Five Golden Rules of Dressing Your Band for Success

"Clothes make the man." Mark Twain said that.

Ultimate Guitar
Musicians hate thinking about their art in aesthetic terms. You got into this game to play guitar, to write beautiful and inspiring songs. You're not a fucking model for Christ sake!

But, the truth is that fashion and rock 'n' roll have been inextricably linked since the genre's emergence in the late-1940s. Image in rock is hugely important - the vast majority of successful bands didn't just play great music. They looked great while doing it.

While you might not want to, you've got to think about your band's look if you're serious about making it in music. And a big part of that comes down to what you're wearing onstage.

I know that practicing sweep picking or familiarizing yourself with Phrygian modes seems much more appealing to you than clothes shopping. But sometimes, you've got to suffer for your art. Besides, this handy list of golden rules is going to make the whole process much more bearable.

1. Wear Clothes That You Feel Confident In

People often say that, when on stage, you need to wear clothes you feel comfortable in. While I don't disagree with this maxim, I think that "comfortable" should be exchanged with "confident" - that one word makes a big difference.

A big part of winning over the audience comes from you exuding confidence. Fans gravitate towards confident, charismatic performers much more than those that are awkward or disengaged. Wearing clothes in which you merely feel "comfortable" doesn't necessarily empower you in that way. "Comfortable" on its own implies lounging around the house, watching blu-rays and eating Cheetos - it does not scream "I am a rockstar."

Obviously, you shouldn't wear clothes in which you feel uncomfortable. Don't go on stage rocking a diamond-studded codpiece and platform boots if that look makes you feel self-conscious (if you do feel that combination empowers you, then go for it - more power to you). At the same time, your threads should reflect your inner rock god, rather than a "Better Call Saul" binging, Dorito munching layabout.

2. Wear Clothes That Fit

This is a sort of extension to point number one. In my experience, the biggest fashion faux pas that pretty much the entire world makes is wearing clothes that don't fit. Things like cut and sizing matter - they're the difference between you looking like the next Robert Plant and like a kid dressed in his dad's clothes.

So how do you know if you're wearing clothes that fit you well? Firstly, and most obviously, take a long hard look in the mirror and really scrutinize yourself. Then, ask the best-dressed person you know to appraise your clothing choices. Tell them to be brutally honest.

If you have established that you're wearing clothes that are too big/too small/the wrong cut, then you probably need to go shopping. When you do that, make sure you ask advice from the assistant in the store, or take your aforementioned fashion conscious friend with you. Ask them what cut of jeans you should be wearing (depending on your size, height, weight, the style of trouser you wear will vary); get them to measure you for shirts.

This might seem like a faff, but knowing how to buy clothes that fit you is an important skill. Looking put together makes you look like a pro. It'll help you win people over to your music and impress your audience. Speaking of which...

3. Dress Better Than Your Audience

Part of impressing your audience means dressing better than they do. To clarify, I'm not suggesting that your band plays gigs in zoot suits while your fans are wearing jeans and t-shirts. What I'm saying is that you need to take your existing look and spruce it up a bit.

Offset your jeans and t-shirt look with some leather wristbands, a good pair of boots or a leather jacket. If you're wearing trainers, make sure that they look appropriately worn or brand spanking new, rather than just a bit scruffy.

These things might seem like micro details, but they make a huge difference to how you are perceived. As an example, me and the guitarist from my band went to a local gig recently to check out the talent on the local scene and do a bit of networking. We went dressed in our usual stage attire and, on three separate occasions, members of the groups on the bill that night asked us which band we were in.

By dressing just slightly better than the average concertgoer (and again, we were doing nothing major - just wearing well-fitting clothes, smart jackets and clean trainers/boots) we looked like we were in a band. Standing out from the crowd makes you look like a pro, so pay attention to details.

4. Your Band Needs to Look Like a Unit

Several years ago, a group I was in used gig with a glam-metal revival band. These guys totally had the look down - eyeliner, huge hair, sparkly cowboy boots, spandex - they looked just like they'd stepped off the Sunset Strip circa 1986. Well, everyone except the drummer did.

The drummer used to play in jeans, a trucker cap and a hoodie. As a consequence, he didn't look like part of the band - he looked like somebody's older brother who was filling in.

The clothes that you wear on stage should reflect your individual personalities - but your look also needs to compliment that of your bandmates. Aesthetically speaking, the best bands look like a gang or an army - and that semblance of unity has a very powerful effect on the audience.

Before a gig, make a point of discussing what you're planning to wear and make sure that your bandmates' outfits are in sync. It might sound like a lame thing to do, but it will make your visual appearance so much more impacting.

