Fashion Victim: Dressing like a Rockstar

HMXHellion is a Producer/Senior Writer at Harmonix and plays guitar in the band VAGIANT. Currently her favorite things are outrageously spicy food, French bulldogs, and writing essays about fashion while wearing a Willie Nelson tee shirt, bathing suit bottoms, stripper heels, and an enormous beige bathrobe. Also she enjoys footnotes, which are sooooo in right now.

I don’t know anything about fashion. I feel I should get that out of the way right now. The best item of clothing I've ever owned was a pair of R2D2 Underoos that I had when I was 6, and I'm pretty sure that even back then I wasn't accessorizing properly. My co-worker and fashion-plate gal pal Naoko Takamoto (who is a member of Rock Band's own That Handsome Devil) once told me, "Your taste in shoes is like your taste in dudes: sometimes I see something so revolting that I immediately think, 'Oh man, I should tell Helen about this, she would love it.'"

I like clothes, I really do. I just have never gotten the hang of the "fashion expiration date" -- the way in which a single outfit element will be "totally fierce" and then suddenly, seemingly without warning (other than Midwesterners starting to wear it), it is "soooo over." I've been wearing legwarmers consistently for much of my life, which means that during the '80s I was a copycat, during the '90s I was crazy, during the early '00s I was retro, and recently there have been a lot of people shouting things like "Hey where ya' goin', kid, the ballet store?" (Because I live in Boston and that's just the sort of clever comment you're bound to hear from our colorful locals. See below.)

It isn't my fault that I don't know anything about fashion. I grew up in central Jersey, which is mercifully NOT the part of the state that smells like sulfur and burned hair all the time. It does, however, have its own eccentricities, such as an appreciation for Iroc-Z’s 1, a non-ironic and profound love of Bon Jovi 2, the rightful dominance of Tastykake over Hostess, and a general adherence to a misguided extreme in fashion. Everyone is trying really hard to wear the coolest and most “now” fashions, which tends to results in everyone looking like they just parachuted out of a plane flown by Bonkers Airlines and piloted by Captain Vodkabreath. In the ‘80s (when I lived there), this included the well-known bang-height competitions, as well as butt-clenchingly tight acid-washed jeans made even tighter by wearing them while sitting in a bathtub of ice water and then blow-drying them on before school. My infrequent attempts to adhere to the strict rules set forth by the fashion Mafia usually backfired. For example, when I finally got around to purchasing a Hypercolor tee-shirt, I made the mistake of wearing it to gym class. It looked like I had worse pit stains than my mentally unstable algebra teacher.

When I moved to Boston, I took to it immediately, largely due to the area's stance on fashion. It's not that we don't have any fashion sense here, it's just that we are intolerant of things that are phony or pretentious. I’m sure Boston in the ‘80s saw its share of gravity-defying bangs (especially on the North Shore) but in general, I find Boston less obsessed with fashion than other major American cities. On the other hand, our unusually attuned bulls**t meters result in an intolerance towards a lot of perfectly-reasonable fashion choices. There is a sort of Boston dress code in which certain things are forbidden. To summarize, here is a list of clothing items you might wear on stage and the resultant thinking of a Boston townie (with foul language cleaned up, of course, for those of you with delicate sensibilities):

Sunglasses: "Hey where ya' goin', kid, Revere Beach? Is it dark in here? You suck!"
A hip and jaunty fedora: "Hey Frank Sinatra! You SUCK!"
A chain wallet: "Look at this mickey-fickey nutcracker over here. Go back to Worcester!"
A sweater vest: “Hey Sully, get a load of this clackity rucksack! Harvard’s that way!”
Pants: “Hey look at Mr. Fancy with his big-time pants! Who does this grape nut think he is? Where ya’ goin’, kid, Pants Town?” 

So it should not be surprising that when my band had the inevitable “what are we going to wear on stage” conversation, I approached the question in true Boston style: I made rude gestures and called my bandmates “a buncha Nancys” while holding a lobster roll in one hand and a Polar Diet Orange Dry in the other and wearing a Red Sox tee with VARITEK on the back.3

However (and here’s where it gets to the actual point) -- the more shows I play, the more I learn this unyielding truth: your fans actually care how you dress. They want you to be better dressed than they are. Or at least more elaborately dressed. They want you… to actually look… like rock stars. I tried to articulate my dismay about this fact during a conversation with former Tribe bassist and Harmonix big-shot Greg LoPiccolo, who responded, “Yeah. It’s really weird how the fans actually want you to entertain them.” Greg LoPiccolo can be kind of a grape nut sometimes.

