Long before an unexpected feature on the Rihanna and Kanye West track FourFiveSeconds left many people in the New Generation demographic wondering “who the heck is Paul McCartney?!”, The Liverpudlian rock quartet The Beatles had taken the world by storm and are now regarded as the most influential band in history. For those of you who (for whatever bizarre reason) haven’t heard of The Beatles, the band was comprised of primary songwriter, vocalist and bassist Paul McCartney, rhythm guitarist and vocalist John Lennon, lead guitarist George Harrison, and Ringo Starr on drums.
The peak of their popularity was similar to that of the Directioner fandom and with a name like Beatlemania being given to the intense frenzy directed towards them, you can only imagine the scale of their popularity was just as huge and the fans were just as rabid. With an estimated 800 million digital and physical album copies sold worldwide, The Beatles are the best-selling band in history, having more number ones and selling more singles than any other act. They have received seven Grammy Awards, an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score, fifteen Ivor Novello Awards and were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Similarly to their musical stylings, their image shifted and evolved throughout their career, with some of their fashion choices becoming the archetype aesthetic for certain groups and subcultures.
During their earliest days in 1958, before Ringo Starr had even joined the band, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison aged sixteen, fifteen, and fifteen respectively formed a skiffle band named The Quarrymen. Taking influence from artists such as Chuck Berry, they later evolved their sound into a rock’n’roll influenced sound under the name of Johnny and The Moondogs, typically playing in pubs around Liverpool. The trio only recruited Pete Best as their drummer when their unofficial manager Allan Williams arranged them a residency in Hamburg. It was at this time that Astrid Kirchherr took the first semi-professional photos of the band. In these images, the band have adopted an aesthetic that takes influence from the Greaser subculture, a style predominantly popularised by the working class and which vitally revolved around rock’n’roll. In short; this look involved a lot of leather. In the photographs taken by Kirchherr, the band can be seen wearing leather jackets with formal, leather shoes. If you look to the far right of the image, you can see John Lennon’s hair is pushed off his face, styled into the pompadour hairstyle which was a popular trend around that time. Slim-fit/drainpipe jeans were also worn by the band in many early photos and in the eyes of older and middle-class people, were linked with rock’n’roll in epitomizing the delinquent stereotype placed upon the subculture.
Behind every great band there is more than likely an amazing manager acting as the intrinsic glue that holds the band together; in this case Brian Epstein is the man. Referred to by McCartney as the ‘fifth Beatle’ in a 1997 interview, Epstein was responsible for a lot of the bands’ early changes. Along with being the band’s messenger when it came to firing Pete Best and enrolling Ringo Starr in 1962, Epstein also had an immense impact on the dress code and overall demeanour of the band. The extent of these changes can seen be in footage from their live performance of I Wanna Hold Your Hand on the Ed Sullivan Show in September of 1962. Understandably, this video portrays The Beatles’ image in a way that most now associate the band with as it is taken from a time when Beatlemania was at an all time high. This video also showcases the band trading in their Greaser inspired pompadour haircuts for the mop-top, a look that would go on to be highly popularised by the band and imitated by the public. Named after its resemblance to a mop, the hairstyle entails a straight fringe/bangs with a straight cut across the back and the sides grown out to cover the ears. Along with this change and despite initial disapproval from the band, Epstein had also changed the visual aesthetic of the band, trading the aforementioned leather jackets and drainpipe jeans to black suits and ties, the first of which were tailored by Beno Dorn. To support this, Epstein also altered their stage demeanour to a much ‘cleaner’ approach, insisting that the band stopped swearing, smoking, eating, and drinking alcohol onstage. He even insisted upon their famous synchronised bow at the end of each of their performances. Musically, their sound at this time drifted away from their earlier rock’n’roll material towards a more pop-rock, ballad inspired sound, making their clean and tidy appearance more suitable for their more commercialised sound. However, it can also be argued that their suited aesthetic could have also been an appreciative nod towards the rock’n’roll artist Chuck Berry,
whom is regarded as one of the pioneers of rock’n’roll music.
The Beatles toured almost nonstop between 1962 until 1966 wherein they decided to completely stop touring or playing any live performances. This allowed the band to embrace the freedom of experimenting both musically and aesthetically with their eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album is now renowned for its incorporation of a number of different genres such as British psychedelia, Western and Indian classical music to name a few. When looking at their drastic aesthetic change during the Sgt. Pepper’s era, it is important to note that their outfits are still synchronized. Taking a much more colourful approach to their imagery, the band can be seen wearing matching military jackets, with each members jacket having a different colour. The clean and tidy aesthetic has been dropped here as shown by their uniformed facial hair and their hair outgrowing the mop-top of previous years. This look highlights the beginning of their progression into a more relaxed and hippie inspired look, working well with their psychedelic inspired sound.
Finally, following the death of Brian Epstein in August 1967 and the later disbandment of The Beatles in 1970, the synchronized stylings and aesthetic that the band had used in prior years had been replaced. Each member of the band beginning to develop their own individual, relaxed and authentic styles; the lingering similarity between the four being the grown out hair. Following the disbandment of the band, each member of The Beatles went on to pursue their own solo careers, which hit songs such as Imagine and Band on The Run being just two of many tracks that continued to capture the ears and hearts of their loyal and committed fanbases.
Text: Neil Dowd
Illustrations: Pauline Kate