A commanding stage presence is an essential element of the rock and roll spectacle. Beyond captivating audiences with their music, artists from Abba to ZZ Top have projected their quirks, singular identities and personas via unique stage costumes. Some artists' costume choices are icons to themselves – think Michael Jackson’s gilded glove or Elvis Presley’s bejeweled jumpsuit. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, is home to many of these iconic costumes and ground-breaking designs. Here are some of our favorites, which you can see when visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum!
David Bowie's Suit, 1972 / Design by Freddie Burretti
David Bowie’s breakthrough came with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972), a thoroughly modern album that promulgated the notion of rock star as space alien. Bowie melded rock with theater, creating the provocative character and alter ego “Ziggy Stardust." Bowie wore his lightning-bolt emblazoned suit onstage during his tour to support the album.
The Supremes' Dresses, 1969 / Design by Bob Mackie
The Supremes rose from the poverty of Detroit’s Brewster housing project to become Motown’s most consistent hitmakers and the most popular female group of the Sixties. First seen on the NBC-TV special GIT on Broadway in November 1969, this collection of dresses were also worn on the back cover of the Supremes and Four Tops album The Return of the Magnificent Seven.
John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin's Jacket and Pants, c. 1973
John Paul Jones wore this custom-designed outfit onstage with Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1973. Those performances were filmed for the feature film and live album The Song Remains the Same. “The very thing Zeppelin was about was that there were absolutely no limits,” explained bassist Jones. “We all had ideas, and we’d use everything we came across, whether it was folk, country music, blues, Indian, Arabic.”
Elvis Presley's "King of Spades" Jumpsuit, 1964 / Designed by Bill Belew
Elvis Presley’s 1974 homecoming concerts in Memphis were a personal and creative triumph. He had not performed there since 1961. For the last of his five shows, Presley personally wrote out this set list and wore his "King of Spades" jumpsuit. That performance, on March 20, was recorded and released on the album Elvis: As Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis. His performance of “How Great Thou Art” earned Presley the Grammy Award for Best Inspirational Performance, his third Grammy.
Ray Charles' Suit / Design by High Society
In his own words, Ray Charles fostered “a crossover between gospel music and the rhythm patterns of the blues.” But he didn’t stop there: over the decades, elements of country & western and big-band jazz infused his music as well. He is as complete and well-rounded a musical talent as this century has produced. This smart suit was exclusively designed for Charles.
Jimi Hendrix Patchwork Jacket and Pink Pants, c. 1970
Jimi Hendrix wore the outfit pcitured above at the Love and Peace Festival on the Isle of Fehmarn, Germany, on September 6, 1970. That show was Hendrix’s final concert appearance.
John Lennon's Sgt. Pepper Outfit, 1967 / Design by M. Berman Ltd.
All four of the Beatles wore similar uniforms on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, thus helping to create among the most iconic album covers in rock and roll history. The costumes were created by M. Berman Ltd., a London theatrical costume house.
Stevie Nicks' Jacket and Pin, 1980
In 1979, Fleetwood Mac released Tusk, an ambitious double album. It featured the University of Southern California Marching Band on the title track, and Stevie Nicks wore a jacket aping that of a marching band conductor's, complete with a trumpet pin, on the subsequent tour.
Mick Jagger's Stage Outfit, 1981 / Pants by Russell Athletic + Shoes by Rivers
The outdoor staging used on the Rolling Stones' 1981-82 tours allowed Mick Jagger to exhibit his tremendous athleticism. To train for the tour, Jagger ran 10 miles a day. The ramps that surrounded the stage covered hundreds of yards and Jagger ran them from end-to-end throughout the show. This outfit incorporates pants from a football uniform. The cape, which was usually worn for the encore, is made from actual flags. The outfit is featured in Rolling Stones: 50 Years of Satisfaction, on exhibit through March 2014.
Little Richard's Jumpsuit, c. 1970
With his outrageous look, his wild singing style and his no-holds-barred piano playing, Little Richard embodied rock and roll’s gleeful sexuality and spirit of rebellion. His sequined jumpsuit on exhibit in the Museum's Cities and Sounds exhibit is indicative of Richard's flamboyant personality.