So, yes, regardless of whether you’re a fashion expert like Naoko or a tacky beast like me, it’s a good idea to put some real thought and effort into your look. The approximate amount of work you should put into your look is: not as much as you do with your songs, but more than you do with your breakfast choices. So, without any further ado, here are some general guidelines you may want to follow when crafting your band’s image:

  1. Style matters more than looks.
    Having good style and being good looking are two totally different things.As has been proven numerous times by rock stars throughout the ages, you do NOT have to be good-looking to be a famous musician (unless you suck really bad, in which case, yeah, you have to be a mega-babe.) I won’t mention any real-life examples of unattractive musicians out of respect, but suffice to say there are a lot of chubbos and hatchetfaces who (if they read these essays) would be nodding their heads right now while being served crumpets by better-looking significant others than you or I could ever dream of shacking up with. Your persona and style are more important elements than straight-up looks in terms of making you a superstar. It’s really all about rocking your own style with confidence.
  2. Your clothing style should reflect the style of music that you play without being ridiculously clichéd.
    It’s hard to think of any successful band in history who managed to make it without a cohesive “look.” There are plenty of cases of bands who sported a low-key or seemingly anti-fashion style (Minor Threat and Nirvana come to mind, for example) but even in those cases, the band’s style perfectly epitomized the genre of music that they were making. Be careful not to overdo it, though – you want to maintain a little mystery. I recall once walking into bar, seeing a punk band setting up, covered in plaid and patches with Mohawks to the heavens strapping on artfully beat-up guitars, and promptly walking back outside. There’s just no mystery there. I know what that band is going to sound like and I know who they’re derivative of and I know they have major unresolved stepfather issues.
  3. “Dress up as much as you’re comfortable with.”
    That advice comes from Miss Naoko , who says that it’s important to look like you put some time and thought into your appearance, but that if you overdo it, you’ll just look uncomfortable and creepy. Additionally, if somewhat tangentially, Naoko also gave me my favorite piece of fashion advice ever: “if you own anything Ed Hardy, throw it away immediately. No one thinks you’re tough because your tee shirt got a tattoo.”
  4. If you want to wear high heels onstage, PRACTICE FIRST.
    That’s not just for the ladies, either, rock ‘n’ roll history features an extensive list of dudes wearing heels. But it does take serious practice – there are a lot of cables onstage. A LOT. Take it from one whose shoe closet used to be called “the kitchen.”

So what do I know about fashion? Clearly, not a lot. I likes what I likes. But the one thing I have learned is that the more you look like a band when you walk into a club for the first time, the more the patrons take you seriously. If for you, that means the tried-and-true technique of wearing all black and drowning your face in eyeliner, great. If it means strapping a dead chicken to your head and wearing soiled briefs, that’s also great. Whatever you feel comfortable in, that’s what you should wear. But I’m not talking about the outfit you feel comfortable in at work. I’m talking about your TRUE outfit. I’m talking about that weird inner part of you that you may or may not keep hidden from the world which genuinely likes the movie “Legend” and which wishes your real name was Delicious Jones. I’m talking about the outfit you want to be wearing when the zombies show up – the most intense version of you that you can be.

I’ll leave you with a final thought from Naoko, a woman who wears sweatshirts to work and corsets onstage: “I want more costumed bands. Full grown humans squeezing themselves into children’s Halloween costumes. If I saw a band dressed like that, I would buy their album. I’m sick of this jeans and tee shirt bulls**t.” Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and don’t forget -- if you’re in the market for some new clothes, Black Friday is right around the corner and this season’s hippest dead chicken hats will probably be on sale.

1) I still have a list of the “Things I Want to Do Before I Die” that I wrote when I was twelve years old. In addition to “play in a band” (which is number seven), there is “drive a blue Iroc-Z down the Autobahn” (which is number three.) This should give you a sense of just how Jersey my roots truly are.

2) I had a friend from Jersey once who insisted that while people from outside Jersey think we are all obsessed with Springsteen, the reality is that The Boss is a little bit too high-brow for us. I mean, what, does he think he’s too good to work in a factory? And all that fancy “subtext” and “deep meaning”? Psh. Jon Bon, on the other hand, is one of us.

3) My love for ‘Tek has dwindled because I really dislike his entrance song, and he has stuck with it for too many years now. Time for a new song, champ. If I were a professional baseball player, my entrance song would be either “Remain Yer Strange” by Superdrag or “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls -- the former because it works well in the highlight clip montage film I envision, and the latter because it is the best song to do a sexy walk to. It would be best to be a relief pitcher so that more of the song is played for dramatic effect. Harmonix Producer Matt Kelly selects “Jump Around” by House of Pain, which is appropriate, given that he is the whitest person I have ever met. Our beloved Manager of Community Development Sean Baptiste says he’d go with “Here I Come” by The Roots if he wanted to intimidate the opposing team while simultaneously pumping himself up to drive in runs, but that if he just wanted to get on base by drawing a walk, he’d throw on “Sailing” by Christopher Cross to confuse the hell out of the defense. Daniel Sussman, our Director of Hardware Development, wants his entrance theme to be “Reign in Blood” with the full thunderstorm intro so that he’s actually running onto the field during the “bah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, nah nah nah, BUH BUH BUH!” part, which I think is a totally excellent choice. What would you pick? Share your choices in the comments section below and I shall judge you quietly in my head.