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Buffalo Stance: Pharrell’s Style Icons From Hat to Toe

A short history of the superproducer’s surprising, fashionable inspirations


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Pharrell Williams has always been a style icon, but he's been in the news for his fashion sense more than ever lately. Blame it, of course, on #PharrellHat, the 1983 Vivienne Westwood Buffalo hat that he's been toting to every single function since the Grammys, and whose appearance has caused such an outsized stir that it has its own Twitter account. But there's history to his Grammy look — it's cribbed directly from Malcolm McLaren's "Buffalo Gals" video — and as it turns out, many of his recent appearances take sartorial cues from musical icons throughout history. Here's a tour. By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

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Malcolm McLaren

Here is where it all began: punk impresario and fashion designer Malcolm McLaren, in 1981, donning an early version of the Buffalo hat with an intricate moto-inspired jacket — a fashion risk back then — doing post-arrest Scruff McGruff on his way to Sturgis. It's a strong look, and makes total sense why an iconoclast such as Pharrell would want to emulate it: It's a design of its own era, locatable within punk rock but not tethered to it.

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Pharrell Updates McLaren’s Look

Here's Pharrell, in an updated version of McLaren's look at MOCA's 35th anniversary gala in March, informed by contemporary hip-hop and embellished with beads (plus matching his-and-hers Madonna-style rosaries on Williams and his wife, Helen Lasichanh). Every style icon needs a partner with whom to share accessories, after all.

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Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren

In McLaren's case, his style partner-in-crime was iconic fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, with whom he swapped hats and crafted the look of punk that still endures decades later. In this photo from 1985, they'd streamlined the chapeau, adding splashes of colorful makeup and intimating woven/handmade garments with their color schemes and structure — not unlike Pharrell's handpainted Adidas. . .

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Pharrell’s SpongeBob Soiree

. . .as seen here, in a shot from his SpongeBob-themed 41st birthday party, held April 4th in Manhattan. Elements that are hand-crafted, or at least look that way, always bring a uniqueness to a look, and in Pharrell's case, his matching kicks and collegiate bomber evoke the fun, cartoony quality of his soiree.

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Michael Jackson

It is barely an exaggeration to say that literally every post-Michael Jackson pop musician has in some way been influenced by Michael Jackson, but here, the influence is palpable: A grown man posing, in 1978, with a coterie of child-sized stuffed animals (a.k.a. friends for SpongeBob to play with at the adult party). The event was at Cipriani on Wall Street, and surely if Pharrell could locate these toys they would have received an invite. 

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Leather retains heat, so Pharrell had to ditch his jackets for his performance in March in Melbourne, giving a little bit of retro-Pharrell vibes — simple white tee, cut-off camo shorts and boxers patterned with… is that Gak?

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Oscars Happiness

Performing "Happy" during the Oscars in March, Pharrell accessorized his hat (because it's fair to say everything else is an accessory at this point) with Adidas sneakers reminiscent of Kanye West's Nike-made Red October (escandalo!) and a classic Adidas jacket, as close to McLaren's "Buffalo Gals" look as he'd gotten.


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But of course, Run-DMC, hip-hop's patron saints of Adidas, cannot be subtracted from the equation — their crisp track suits and Kangols are as influential on the Hat as, you know, Arby's.

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Multi-Texting at the Brits

At the Brit Awards in February, Pharrell went Textacular with a mix of corduroy, denim, suede and flannel. (Get it? Textiles?) Backed up by a chorus of dancers who could have borrowed from Cara Delavigne's vintage Nineties closet, there was but one predecessor to this risky look. . .

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Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, who topped of the many, many style-related things he was doing in this 1991 photo with the perfect punctuation: a hat, of course.