David Bowie Changed My Life (& My Generation)
Research Team:
Laura Aldous, Charley Peck, Megan Pearce and Frances Woolston

The team focused on interviewing respondents of varying age and backgrounds in order to establish Bowie's influence on image, fashion and lifestyle across generations. The three profiles selected here all happen to be female.


Kara Nissen


Kara is aged 24, grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in London. She was a great subject for interview as she is creative and had a free-spirited, non-conventional upbringing. Kara initially became interested in the music of the 1960s and 1970s through her parents but was attracted to Bowie specifically through the cover art on the ‘Aladdin Sane’ album. This was at age 14, a time in her life when she began to question her own identity and what she was being told her identity should be. She was drawn to Bowie’s image and also started to look up to him as a role model for pushing the boundaries and questioning gender roles. Kara admits she realized Bowie was not perfect, but perhaps this was why she did look up to him, as way of rebelling against ‘acceptable’ behaviour. She even used lyrics from the Bowie record ‘Changes’ to protest at her school about how she felt pupils were being treated unfairly.


“And these children that you spit on as they try to change their world, are immune to your consultations, they're quite aware of what they're going through…”[1]


‘I think we were trying to say, you know, you can do what you want, you can ignore us as much as you want. But at the end of the day we are totally aware that you are ignoring us and we are going to get through it anyway regardless of you.’


She felt Bowie, and other figures from that era, were better role models and had more integrity than today’s celebrities. She rejected the image and music favoured by her peers, being more in touch with the messages Bowie had been sending out many decades earlier.


‘Initially I think it would have been partially my parents influence but as I grew up and then I started listening to top 40 songs about … ‘smacking my arse’ and ‘being a sexy ho’ and … things like that I just got a little bit fed up with it and didn’t want to listen to that because it made me a little upset.’


Bowie influenced her to reject the accepted gender roles and rebel against what was expected of her. She felt a reaction against the overtly sexual messages sent out through music, media and society to young women at that time. Having Bowie as a role model gave her more power to express herself.


‘You don’t have to stick to the gender roles that are set out for you. Although you’d like to think you are strong enough to do it yourself… having people like David Bowie, … in the public eye leading the way … gives you a bit more inspiration and also gives you a bit more … strength to do it yourself, you know?’


Kara adopted an androgynous image as a response to these influences and also as a way to rebel further against what was expected of her. She used image as a way to express her strong identity and beliefs and to rebel against society and pressure from family members.


‘I think the most important thing is that you actually like your own image. I choose to dress the way I do because I enjoy what I wear. I like it and I think it’s good. I mean like people think what I wear is ridiculous, lots of people, you know like my mother, my family they don’t enjoy what I wear. But fuck you, you know! I’m fine with that. You’ve just got to accept it.’


After school Kara travelled the world and found herself drawn to the UK, as the London scene was more of a source of inspiration to her growing up than what she experienced in Australia. She now has a creative career, an unconventional image and regards herself as a feminist. She feels the influence from Bowie that began in teens still affects her current lifestyle, whether directly or indirectly.


The interview with Kara highlights how image is used as a means to express youth rebellion. Jarvie states that youth rebellion has always existed as a way to question the cultural norms of the parent generation and for the youth to reclaim and reinforce the sometimes negative views pushed upon them. [2]


Forming a ‘subculture’ is a way for youth to show their rebellion against mainstream values. Brake says that style ‘expresses a degree of commitment to the subculture, and … indicates … membership of a specific subculture which by its very appearance disregards or attacks dominant values.’ [3] He also states that for women in particular, a way to question gender roles and free themselves from ‘the cult of romance and marriage as their true vocation, (is) the development of sub-cultures exploring a new form of femininity.’ [4] Bowie also used gender and image as a way to rebel against the established norms. Hebdige states that the young were attracted to Bowie as he ‘created a new sexually ambiguous image for those youngsters willing and brave enough to challenge the notoriously pedestrian stereotypes’ of the time. [5]



Linette Moses


Linette is aged 19 was born and has grown up in the quiet rural areas of Kent. In the last year she has made a contrasting change and moved to London to further her studies in Fashion Design and Development at London College of Fashion. Linette was introduced to Bowie’s music by her Dad, along with other artists from the 1960’s and 1970’s. She subsequently developed a great appreciation of this period and Bowie’s sound. Linette was always fascinated by the cover art of his albums in particular, and this is part of what drew her in. The album that Linette found most captivating is Aladdin Sane. She found Bowie’s whole image entrancing: the flaming red mullet with the garish lightning bolt across his face.


For Linette, Bowie’s unique and eccentric style was a big source of inspiration, but more so his unconventional attitude towards his appearance and being different. His Space Oddity look in particular was something that captivated her as for her it captures Bowie’s iconic Ziggy Stardust-era of fashion. The use of mixed patterns, bold stripes and bright colours made the biggest impact on Linette. Bowie also wore lots of structured, broad-shouldered jackets in bright colours that set him apart from other musicians of the time. Linette said this also had an impact on her own image and personal style.


‘I was further inspired to follow a bold and more outgoing sense of style. I think image is important and effects the way people view you, but doesn’t mean we should all be uniformed.’


She has always had a strong passion for fashion and design and Bowie’s creativity has influenced her work. Image and style has been an interest of Linette’s from a young age. This has developed from her experimenting with her own style to pursuing fashion as a career and wanting to influence the style of others.


