When it came to fashion, few beat him

Michael Jackson appeared in a cloud of smoke in the halftime show at Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, Calif., in 1993. The 12-minute spectacular featured 3,500 children when he sang "Heal the World," the Jackson song that is also the name of his international children's aid foundation.
Michael Jackson appeared in a cloud of smoke in the halftime show at Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, Calif., in 1993. The 12-minute spectacular featured 3,500 children when he sang "Heal the World," the Jackson song that is also the name of his international children's aid foundation.
Posted: June 26, 2009

When I was 10, I asked my mother if I could wear a Michael Jackson-style Jheri curl. All my friends had one.

"No way!" she said of the greasy, spiral tresses.

No matter.

Summer turned into fall, and after much pleading, my grandmother bought me a zippered, red pleather jacket, a replica of the one Michael wore in his "Beat It" video.

I wasn't the only one who looked odd pairing the jacket with my Catholic school uniform.

We all did it.

I can't fathom a world without Michael Jackson. His voice. His dance moves. His style.

Michael is the original marriage of modern-day music and fashion. Every look Michael introduced, people all over the world replicated.

He was a tastemaker from his earliest days as the lead singer of the Jackson 5 when he sported floppy newsboy hats - apple caps; vests, and bell-bottoms. When he released his solo Off the Wall album, we caught the first glimpse of his trademark white socks.

And then came Thriller - an entire fashion era. The Jheri curl became a staple hairstyle in African American communities. So what that Michael set his hair on fire when he filmed a Pepsi commercial in 1984. That look held on until California rapper Ice Cube finally cut off his curl in the 1990s.

From the Thriller album came the sparkling, right-hand glove; the Billie Jean baby hair; and red leather pants.

We also got the first hint of his plastic surgery and his reported attempts to look like mentor Diana Ross. He said in interviews later that he didn't like his looks and didn't fit in, much like the scarecrow he played in The Wiz.

Oh, Michael.

In hindsight, so many of us wished he'd stopped there.

But with Bad, it became clear that Michael wasn't content just being the King of Pop. His cute-as-a-button nose wasn't good enough for him. A cleft magically appeared on his chin.

With each album, Michael got lighter and lighter. He started to lose his credibility as a fashion trendsetter as people focused more on his freakish look than on his Sgt. Pepper jackets. Still, he'd always be an icon - even when it looked like his nose was about to fall off from too much plastic surgery. He began to insist that he wasn't ashamed of his brownness, but that he had vitiligo, a condition that causes the skin to lose pigmentation.

Michael continued to try to play his fashion hand. He ripped his clothes to look tougher in the "Bad" and"Dirty Diana" videos. And he suited up for "Smooth Criminal."

He even tried to resurrect an interest in Egyptian fashion with the thick eyeliner in the "Remember the Time" video. He was the first to use computer technology to blend one nationality into another in "Black or White."

But he didn't have the same fashion firepower as with Thriller. Somehow along the way, Michael lost the essence of his true self.

So I choose to remember the Michael of my youth - the brown, cleftless Michael with the pug nose and wide smile. The man who made my heart melt when he sang "Lady in My Life" in his crisp, white suit.

He's out of our lives, but ensconced in our fashion memory forever.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com.

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