Robert Palmer Was The O.G. Sharp-Dressed Rock Star
The musician wore a suit as naturally as any 1930s movie star.
One of the most striking trends in rock stardom these days is the return of male dandyism, spearheaded by Harry Styles. Lil Nas X and Tyler the Creator are committed to fashion as a big part of their personae, but in the case of Styles it does not feel like a costume. Pearls and an angora sweater seem subtle enough to be relatable.
All, by the way, are descended from the sartorial template of classic 1970s rockers like Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and the late, great Charlie Watts. But there is one fantastic dresser of old, perhaps the least flamboyant but most self-assured, who does not get the credit he deserves as an influencer today, and that is Robert Palmer.
Why is this? Chances are you know him best from 1980s MTV, but long before that Palmer (1949–2003) wore a suit as naturally as any 1930s movie star (look at the cover of the 1975 album Pressure Drop) while singing hits like Every Kinda People, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley, and his original iteration (in every way superior to 1984’s Z-100 Rod Stewart version) of Some Guys Have All The Luck.
Perhaps, as the child of a military intelligence officer stationed in Malta, he had an early exposure to crisp tailoring—or an example of the maintenance of male form in any environment, however tropical and sweaty. Perhaps it was just his generation mimicking what they saw when they went to the movies (Palmer would have been 11 when Purple Noon, with Alain Delon’s version of Tom Ripley, came out, in 1960).
Perhaps it was just an awareness of being in the world at the same moment as Miles Davis. What we do know is that the suits, in Palmer’s case, were not a costume. They didn’t wear him, if you see my meaning; he wore them, and this is the real definition of well dressed. It’s still you.
A Rolling Stone readers poll voted Palmer the best-dressed rock star of 1990, but that was an undershoot. I’m voting him here one of the best-dressed musicians of all time. The rumor, which would be nice if it were true, is that after leaving us way too soon at age 54 (Palmer didn’t misbehave much in rock star fashion, but he did smoke three packs a day), the girl “band” from his Addicted To Love video reprised their roles as pallbearers at his funeral.
Another way to honor him might be to dress better ourselves. And also not to forget—when we see Harry Styles shredding it onstage in peaked lapels and palazzo pants—who did it first, an O.G. who’s kind of on the QT.
Town & Country (march 2022)