Sad about Prince? Show some respect and break out the purple

It’s only right to pay tribute with clothes – ​the man was so insanely talented that his androgynous style was the only faintly attainable thing about him. Plus, read my lips: women do not dress for men

How can I mourn Prince through fashion?

Me, here

Excellent question, me. As everyone has said a million times by now, and was said a billion times throughout Prince’s career, the man was as insanely talented as he was utterly unknowable. There is a terrific clip online of Prince playing a gig in tribute to George Harrison at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame alongside a bunch of hoary old rockers including Tom Petty and Steve Winwood. Prince’s guitar playing was so off-the-scale extraordinary that you can actually see Petty’s mouth falling open on stage. I think it’s fair to say that it takes quite a lot to impress an old rocker when it comes to music.

Really, fashion was the only part of Prince that felt grasp-able, or at least faintly attainable. No one could match him for musical skill, and no one could ever guess what on earth he’d say or do, but his clothes were just about imitable. Prince was hilarious when he appeared on Muppets Tonight, but almost as funny was Dave Chappelle’s sketch about the time Prince invited Eddie Murphy and his brother Charlie round to his for a basketball game. Fully expecting to trounce the 5’2” singer on the court, Charlie Murphy eagerly accepted the challenge – only to be humiliated by the purple imp, and then humiliated further over pancakes later. Anyway, the reason I’m retelling one of my favourite celebrity anecdotes – aside from the fact I just love retelling it – is the only way Dave Chappelle could play Prince was to dress up as him. This might sound obvious, but when Chappelle played Rick James, he captured everything about the man: his arrogance, his comedy, his outsized self. With Prince, all he could grab hold of were the clothes.

So yes, it is absolutely right to pay tribute through the clothes, because that’s pretty much all that anyone can do in order to be Prince-like. Let’s face it, neither you nor I are going to make anybody feel the funk like he did. So rescue the ruffled shirt from Seinfeld’s “puffy shirt” sketch, respect the power of an amazing hat and, most of all, be androgynous. Sure, it might seem counter-intuitive to copy Prince when at least part of his brilliance was his originality. But like I said, he was Prince, and we’re not, so let’s all show some goddamned respect and break out the purple.

Why do women spend so much money on clothes that don’t even make them look good? Don’t they know that men prefer them to look normal instead of crazy fashion?

Every other letter from a man, my postbag

Indeed, why do women do anything other than think 24/7 about what makes them look attractive to – not just men, but you, specific you, letter writer? It never fails to delight me when people assume that their personal taste – whether in what women wear or what they want to read in the newspaper – is the taste of all people, and anyone who goes another way is being self-defeatingly perverse.

So let’s look – for the 10 billionth time – at this idea that women dress for men. First of all, they don’t. Second of all, they really don’t. Thirdly, nope, they still don’t.

Balenciaga AW16, Paris fashion week March 2016
Balenciaga AW16, Paris fashion week March 2016.
Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

Oh, I know my commenters, and I’m eagerly awaiting emails from some of you explaining that ACTUALLY women have an anthropological need to perpetuate the species, so they totally do dress for men. Well, far be it for me to question random references to anthropology but allow me to reiterate again: women don’t dress for men. If they did, Prada would not exist. That’s science! (Maybe.)

I’ve written before about how women actually dress for other women, and I stand by this, but I’m going to go further here: a lot of women dress to push men away. I did this throughout my 20s, partly because I wanted just to have fun with my friends when I went out, and partly because looking interesting was a lot more exciting to me than looking conventionally sexy. Sorry anthropology! So I’d wear Marni dresses that, as one friend said, were so weird they looked like I was wearing them upside down and battered ballet pumps that I could run around all night in. That was my personal style for the first decade of this century, and very happy I was with it, too. My God, I had fun in my 20s.

Women who love labels such as Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake, Balenciaga, Marni, the new incarnation of Gucci: these are women who prefer to look different than pretty. As it happens, plenty of men prefer women who dress like that, too. So the real point is, women who dress like this aren’t doing so to repel men, they’re trying to repel the idiots who think all women would be happier if they’d just dress like Elizabeth Hurley. So it turns out anthropology does play a part: women are weeding out the generic idiots. Thanks, science!

Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email


Hadley Freeman

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