In his prime, Prince was scary and wonderful, and he "wanted everybody in the band to have a distinct image," said lead guitarist Dez Dickerson in the documentary Prince: The Glory Years. The Revolution keyboardist Gayle Chapman continues: Prince's girlfriend "dumped this bag of metallic multicolored underwear on my bed. Bras and panties, basically, and said, 'Prince says wear this or you're fired.'" And Ronin Ro's Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks describes The Time keyboardist Paul Peterson, who'd been imprisoned by a poofy up-do requiring constant curling-iron maintenance. He had a similarly crisp run-in: "'Wear this,' Prince handed him an orange pinstripe suit. 'Oh no, I don't want to wear that.' 'Wear it,' he said."
Such precise costuming impelled Prince's agenda. Dez says, "What he was gonna do, in his words, was portray pure sexuality," and in still moments, Prince's eyes are wide with lurid memories. Throughout his career, there were assless jumpsuits, of course, or hooker panties and thigh-length stockings, with steep heels encasing tiny feet. He also wore lacy blouses, paisley bolero jackets, winkle pickers, high ruffled collars, and gauzy cravats. Later came the otherworldly typhoon hairstyle, piled into a glossed mound and caking skin with finger waves; the tunics with silk-screen images of his own face; and the enormously beshouldered suit jackets, patterned with text, polka dots, and clownish buttons. But Prince's best look was the sparest: no shirt, just white suspenders and red running shorts. (Maybe he'd found them in the same bin at a garage sale, giving him the idea to pair them.)
More of us remember the outfit from 1984's Purple Rain movie. The iconic look features a studded purple trench coat and slim-fit trousers with ruching along the lower legs. In Sasha Frere-Jones's New Yorker article, Stevie Nicks said Prince said he copied the look from her. Today, the full costume is displayed at the Minnesota Historical Society—along with a grain elevator and ancient runes a farmer discovered in a field.
A much closer version appears in local artist Troy Gua's Le Petit Prince series. Troy's work consists of photographs of miniature Prince apparel replicated with charmingly intense precision and displayed on a ball-jointed doll, which Troy trimmed at the arm and leg joints to appropriately shorten its stature and sprinkled with black cashmere fuzz from a pair of luxury socks for body hair. After he's finished sewing them, turning Prince's little pants is always the trickiest part for Troy because "they're skintight and hella long." He has to use tweezers.
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