On a summer’s afternoon in 1969, Mick Jagger bounds onto the stage set up in Hyde Park with characteristic explosive energy. He swaggers across the stage, donning a white dress designed by Michael Fish, paired with white flared trousers and clutching a battered book of poetry. Bowing and blowing kisses to adoring fans, he oozes an aura of masculine self-assurance as his balloon sleeves and gathered skirt waft around him.
Their first performance in two years, what the Rolling Stones had intended as a free concert to give back to the fans they had somewhat abandoned during this time, as well as to introduce their new band member, Mick Taylor, as Brian Jones’ replacement, ended up as a more sombre affair. Jones had been dismissed from the band in June that year due to his struggle with addiction, resulting in the multifaceted musician and originally integral element to The Stones becoming a liability not only to the band’s recording sessions and success, but also to himself. Brian Jones was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool on 2nd July, three days before the concert.
Jagger attempts to calm the crowd with the fragile authority of a substitute teacher struggling to tame a classroom of hormone-fuelled teenagers. But, because he’s Mick Jagger, he (just about) pulls it off.
‘OOOOWWRRIGHT! Okay now listen! Will you just cool it for just a minute because I really would like to say something for Brian.’ He resorts to ‘OKAY ARE YOU GOING TO BE QUIET OR NOT?’, which seemingly settles the gathered spectators. Jagger proceeds to recite a few verses from Shelley’s poem Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats. The touching words of Shelley honouring a fellow artist struck down in his youth feel hauntingly relevant. Despite Jagger’s slightly wooden recital, it is a moving and fitting tribute. Hundreds of white butterflies were then shaken out of cardboard boxes, fluttering above the stage and crowd in dizzy liberation. Yet what is most memorable about this iconic performance is that dress. Not many men could wield the same degree of authority over a crowd of 250,000 to 500,000 people whilst wearing a dress that was compared to a ‘little girl’s white party frock’ by the British press. Jagger, luckily, is one of them.
There is undeniable androgynous hybridity to Jagger’s ensemble. The white dress is ornately decorated with a ruffled collar and cuffs which mirror the pleated skirt, billowing full sleeves, and individual bow fastenings down the fitted bodice. All of these intricate details do evoke a young girl’s frock. The dress-making pattern image from the 1950s below exhibits the femininity and girlishness of puff sleeves, delicate collars and bows, and full skirts, which are arguably paralleled, or parodied, by Jagger’s garment.
Designer Michael Fish was a pioneer of the ‘Peacock Revolution’. The evolution of menswear shifted drastically throughout the 1960s, prioritising rich fabrics, extravagant colours and more effeminate silhouettes over traditional tailoring. Mr Fish, a boutique in Mayfair, stocked and sold his flamboyant garments, from frilled silk shirts to men’s caftans, to the emerging demographic of the London dandy. Below, we see Michael Fish wearing one of his designs, with almost identical ornate details of ruffled collar and bow fastenings to Jagger’s dress. The context of the sexual revolution, triggered by the circulation of the contraceptive pill in Britain from 1963, brought in an era of sexual liberation, meaning that men could challenge traditional notions of masculinity and indulge in androgynous ways of dress.
Jagger did not stop at dressing in a feminine manner. He went as far as adopting the female gender signifiers of long hair and makeup in a convincing performance of gender play. His eyes are shrouded in mysterious smokiness and his infamous pout is accentuated by lipstick as his hair sweeps down past his shoulders. Having said this, Jagger’s dress can also be read as a display of masculinity. The full, pleated skirt arguably evokes the fustanella – a skirt-like garment worn throughout South East Europe, but in particular by the Evzone elite ceremonial unit of the Greek Royal Guard (below, left).
The dramatic flare of the Evzone Guard’s sleeve combined with the fullness of the kilt-like skirt both hint at the yards of fabric that have gone into the construction of this garment, whilst simultaneously providing a prototype for the defining features of Jagger’s frock. Origins on the fustanella date back to the nineteenth century, but the garment is also perhaps a continuation of men’s short tunics from Ancient Greece. Looking back to another time or another country became an increasingly important source of fashion influence throughout the 1960s. Arguably Jagger was drawn to Michael Fish’s garment as it takes inspiration from then and there to challenge the gender divide of here and now.
Later on in the performance, as the afternoon heat descends, Jagger removes his smock, untying each individual bow to release himself from his effeminate exterior. Beneath, he is wearing a simple vest which exposes his slender but undeniably masculine frame. Therefore in its fluid state, gender, like clothing, can be tried on, worn, taken off and worn again. Such was the case for Jagger. Not only was he rumoured to have worn this same dress to his financial adviser’s white-themed party two days before, but he also revisited this look forty four years later with a strikingly similar white smock garment during The Rolling Stones’ return to Hyde Park in 2013.
By Claudia Stanley
The Rolling Stones – Tribute to Brian Jones / I’m Yours and I’m Hers (Hyde Park 1969)
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