Shirley Manson’s Perennial Style

Shirley Manson by Joseph Cultice circa 1999

Do you remember the 90s? If there’s one word to describe that decade, it would be eclecticism. There was rock, grunge, pop, metal, hip hop, reggae- it was all out there and blooming. There was no Social Media- just CD’s, the radio, magazine’s and of course MTV. Growing up in this period, our generation was lucky with icons such as Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani, Alanis Morissette and Björk- all still in business today- they had their own distinctive style philosophies.

The ultimate iconic figure of the 90s however, is Scottish beauty Shirley Manson, the outspoken front woman of Garbage. A natural penchant for the dark, she made it cool to be only happy when it rains, showed the world 50 shades of red and managed to engage fans around the world with her signature emotive voice and rebellious attitude. Manson, emerged on the international music scene in 1995, exposed to the then leading grungey-stamp on the alternative style. Not one to fit in a box, she broke that stereotype by introducing short skirts, mod-dresses, combat boots, pointed ankle boots, fishnets, faux fur and outrageous eye makeup. She explored taboos and celebrated dichotomies and in doing so she played with sexuality, femininity and masculinity, innocence and darkness, futurism and elegance.

Shape-shifting throughout her career, she appeared in the band’s music videos as the scorned lover, the drama queen, the femme fatal and the androgynous troublemaker carrying a message of love and acceptance. Sporting a $20,000 red Valentino gown for Garbage’s apocalyptic James Bond theme “The World Is Not Enough”, she morphed in to a convincing android-villain on a quest to destroy the world- beautiful but deadly. In “Special” she became the intergalactic queen Astarte, cruising the sky in a battle against ‘the evil lords of Garbania’, in a faux fur bomber jacket and black platform boots. No slave to fashion, she remained true to her style instincts, combining high fashion with street and vintage. She made clear that “You can look, but you can’t touch” in “I Think I’m Paranoid”– effortless cool in an unlabelled polka-dot dress and a pair of Ann Demeulemeester boots. Her black high-neck minidress in “Stupid Girl” became a global favourite- only being a $15 vintage find. And when she was nominated for Best Stylish Female at the Scottish Style Awards of 2008, she took the award home in a $195 dress designed by celebrity stylist Andrea Lieberman– who’s designs are in fact all inspired by Shirley Manson.

Manson’s style has remained consistent throughout the years, mirroring the mindset and character of the eccentric woman inside. What is most inspiring about Shirley is her empowering attitude to style. A classical feminist, she believes that a woman’s stylishness is not tied to the clothes or labels she wears, but with how she chooses to live her life and what she’s got to say. According to Shirley; “You can be as beautiful as you want, but if you have nothing interesting to say, you’re still boring.” There’s a lot of truth in that!