5. Grooming Matters!

Your clothes fit, you feel confident in them, you're looking better than your audience and you feel like a unit. But, something still isn't right.

When did you last shave? When did you last get a haircut?

Rock 'n' roll isn't a genre often associated with grooming. Picture your average rocker and you probably imagine some kind of straggly, denim clad, snakebite chugging mountain-man. But, there's a big different between looking stylishly unkempt in a rock 'n' roll manner and looking like a complete slob.

By all means grow your hair out and rock an epic beard. But, do it with a bit of style. Rather than just letting your mane grow, go to a barber and get it shaped. Manly facial hair is awesome, but it needs to be well maintained.

Again, this comes down to appearing professional. Contrary to what you might think, your flat, overly long mess of grown out hair and a messy, unstyled beard doesn't make you look like James Hetfield from Metallica - it makes you look like a 14-year-old. So bite the bullet and go to the barber. It might seem counterintuitive, but you'll look so much more rock 'n' roll when properly groomed.

By Alec Plowman

35 comments sorted by best / new / date

    RHCP gave no fucks about a couple of these rules (WARNING: Uncensored content)
    I think Flea was just following "The one golden rule of undressing your band for success" article...
    It's obvious Buckethead put some thought on this. 8pc, 10pc, or 12pc KFC bucket? He figured it out.
    An 8pc bucket can really affect your tone. It's just doesn't have the vintage crunch to it. Make sure you and your band follow in his footsteps and use a 12pc bucket. It really brings back that warm tube tone.
    Gray Lensman
    What, no make-up tips?
    Here you have some decent stuff
    May my advice guide someone somewhere... If you're going to try and go for the look that closely resembles a tampon a woman forgot to pull out, it's probably best to move out of your parent's house beforehand. "I'm expressing myself" probably isn't going to work very well.
    Safe to assume the author is in a glam rock/metal band. To add to this, my opinion is that the visual representation of the band should suit the emotion and energy of the music. To go to the extremes, GWAR, KISS, Lordi, Slipknot, etc. This doesn't mean that if you play metal with dark lyrical substance that you have to dress as monsters, it's just the extreme. What you can do is a more subtle approach, as an example Nirvana, their music was about being lost as a teen with depression, their look suited it. So long as you are writing songs with substance and something you relate to (be it the subjects of the lyrics or the overall emotional energy of your songs), dressing to match that relation will be comfortable and instil confidence in you. If you don't feel confident in anything except what you wear on a day to day basis, then give up or grow some balls. Nothing worse than seeing a band that can't even look the audience in the eye and mumble down microphones between songs.
    I imagine that Kurt was feeling extremely lost when he played in a dress with a tiara? I mean, I struggled with depression as a teenager but wearing a dress never really crossed my mind.
    Because he only ever played in a tiara right? I mean, just because you also suffered from depression, everyone who also suffers must have the same reaction and life as you right? I don't know why he played in a tiara, it could be any reason such as his sense of humour or struggling with gender identity.
    Disregard all of that. Just know that I'm not an asshole and I may talk a little too much sometimes.
    After reading my comment, I noticed that I may have come off as a dick. I love Nirvana and continue listening to them at age 24. I sometimes don't even think about how my comment is going to sound. Maybe the trick to reaching that level of success is done by wearing a dress and tiara while you perform. Doing so would probably mean sacrificing my girlfriend [not in a ritualistic kind of way] because I'm certain she wouldn't look at me the same after wearing one of her dresses. ,...Actually, maybe that's what she needs... To see her man in one of her dresses. I draw the line at underwear... Rocky relationship...
    Struggling with some kind of identity is iconic teenage behavior. Not regularly to that extreme, but the hyperbole can make it stronger.
    Well I was there to see Nirvana and I believe that whole thing was one of his attempts to say fuck you to the record company and the whole rock machine that had consumed them. He was doing anything he could to get free of the whole rock god thing he was being painted as because that made him puke. He was also tradgicly wasted a lot of the time and was in a position where no one could tell him what to do. They were violent and aggressive when I saw them the first time, the second time years later they had lost a lot of their energy and looked worn out.
    Interesting article. I hope people take it seriously, as stepping up your style will definitely make people take your band more seriously, sad as that might be. I'll add one more: do some pushups or something on a regular basis. You'll feel better and appear more energetic and vital onstage. I went to see Electric 6 play at some summer festival and Dick Valentine (the singer) was not only wearing a nice suit in the heat, he dropped down on stage during a musical break and busted out about 50 pushups. It definitely wowed the crowd and brought the energy level up. Style is just as much what you do as what you wear. These are also the basic rules of looking good in general and can be applied anywhere.
