Has there ever been a more indelible fashion image than the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s megahit 1977 album, Rumors? Stevie Nicks — outfitted in an ethereal sheer black gown — assumes a mannered, flamenco-like courtesy, her diaphanous batwing sleeves billowing as she supplicates to the willowy, arrogant-looking Mick Fleetwood, a pair of wooden orbs dangling suggestively between his legs. These are the thoughts that spring to mind as the soft-rock juggernaut of a band and its iconic frontwoman prepare to play Jones Beach Theater, New York, on June 22 — part of their sold-out world tour.
This ineluctable image of tattered romanticism is the lovechild of Nicks and stylist Margi Kent, who has worked with the singer since joining Fleetwood Mac in 1976. The look, which Nicks herself calls "the Stevie Nicks thing” is an unmistakable witch’s brew of flowing sleeves, sheer chiffon, Victorian lace, fringed shawls, top hats, feathers, feathered top hats, and shit-kicking suede platform boots. No one else has yet harnessed the potent, signifying punch of the Big Sleeve. Onstage, Nicks’s shawl unfurls like the patagium of a flying squirrel, like the wings of a butterfly, like a flag of self-actualization. Her clothes, the public soap opera of her love life, addictions, her songs (with their mystical, new-agey titles like “Gypsy,” “Rhiannon,” “Gold Dust Woman”) coalesce into one tight little narrative.
“Stevie was the only woman in rock-and-roll to really go there with her costumes," Kent has said. "She really did have a concept, a look and a character in mind that she was projecting when she was on stage.” This character is familiar in her mysteriousness: she is the itinerant rock-and-roll gypsy sorceress, the Byronic dark lady, the changeling child of Julia Margaret Cameron and Robert Plant. “I’ll be very sexy under 18 pounds of chiffon and lace and velvet,” Nicks asserted, “and nobody will know what I really am. I will have a mystique.”
More than any other rock star, Stevie Nicks has been the subject of parody and straight-up imitation. The annual pageant-cum-dance-party, Night of a Thousand Stevies, has been running for 23 years, drawing countless tambourine-wielding, ribbon-dancing drag queens and superfans. The Rachel Zoe-led cult of “boho chic” ripped countless ideas from the Stevie Nicks playbook, transforming a legion of spray-tan-worshipping, midriff-baring, velour-sweatsuit enthusiasts (looking at you, Nicole Richie) into carbon copies of J.W. Waterhouse paintings. Besides giving spiritual birth to lace-loving alt-pop songstress Florence Welch, Nicks has inspired countless designers including Marc Jacobs, Hedi Slimane, Karl Lagerfeld, and Anna Sui, who once dedicated an entire collection to her.
"I'm timeless,” Nicks once said proudly. “I got that Dickensian, London street-urchin look in high school. I'll never be in style, but I'll always be different." Nicks’s timelessness is both a blessing and a curse. The Stevie Nicks look has become reified and overdetermined in its iconicity, coherence, and resistance to change. There’s something both seductive and embarrassing about “the Stevie Nicks thing” and its ungirdled, hyperfeminine romanticism. Should a modern, putatively empowered woman be flouncing about on gossamer wings, dressing the part of Laurel Canyon Ophelia, or — worse — Sienna Miller circa 2005? At a moment when harder-edged, futuristic styles like minimalism, electro, and neo-punk are the memes du jour, "the Stevie Nicks thing" feels like fashion's equivalent of Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” — awesome but somehow kitschy and essentialist in its goddessy affectations.
I’m irresistibly drawn to all the major Nicksian tropes (lace, fringe, diaphanous fabrics, burnout velvet, wizard sleeves, asymmetrical hemlines), but I can’t shake this nagging feeling that it’s somehow regressive and goofy. “Come on, do you really want to look like a consumptive rat catcher lady dressed by a flock of white doves?” asks one style blog, snarkily? So, what if I do? Is that such a sin? This summer — as Nicks tours the globe, sprinkling gold fairy dust and proselytizing a message of lace, love, and going one’s own way – we face a choice: to hide in a purgatory of crop tops and jorts, or cash in on our third-wave privileges of sartorial self-determination and performativity, live every week like it's shark week, and embrace "the Stevie Nicks thing” with a wild heart.