An essay: Examining the mingled worlds of music and fashion

Darren D’Altorio

Alexander McQueen, Britain’s prized fashion designer and pop icon, took his own life in his London apartment earlier this month, sending a shiver through the worlds of fashion and music.

Less than one week later, Lady GaGa took the stage at the 2010 Brit Awards. Her body was sparsely covered in white lace. Her hair was stacked atop her head in a disheveled beehive of blond. And her face was masked, completing the look of a decadent female phantom.

She dedicated both an award and a performance to the late McQueen that night. She had every right to. Both their styles and their lives were intertwined as of late. The most blaring example of their relationship, aside from GaGa’s eccentric style, were the lobster claw shoes, a product of McQueen, marching up and down a white runway in the video for her song “Bad Romance.”

This story begins, ends, begins and ends over and over. For many people, it never gets old. It’s been called Victorian, Renaissance, Flapper, Hippie, Mod, Disco, Grunge, Punk, Hip-Hop, Hipster, Indy, Emo. The faces, colors, sounds, moods and attitudes have constantly changed, evolved. But the common thread remains: music and fashion exist in a timeless union, preserving and conquering one another just the same.

But which entity of personal expression drew first blood? Which became the muse for the other? Which will hold more beauty and importance in the world when it’s all said and done — the lingering notes of a funeral hymn, or the perfectly dressed body in the casket?

Good thing Kent State is a microcosm of fashion in it’s own right. Perhaps there are some people with some answers, or at least some insight, to these pressing questions of popular culture.

Enter sophomore fashion design majors Rita Yoder and Margaret Bedell. On a cold Thursday night in Kent’s belly of fashion, Rockwell Hall, they sewed and surged original designs for their “little black dress” project.

“I’m going for a 1960s sheath dress,” Yoder said while wrapping her headphone cord around her iPod. “It’s a product of the mod era.”

The word “mod” may sound like drivel, a vague description in the absence of the precise words.

Enter The Beatles, The Kinks and David Bowie. They are the forefront of mod rock, musically and stylistically.

“Mod is an attitude,” Yoder said. “You want to make yourself noticed, but not too noticed. It’s classy, but forward. It is a strong, bold and independent style, especially for that time.”

“It was more futuristic,” Bedell explained. “It was a movement away from the hippie layering and long hair. It was about unity.”

Mike DeCarlo, junior electronic media production major and bassist for the band Stiletto, sees music and fashion as a united front.

“For musicians, fashion is a promotion tool,” DeCarlo said. “Shirts and bags, people wear the fashions and it gets people into the music.”

As united as he perceives the two art forms to be, he admitted styles and genres are replaced and sacrificed by one another.

“Things come and go,” he said. “Baggy jeans changed to skinny jeans. And I never saw hip-hop coming in 1999, but now it’s on the top.”

Hip-hop is on top of music and style. Lil’ Wayne’s the Carter III sold almost 1.3 million copies it’s first week on the shelves. According to, no artist has sold one million records in the first week of an album’s release since 2005, and that honor goes to another rapper—50 Cent for his album “The Massacre.”

Enter Rocawear, Sean John and Ecko Unltd. These are three fashion houses fueled by music, each making urban fashion a global trend. In fact, Jay-Z owns Rocawear, and P. Diddy owns Sean John. These artists will most likely be in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, and their legacies will be immortalized through music and fashion.

Enter sophomore fashion design major Shannon Miller and the inspiration for her newest children’s line of clothes. The song “Magic Wand” by the band Little Wings set her vision in motion.

“The song is about a magic wand,” Miller said. “My favorite line is ‘When I walk/The treetops grow.’ When I listened to that song I imagined what a kid would be wearing in it, and I said I want to make those clothes.”

Enter sophomore fashion design major Natalie Manion who thought it would be a good idea to throw a Lady GaGa party for her birthday.

“I like throwing parties, and Lady GaGa is crazy,” Manion said. “I wanted to have a crazy party.”

Manion said GaGa’s personality is what makes her the icon she has become.

“Lady GaGa takes risks,” she said. “She is bold and different and not living up to expectations. She inspires a lot of people.”

Madonna inspired. Jimi Hendrix inspired. Kurt Cobain inspired. Yves Saint Laurant inspired. Alexander McQueen inspired.

In the quest for understanding, it’s still uncertain how fashion and music affect one another. It seems they are competing to be the fuel and the fire.

Contact features reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].