‘Part of why I am studying fashion is due to my love of unique styles and appearances but also the way in which people present themselves fascinates me, I feel there should be more to style than just a set look and it being solely about the materials used to create a garment … there are so may people that influence my work… but Bowie for me is just such an iconic character with his unconcerned mannerism to what people think, being one of the first to kind of step away from the typical look.’


Linette made it clear that it was Bowie’s eccentricity and unconventionality that particularly inspired her work and in a way gave her the confidence to experiment with image.


 ‘I feel at present there are now so many people that dress in eccentric ways … but I think what really influenced me is the fact that Bowie made it acceptable to do that.’


The interview illustrates how fashion and identity are key themes within Bowie’s influence on others. Paytress and Pafford say that Bowie style “has always amounted to more than clothes, hair and cosmetics. Style for Bowie is inextricable from art. It’s the books he reads, the painting he buys, the films he watches”.[6] Bowie’s influence in fashion and clothing is far–reaching. Frida Giannini, Gucci's Creative Director has said "David Bowie is… one of my greatest inspirations. His individuality, originality and authenticity have been defining. Through his creative genius his influence on music, fashion, art and popular culture over decades has been immeasurable and will continue to be for decades to come." [7] This illustrates how Bowie influenced fashion and style, not just at that time but also in the years since.


Jan Peck


Jan is aged 54 and was born in the late 1950’s in the heart of Manchester. Growing up and working as a hairdresser, especially throughout her teen years, meant some of her experiences and choices made were inexplicably linked with the explosion of freedom that David Bowie expressed in his music and fashion. When first asked what came to mind when I said the name “David Bowie” to her she replied, “I can just see his face, it just reminds me of a time in my life…a happy time.” The sense of nostalgia that inspired this opening sentence continued throughout the entirety of the interview. Jan admits that during this era it wasn’t so much David Bowie who inspired her but more that he was part of the radical evolution of fashion, music and identity that she found so amazing throughout the 1970’s.


 ‘I don’t know if he helped exactly, he maybe added to my ideas of image/style. It was just everything…that whole era, it was all really way out and different…not just him, he was just part of it/ part of the whole thing. It was just amazing. And that’s it. It was amazing.’

At the time Jan was confused about herself as a person and how she wanted to come across as an individual. She was also confused about her sexuality having had both straight and gay relationships. At that time the scene that Jan was part of, including the gay scene in Manchester, was very much an underground sub-culture and homosexuality was not always something many felt they could be open about. For Jan, David Bowie’s bisexual character, Ziggy Stardust, paved the way for his fans and the general public alike to be more open about their sexuality and that of others.

According to Auslander, Bowie understood the acting ‘nature’ of his relationship with his audience, performing to what his fans wanted rather than surrendering to the social attitudes at the time. ‘By asserting the performativity of gender and sexuality through the queer Ziggy Stardust persona, Bowie challenged both the conventional sexuality of rock culture and the concept of a foundational sexual identity…’ [8] David Bowie’s openness about his sexuality, and his iconic androgynous appearance, made way for a new era of fashion and identity. His extravagant hairstyles were even being mimicked and manipulated by customers who came into Jan’s hairdressing salon. This androgyny and rebellion with fashion fascinated Jan.

 ‘…there was this masculinity to them (Angie and Bowie) the suited and bootedness of it all for woman at the time and it was just fantastic. It was like…..There weren’t any rules, it was like whereas there had always been rules, even with fashion, the rules started to be broken…’

Furthermore, Bowie created an ambiguity to his sexuality, which allowed people to begin to question sexuality and gender. He made acceptance and the changing of views and social attitudes easier. Previously the cultural norm for sexuality was very rigid but people began to question this and see that it could be more fluid and open. Pennick states “These blurred lines between fact and fiction created buzz about Bowie’s true sexuality…Articles became more focused on the persona of Ziggy Stardust because the idea of an oozing sexuality beyond Elvis Presley was unfathomable, and in turn, fascinating to audiences who were more accustomed to the music produced in the 1950s and 1960s.” (2011)

We attempted to find images that would illustrate Jan’s memories of that time, as she did not have many herself. We wanted to understand more of what Manchester was like in the 1970s and get an idea of the gay underground scene that Jan was so much a part of it. However, we found this difficult and this probably goes to show that homosexuality was not something which was spoken about or referenced much visually at that time. 



We found each interview had its own obvious theme that ran throughout. Although each person was affected by different elements of Bowie, they all stated they were first attracted to him through the Aladdin Sane album cover. We found this interesting as it shows that it’s this aesthetic that seemed most captivating. This was further backed up by the curator of a small exhibition based solely on Bowie’s album covers and artwork, who confirmed this as a huge area of interest to new and old fans alike and something that they all seem to relate to.





full interview transcript:


more like this:




[1] David Bowie, Changes from the album Hunky Dory, 1971


[2] Jarvie. I.C. (1972) Concepts and Society. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London


[3] Brake, M . (1980) The Sociology of Youth Subculture and Youth Subcultures. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London. p12


[4] Brake, M . (1980) The Sociology of Youth Subculture and Youth Subcultures. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London. p.vii.


[5] Hebdige, D. (1979) Subculture The Meaning of Style. Routledge, London p.60


[6] Paytress, M , Pafford S. (2000) Bowie Styles. Omnibus Press, London p.7


[7] V&A David Bowie is Press Release [DOWNLOAD]


[8] Auslander, P. (2006) Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music. University of Michigan Press,United States of America p106