    I agree with this so much. Part of your performance (key word, there) as a musician (or any kind of performer, for that matter) is your wardrobe. If nothing else, what you wear should be designed to grab people's attention. As with any rule, there will always be exceptions. I'm not a fan of elaborate costumes like what Slipknot and KISS are known for, but I can't knock them because they work for those guys. These are exceptions--not the rule. I don't expect local bands to spend loads of money on wardrobe, but I can't stand going out and seeing people who look like they just walked out of the crowd and started playing. There's nothing visually appealing about that. There's nothing about a band of guys on stage wearing t-shirts that are two sizes too big, baggy pants, and a plain pair of shoes that grabs your attention. Get a few pairs of good-fitting jeans. They don’t have to be skinny jeans if that’s not your thing, though form-fitting jeans aren’t the worst thing in the world, either, if you can pull the look off. If you’ve got a decent physique, buy a few shirts in a smaller size to show it off. DON’T BE AFRAID OF A COLOR THAT ISN’T BLACK! Don’t be afraid to explore different colors. For years my wardrobe had very little color. One day I decided to break out of my comfort zone, and now I have a closet of a bunch of different colors. Accessories go a long way. A cool necklace or two, a bracelet, maybe get a few cool-looking rings... Hey, if you're comfortable going so far, get your nails painted. That’s something I'll pull out every now and again. I've always had the mindset of: You're on stage for a reason. Make the effort to look like you belong there. A big part of entertainment in general is making a connection with your audience. Generally speaking, people gravitate towards the personalities that they can relate to. What you wear is a reflection of your personality. Have one. Don’t be afraid to show it.
    This is hugely important. I'm tired of bands, even huge ones not giving a single shit about looks. When I come to a gig I want to see a rock god, not a guy next door. It doesn't need to be excessive. And if you have a vision go for it, it's not silly. Just look at Ghost. They are constantly perfecting their image and their music is amazing too which in myind makes them the greatest new rock/metal band. Only if you are a prog act can you disregard it because it's just about music, but then again there is a difference between dream theater and periphery
    David Byrne has some interesting thoughts about his own personal fashion development in his book How Music Works. He is very insightful about the importance of aesthetic and visuals in performance.
    This may go for some genres more than for others. Apparently the costumes are extremely important for acts like glam-rock, gothic metal and this Scandinavian black metal. But for me actually part of the appeal to the music I like is that these people look approachable, like one of us. The crowd is a bunch of individuals who dresses in a way that reflects who they are and so do the artists. Which doesn't necessarily have to be uniform. Cliff Burton was wearing bell bottoms, the rest of Metallica at the time was wearing tight pants. Chuck Schuldiner wasn't really wearing stereotypical death metal type clothing (if there is such a thing) and the people in Pearl Jam also just seem to wear what they feel like. Obviously it should reflect who they are but it doesn't have to be better than anyone from the crowd. I know Dave Mustain was/is very particular about what everyone in Megadeth looks like on stage or in the media (indeed down to the type of shoes and such) but I don't think this is necessarily typical for all rock/metal bands I'm into even though they still became successful.
    There are some over stricted things here, now I remember Chris Cornell in a video with a long beard, and looking crappy, and people loving it, I don't agree with all the terms of aesthetycal rules here. Looking good is a cultural standard nowadays, and sometimes in the freakness you find vanguardist trends, look at steve vai for example.. If you look in Argentina, you have aesthetycal looking bands, ,and then you have "Divididos", Mollo has the most simple look and their succeed is absolutely based on music. I agree in the point that cloth must make you feel rather Confident than Comfortable
    If you're already Chris Cornell, people will love it. If you're Joe Schmoe, looking crappy might not get you any additional gigs though.
    Arfing Thumb
    I once had a dream about getting a spontaneous gig with a few hours of preparing and getting there. I arrived much too late because I spend hours to find some cool clothes. Obviously it's a big worry in a musicians's life.
    Big Bang
    "...James Hetfield from Metallica..." Was the added clarification really necessary, Alec?
    #2 Doesn't really work for me as I'm 6'6" with a 38" to 40" inseam jean size. And I live in Canada where jeans that long don't exist (don't get shipped out here). Of course I could go get custom made clothes...but if I'm using them to thrash about on stage with I dunno if I'd want to risk them. It's not too bad though as my 36" jeans cover my socks at least. And all the shirts I use for gigs I roll up the sleeves so people don't see that they only come up to half my forearm. Just have to be a bit creative.
    Dude, if you're built like Abe Lincoln, try dressing for the stage in a way that accentuates your uniqueness!