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Heels, hair and purple clothes: 6 ways Prince explored sexuality, gender roles and fashion on his own terms

Heels, hair and purple clothes: 6 ways Prince explored sexuality, gender roles and fashion on his own terms
Wearing a ruffled shirt and shiny purple jacket, Prince performs at the Forum on Feb. 19, 1985 in Inglewood. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Much like his adventurous, over-the-top life, music icon Prince Rogers Nelson, simply known as Prince, had an adventurous sense of fashion. By being himself, Prince, who died Thursday at age 57, pushed gender boundaries, caused wonder and awe among observers and fans, became a sex symbol, and, particularly during the 1980s and '90s, helped liberate teenagers and young adults considered to be outsiders – artists, misfits, members of the LGBTQ community and others – who often had to repress their identities, sexuality and behavior.

Despite his Midwest upbringing, Prince's fashion tastes weren't conservative. His style was more in line with the looks of David Bowie, Little Richard and Liberace than they were with more traditional pop, rock and R&B acts of the 1970s and '80s. Prince didn't stick to the confines of a masculine versus feminine wardrobe. Instead he blended the two as he did with musical genres such as rock, soul and pop, creating a sartorial spectacle by wearing high heels, ruffles and colorful suits and often having permed hair – all while sporting facial hair such as a goatee, beard or mustache.

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Prince performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLI football game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami in 2007.
Prince performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLI football game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami in 2007. (Chris O'Meara / Associated Press)

While he appeared somewhat coy during interviews, Prince explored fashion in a loud, wild and colorful way. He did so on his own terms, as did fellow '80s megastars Michael Jackson (his frenemy) and Madonna (his friend and alleged sometimes frenemy). All three, born in 1958 in the Midwest, broke free of the standards associated with their upbringing and the decade, that being the 1980s, that defined their careers.

During his long music career, Prince wore an assortment of jumpsuits, hats, belly shirts, jewelry, high collars and loose-fitting dress suits and had a Liberace-like love of sequins as well as a penchant for diamonds and pearls ("Diamonds and Pearls" was the name of a 1991 Prince album and song with the lyrics, "If I gave you diamonds and pearls/Would you be a happy boy or a girl").

While he was spotted with a long list of women with exotic names like Vanity and Apollonia, Prince often spoke about culture, his sexuality and himself as an artist in his music as well as through his style. Here are six ways Prince explored fashion and sexuality throughout his career:

Prince performs "The World"/"Get on the Boat"/"The Glamorous Life" at the 2007 NCLR ALMA Awards.
Prince performs "The World"/"Get on the Boat"/"The Glamorous Life" at the 2007 NCLR ALMA Awards. (John Shearer / WireImage)

The color purple

Though he once sang about a woman wearing a raspberry-colored beret, Prince had an allegiance to the color purple. Purple, a combination of calming blue and the fierceness of red – associated with royalty, ambition and power – was often referenced in Prince's work and fashion. On the cover of the Prince and the Revolution album and soundtrack, "Purple Rain," Prince sits on a motorcycle wearing a purple suit and a white ruffle shirt that could easily come from another era. The cover of his hit album "1999" has a purple background, and many of the suits Prince wore were shades of the color.

For most of his career, Prince, a master of soul, funk, pop and rock, mixed feminine and masculine style for a gender symbol that he used for his guitars and on album covers that briefly became his name after a feud with Warner Bros. Records. He's shown here performing in the Netherlands in 1995.
For most of his career, Prince, a master of soul, funk, pop and rock, mixed feminine and masculine style for a gender symbol that he used for his guitars and on album covers that briefly became his name after a feud with Warner Bros. Records. He's shown here performing in the Netherlands in 1995. (Paul Bergen / Redferns)

The gender symbol

In the way that Michael Jackson was known for his white glove, Prince was known for meshing together the male and female symbols. His version of the symbol – sometimes referred to as the Love Symbol – became the shape of several of his guitars, and it appeared on his album covers. During a feud with his longtime record label, Warner Bros., Prince dropped his name and changed his stage name to the symbol. Because the symbol wasn't easily printable, the media and other referred to him as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince or simply, The Artist.

The heels

Prince was a short, thin, fit man, standing at 5'2" in height. He often paraded around on and off stage in high-heel shoes and boots for a needed lift. He wore heels long before it was acceptable for men in the United States, in more recent decades, if not, centuries, to wear high heels.

Prince performs on stage on the Hit N Run-Parade Tour at Wembley Arena in London in August 1986.
Prince performs on stage on the Hit N Run-Parade Tour at Wembley Arena in London in August 1986. (Michael Putland / Getty Images)

The clothes

Prince's stage silhouettes ran the gamut from super-skin-tight cropped tops, bulge-enhancing high-waisted pants and the occasional pair of cheeky trousers with an open-air derriere to baggy, double-breasted suits, bolero jackets and voluminous turtleneck sweaters.

The hair

In his early days, Prince had facial hair and permed hair before letting his hair evolve into other styles – he often stuck to a combination of straightened hair and curls – traditionally considered women's looks and cuts. In more recent years, Prince opted for natural hair and had an afro similar to his younger years.

Prince presents the award for British female solo artist at the BRIT Awards 2014 at 02 Arena on Feb. 19, 2014 in London.
Prince presents the award for British female solo artist at the BRIT Awards 2014 at 02 Arena on Feb. 19, 2014 in London. (Matt Kent / WireImage)

The glasses

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Prince often wore an assortment of eye-catching eyewear, besting any performer this side of Elton John. These included asymmetrical '80s shades, granny glasses and third-eye sunnies.

Staff writer Adam Tschorn contributed to this story.

Follow me on Twitter: @marquesharper

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