David Bowie was known for his constantly changing musical styles and flamboyant stage personas. But one of his most iconic looks was his bright red hair in the 1970s. Bowie dyed his hair various shades of red from 1972 to 1975, creating a bold and vibrant image that became an integral part of his Ziggy Stardust persona.
Bowie’s Early Career
David Bowie first rose to fame in 1969 with the hit single “Space Oddity.” The song introduced the fictional character Major Tom and catapulted Bowie into stardom. In the early days of his career, Bowie had a more conventional image with his mop top haircut. But that was soon to change.
The Creation of Ziggy Stardust
In 1972, Bowie introduced his androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy was a fictional rock star character that allowed Bowie to completely reinvent himself. The inspiration for Ziggy came from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the 1964 novel “The Wild Boys” by William S. Burroughs. Bowie was fascinated by science fiction, gender fluidity, space travel, and pushing social boundaries.
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This table shows the evolution of Bowie’s musical style and persona in the years leading up to Ziggy Stardust.
Ziggy Stardust was the definitive glam rock persona of the 1970s. The alien rock star look included dramatic futuristic costumes, heavy makeup, and bright red hair.
The Meaning of the Fiery Red Hair
So why did Bowie choose a bold red color for Ziggy’s iconic hair? Here are some of the leading theories behind the significance of the red hair:
The red hair made Ziggy look like a character from the future or another planet, fitting with the sci-fi theme. Against the backdrop of his silver jumpsuits and metallic makeup, the red hair helped create an otherworldly look.
In the 1970s, red hair was not commonly seen on men. By dyeing his hair red, Bowie challenged gender stereotypes and created an androgynous image for Ziggy. The red locks became a symbol of the character’s sexual fluidity.
Rock Star Persona
Fiery red hair reinforced Ziggy’s image as a larger-than-life rock star. The unusual locks helped Bowie stand out from other musicians of the time. It also matched Ziggy’s outlandish costumes and makeup.
Influence of Japan
Bowie was heavily inspired by Japanese theater, art, fashion, and culture. In Japanese kabuki theater, red hair often signifies a lead character. Bowie saw Ziggy as a main character and may have been paying homage to kabuki style.
Bowie’s Red Hairstyles
During the Ziggy Stardust era from 1972 to 1975, Bowie experimented with different shades and styles of red hair:
Long Crimson Mane
When Bowie first appeared as Ziggy in 1972, he was sporting a shoulder length crimson red mane. This looked like a flashy upgraded version of a classic rocker hairstyle.
Carrot Orange Mullet
Later in 1972, Bowie changed to a two-toned orange and red mullet. The bright carotene orange locks on top with dark auburn underlayers became an iconic Ziggy look.
Dyed Spiky Pixie Cut
In 1973, Bowie cut his hair into an edgy short pixie style. The jagged cut with dyed red spikes projected Ziggy as an androgynous alien superstar.
Sleek Red Bob
For his final Ziggy tour in 1973, Bowie had a chin-length sleek red bob. This immaculately styled red helmet hair projected Ziggy as a glamorous pop idol.
The End of Ziggy Stardust
In July 1973, Bowie suddenly announced that he was retiring Ziggy Stardust in front of a shocked audience. His red Ziggy hair was an essential part of this persona that Bowie was ready to shed.
After cutting off his Ziggy locks and dyeing it blonde, Bowie continued to have a prolific career with dozens more albums, film roles, and tours over the decades. But the Ziggy Stardust era with the signature red hair remains one of Bowie’s most legendary and nostalgic looks.
Why Red Hair Makes Performers Memorable
Bowie is not the only famous musician to make a red hairstyle part of their recognizable image. Here are some other examples of how red hair contributed to these performers’ iconic brands:
With her close cropped orange hair in the 1980s, Annie Lennox broke gender stereotypes as part of the Eurythmics. Her androgynous red hue matched her experimental sound and daring fashion sense.
Indie/lo-fi musician Ariel Pink has a curly mop of strawberry blonde hair as his trademark. His retro red locks synchronize with his throwback pop sound.
The lead singer of Florence and the Machine has long, wild red hair as her signature look. Her flaming locks pair with her powerful vocals and dynamic stage presence.
Red Heads in Rock History
Other rock stars with famous red locks include Queen guitarist Brian May, Comedian Carrot Top, punk icon Wendy O. Williams, and country star Lucinda Williams. In rock history, red hair signifies rebellion, power, and showmanship.
David Bowie’s Influence on Fashion
David Bowie popularized and normalized several beauty looks that did not conform to gender norms in the 1970s:
- Long hair and makeup for men
- Unnaturally colored hair like orange and blue
- Bisexual and androgynous style
- Oversized and colorful outfits mixing textures and eras
- Metallic futuristic costumes and alien personas
Bowie inspired both mainstream designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and underground gender benders like Boy George. Decades later, Bowie’s daring Ziggy era fashions still impact runway looks.
The Legacy of Ziggy Stardust
David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona with the iconic red hair left an electrifying mark on pop culture. As one of the most radical rock innovations of the 20th century, Ziggy’s influence can still be felt today in:
- Gender fluid self expression
- Science fiction and cosmic inspiration
- Fearless fashion experimentation
- Character driven theatricality
- Sexual openness and freedom
By portraying an otherworldly bisexual alien rock star, Bowie broke down social taboos and expanded possibilities for music, fashion, and identity. Ziggy Stardust’s daring red hairstyle was a perfect symbol for Bowie’s provocative artistry.
David Bowie’s flaming red hair in his Ziggy Stardust persona made a lasting impact as one of the most recognizable looks in rock history. The vivid red locks represented Ziggy as a futuristic and androgynous rock star who rebelled against social norms. Bowie used hair color, along with makeup, costumes, theater, and avant-garde music to blur gender lines and question assumptions. By shear force of his talent and innovation, Bowie opened the minds of many and inspired generations to express their own inner Ziggy Stardust.