to Prince.
Right away he caught onto [lace], it was a mixture of romanticism and punk, encompassing multiple genres, just like his music.Costume designer Louis Wells
Prince’s perfectly formed ass thankfully took up a lot of screen time during Purple Rain, mostly lovingly caressed by skin-tight high waisted trousers.
The trousers were high-waisted, dangerously skintight, ruched and elasticated from the knee below with stirrup elastic detailing. Opposing buttons were strategically placed along the side seams of the trousers and diagonally across the flat waist front to give the illusion of an even smaller waist. Prince was known for his energetic performances and the trousers allowed him to cavort on stage freely with ease. During the Purple Rain tour, the trousers were sewn up in lucid brocades, see-through laces and tactile damasks. Variations of this style of trouser were not just worn by His Royal Badness, in fact, affiliated artists Sheila E and Sheena Easton also wore the style throughout the 1980s. Towards the end of the decade, the trousers no longer had elasticated gather but shared a similar silhouette with exaggerated buttons.
These trousers could be seen as an extension of the risqué leg warmers and stockings worn earlier in his career. Cut close to the body, the trousers mimicked the body-conscious fit of what came before but in a seemingly more demure manner. Dressing as ‘The Kid’ allowed Prince to challenge gender norms, racial stereotypes and sexuality in a way that was palatable for the MTV masses he was now performing for. The style of Purple Rain remains influential to this day with fashion designers and Prince-bounders alike borrowing.
A special thank you to Marie France for generously sharing her creativity and experiences as Prince’s costume designer with the author.