My all-time favorite Chris Lowe sartorial statements

Clothing is more than just something you wear. It's also a form of communication. You say things to others in the clothes you wear. And one of the most distinctive elements of the Pet Shop Boys' visual image—part of the overall message they convey to the public—is Chris Lowe's sense of fashion. In putting together the following highly subjective list of my favorite "sartorial statements" by Chris, I'm not counting those cases where both he and Neil wore unusual matching costumes, such as in their Performance stage show and the videos for most of the singles from Very and Nightlife. Rather, I'm considering only those instances in which Chris alone dressed in a way that strikes me as especially memorable for one reason or another.

1. His "angler look"…

… as seen in the Boys' appearance at the 1988 Brit Awards performing "What Have I Done to Deserve This"?" with Dusty Springfield. He dressed almost identically for the packaging of the "Heart" single and the cover of the book Pet Shop Boys, Annually. I often wonder whether it was inspired by his song "One of the Crowd," written around the same time (which begins, "When I go fishing with my rod…"), or vice-versa. Whatever the case, it's a visual non sequitur (Why is he dressed that way? What does it mean?) suggesting a type of calculated nonchalance that's both deeply mysterious and unspeakably cool.

2. His Issey Miyake inflatable jacket…

… as seen in their 1987 performance of "Rent" on the Live from the London Palladium TV show, among other places. Chris has been unusually forthright in discussing this particular fashion choice, having described it in an early 1990s episode of The South Bank Show as a "manic" look intentionally designed to shock. He succeeded admirably, eliciting a reaction from show host Jimmy Tarbuck—a veteran comic not easily lost for words—that can only be characterized as dumbfounded bemusement.

3. His striped t-shirt and matching glasses…

… as seen on the 12" outer sleeve of their 1986 "Suburbia" single and in various publicity shots taken around the same time. This image has proven so visually striking—not to mention so plain damn inscrutable—that it would be used once again, exactly two decades later, as the front cover for their book Pet Shop Boys Catalogue. A marvelous blend of punkish attitude and haute couture, it might be described as "skateboarder as fashion icon," only most skateboarders probably couldn't afford those glasses. Speaking of which, they're again by Issey Miyake—an avowed Chris Lowe favorite.

4. His "BOY" cap…

… as seen on the cover of their 1986 "Love Comes Quickly" single. Actually, it might more accurately be called "their BOY cap" since Neil could at times back then be seen wearing one as well. Still, it seems indelibly stamped as part of the "Chris Lowe image." Though it originated with the popular eighties London clothing shop Boy, it serves even more of a branding function for its wearer, identifying himself (as if any such identification were necessary) as a "boy"—or, in this instance, a Pet Shop Boy. But what does that branding say about the wearer? Is being a "boy" more than biology? Is it a matter of culture and attitude? It begs all sorts of questions, which is precisely why it works. Incidentally, Neil told an interviewer in 1999 that when he first saw the LCQ cover shot of Chris wearing this cap, he thought, "That's incredibly gay!" He feared it might prove their unplanned "coming out" moment, but that was not to be the case.

5. His big red hat…

… as seen in the 1991 "Was It Worth It?" video and associated publicity photos. It was originally designed to be worn by a woman, but Chris wasn't going to let a little thing like that stop him from wearing something that he liked. Besides, what better way to stand out amidst the surrounding frenetic activity? Sitting stock-still, again inscrutable, seeming for all the world as though he simply doesn't give a damn about the clamor around him, he manages to call attention to himself by not calling attention to himself. Except via that hat, which does all the work for him by looking like something pulled from the pages of Dr. Seuss. There's no getting around it: the man's got style to spare.

6. His "casual elegance"…

… as seen in the "Suburbia" video from 1986. When you get right down to it, there's nothing particularly special about how he's dressed here—except that it simply looks so good. There are those Miyake sunglasses again, but this time they're not essential to the overall look; ordinary Ray-Bans would work just as well. Rather, it's the casual elegance that Chris exhibits, especially with the windbreaker-style jacket slung slightly back on his shoulders. It's a blue-collar aesthetic (literally considering that he's wearing a light blue shirt) translated into high male fashion. Besides, Chris has never looked sexier. Am I allowed to say that? Yeah, I'm allowed to say that.

7. His "patchwork" blazer…

… as seen in some photos taken as possible cover art for the "Left to My Own Devices" single but never actually used in that capacity. My mama always taught me to avoid breaking the Tenth Commandment—the one against coveting—by saying "I wish I had something like that," not "I wish I had that." So I hereby say that I wish I had a jacket like that. Just like that. With the matching cap, too. Eye-catching, to be sure, it's also a virtual pun: that most conventional of male garments, a blazer, figuratively blazes in a highly unconventional cacophony of reds and yellows offset with blacks, browns, and the occasional bits of green. It flirts with being completely outrageous. But it only flirts, and that makes all the difference.

8. His mirror jacket…

… as seen onstage during portions of their 2009 Pandemonium Tour show and certain associated television appearances. Yep!—he's still got the knack. Consisting of hundreds of bits of reflective material, this jacket was originally quite uncomfortable to wear: hot and heavy, sometimes cutting into his skin until its designer added extra padding around the neck. Regardless, Chris apparently felt that it was more important to look good than to feel good, perhaps because looking good can help one to feel good. Even more importantly, it helps the people looking at you to feel good, too. Hey, it's show business!

Plus, just to be even-handed about it, here's my all-time least favorite sartorial statement by Chris—

  That pink wig and fuzzy coat…

… as seen at the 2009 Brits Awards ceremony when they received their "Outstanding Contribution to Music" Award and performed their 10-minute hits medley. I can't help but think it may have been inspired by Lady Gaga, who performed part of the medley with them. She might have pulled it off, but it looks simply ghastly on him. To be fair, he was suffering from a cold at the time, which may have contributed to his less than stellar appearance.

But, hey, nobody's perfect. Give him this: the man's got cojones walking out on stage before a live audience and on nationwide television in front of millions of people in a get-up like that.