Fashion Icon: The New York Dolls

I’ve been working on writing an article on fashion fads and the various subcultures over the decades, so I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries to look at what people were wearing. I got thinking about The New York Dolls. Many people credit them as the true first punk band, but one thing is for sure, they really kicked off the glam rock thing. They were some of the first heterosexual male musicians to wear women’s clothing, make-up, and jewelry.

They are probably most known for their heroin abuse, and I will concede that their feminine appearance was probably done out of a desire to shock people. Be it intentional or consequential, their adoption of traditionally feminine apparel served as a rejection of a social norm: men did NOT wear polka-dotted blouses and red lipstick. They helped make it acceptable for men to broaden their choice of clothing and helped call gender norms into question. They certainly weren’t role models, but I don’t think fashion would be the same without them.

The eighties would have been a lot different if it weren’t for the Dolls. Polka-dot prints, animal prints, silk scarves, platform boots and heels, and teased hair were all common for the band.

While fashion can be superficial (and nearly always is), there’s more to it. The way a person chooses to decorate their body can be an outward expression of their personality, their desires, their beliefs, and so on. Those in the early glam rock subculture, whether they were thinking it or not, helped change the public’s opinion on how men should dress. Men who dressed like this prior to the Dolls were likely cast aside as sexual deviants or freaks. The New York Dolls dressed in a way that would have even been looked down upon for women!

So, the next time you go out in your leather platform go-go boots, leopard pants and silk scarf, you’ll have The New York Dolls to thank for it.


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