Don’t front. Bobby Brown was the man in his prime. We’d be remiss if we did not acknowledge this fact. With his B-Boy flex, he fused hip-hop and R&B long before it was permissible to do so and long before all the collabs. It wasn’t just where he hailed from or his bravado, but also in the way he threw on them ‘fits. From the late 1980s through the early 90s, Bobby Brown led the pack in fashion and swag. He was uncompromising in his vision for himself and how he presented. Never afraid to take a chance or to switch it up, Brown kept his audience enthralled. There was something about Bobby then and now, as we ready ourselves to tune into his A&E biopic, we know there will always be something about Bobby and all of his iterations and that we just can’t look away.
Leading from behind
We first set eyes on Bobby Brown as a member of New Edition. As one part of a five man whole his job was to harmonize—blend in. Front man Ralph Trezvant was the obvious standout, but Bobby could not be denied. His lead vocals in the group were few and far between. Still, Bobby made his presence known. In the video for the “Cool It Now” which dropped in 1984, Bobby stood out amongst his band mates. There was something about the layers of gold chains and extra swag that made the girls swoon and let them know Brown is in a class of his own. While the band embraced uniformity and universality, Bobby exemplified B-boy energy. Playing the background, he could not be denied. —And when he took the lead in “Jealous Girl,” we knew a solo artist was waiting in the balance. and was blossoming in black culture
Sauve and Solo
Once Bobby shook the chains of boy band conformity, he was ready to stand front and center. While opining about his need for a “Girlfriend” in 1986, Bobby’s fashion gave way to the around the way, schoolboy, crush persona. Instead of shiny suits and monochrome two pieces, he opted for colorful street wear, sports jackets and jerseys, topped off with leather hats that rounded out the young and innocent look.
Stepping into the solo spotlight allowed his once ember swag to evolve into blazing inferno. The “Don’t be Cruel” album era of the late 1980s is when the self-proclaimed King of R&B made his run for the crown in music and fashion. The Gumby high top fade which was said to be an accidental style choice became a go-to style for black men. Brown also wore tailored parachute pants. Most people credit MC Hammer with making the pants popular, but Bobby paired them with sex appeal all. As he danced across the stage, the pants accentuated his assets. Although risky, the statement was bold and came across as real bad boy shit.
While he was more than fine with being the bad boy, Bobby was first and foremost a ladies man. 1989 can be termed his “Tendoroni” time. He wore derby hats and tailcoats. The style lent itself to his more romantic side. Still in true Bobby Brown fashion, he gave you street by making sure to layer his gentleman’s ensemble with gold rings and chains indicative of hip hop and R&B culture.
One thing about Mr. Brown is that he is determined to do things his way. While getting into his soundtrack bag with “On Our Own” for Ghostbusters 2, Bobby chose what would be a staple fashion trend for him, leather. Head to toe leather was the main look Bobby sported while singing about taking control.
One Woman Man
Bobby’s marriage to Whitney Houston can be viewed as a rebrand. The husband energy led the King of R&B to linen. Two piece sets and a classic bald head gave Mr. Brown the look of a reformed bad boy. The reformation may not have lasted long but we respect the style choice and tender moment with Ms. Houston.
Leaning into his love of leather Bobby moved further into his casual grown man era. Herring bones and hats to the back were the accessories that punctuated straight leg leather pants and tight fitting shirts.
The King of R&B’s career came full circle when he rejoined New Edition for the Home Again album in 1996. By this point in his career, Bobby had done it all when it came to the fashions: mesh shirts, leather pants, bare chests, bald heads, you name it. For his return to the light after a few years away from the music scene—including a stint in prison—Bobby regrew his hair. Though his matching suit was aligned with his band mates, there was no way Bobby Thee Bad Boy was blending into the background. Years of standing out and giving individuality, style and sex appeal ensured that Brown would be seen no matter what.
Bobby Brown is that icon. What he lacks in vocal ability, he more than makes up for in cultural impact. Brown ushered in New Jack Swing and pop culture ate. His success helped shape the way band members reshape their image while branding their solo careers. For better or worse, Bobby Brown made sure you understood he was authentic. His style was his own. He is an originator and innovator in music—and fashion. From the first time the Boston native stepped onstage in 1978, till this day forward, there will always be something about Bobby Brown. Period.
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