By Roger Stone
As an entertainer, Justin Timberlake has learned from the past.
He can cradle a mic stand like Elvis Presley, move like Michael Jackson and swoon like Sinatra. It has been these disparate talents that Timberlake has harnessed for stage presence. It’s this showmanship and substance that Tom Ford, one of today’s most influential fashion designers, has wrapped his edgy but tradition-based style around.
The evolution of Timberlake has not been without its gaffes. As a boy-band idol with mix-matched baggy attire and the frosted tipped, curly locks reminiscent of a Cabbage Patch Kid doll, Timberlake’s head to toe ensemble was anything but in synch. His early fashion missteps included a full denim costume complete with rhinestones and cowboy hat and for a time his hair was twisted in cornrows.
But JT has long left the Kid Rock look behind, thank God.
“These kids grew up in a generation of baggy shorts and baggy athletic clothes, and now they want some kind of little formal touch to something,” Ford told the New York Times. “They want the glamour of suits and ties.” Ford has moved Timberlake forward by looking back, trading in the baggy outfits for form-fitting suits, the wild hair for immaculate grooming. The suits have the fundamentals of good fit and Las Vegas inspired styling and they are a little on the fast side. The tuxedo he wears when singing is not the kind of tuxedo you would wear to a wedding. It is appropriate for an entertainer.
Tom Ford gone theatrical.
With his retro turn, it’s no surprise that Jon Hamm of “Mad Men”, a program about sixties advertising agencies and the sartorial sophistication of the executives who worked within, is a fan of Timberlake. Hamm calls Timberlake a “fashion forward kind of guy”. Like Hamm’s character Don Draper, who once again popularized classic American, form fitted gray suits with crisp spread collars, Timberlake’s style evokes another era.
In many ways Justin Timberlake and Tom Ford are paying homage to another time; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin. He proves he can reinvent himself in a new, cooler and more urbane style; evocative of Old Blue Eyes himself. Only Ford could pull it off-and he has.
“To say ‘Frank Sinatra’ is wrong,” Ford said in a Times piece. “But Justin was identifying with a sort of young, Rat Pack fantasy in some way, and that is a terrific look for him.”
A new pompadour hair style evokes a early age also complementing Ford’s vintage style themes along with his edgy update. The new do works for JT, as he is known to fans.
When he swung at the 2013 Grammys with the Tennessee Kids, a rocking big band with art-deco bandstands he combined the magnetism of a young Cab Calloway, strutting in front of a full orchestra and his singing brought a lovers emotion like Sinatra in his teen idol days and beyond. The electricity with Jay-Z was like unto that between Sinatra and Bing Crosby, who recorded together several times, when they were the dominant male vocalists in America, beginning in the 1940’s’s until Elvis challenged their reign in the early sixties.
The difference in a style icon from yesterday and today is time. Fame is more fleeting because the number of outlets diffusing information and images has been amplified. From 1944, when young female admirers rioted in the streets outside the paramount to his “Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back” album thirty years later, Sinatra endured several career low points but endured as a super -star. He was the bad-boy of time, chasing girls punching reporters, hanging with hoodlums. But Frank was always dressed to the nines. He made the straw hat, meant to hide his re-ceding hairline, become a fashion statement.
The style is not always perfect. Sometimes when Timberlake wears an impeccably cut suit and tie, his dress shirt is patterned but too dark and gangsterish. Lighter shirts, Tom! – otherwise the whole outfit comes off as a bit too loud, too Las Vegas flashy.
For the most part, though, the Timberlake experiment is working. In its first week of release, Timberlake’s new album “The 20/20 Experience” has sold nearly a million copies. And JT is everywhere including featured on a CNN special.
Timberlake is now not only a virtuoso performer but a style icon. Like Madonna, who has and well deserves style Icon status herself, JT understands how the reinvent himself. I like the new, cool, swinging Justin Timberlake.
This is an expanded version of a story I wrote for the DAILY CALLER where I serve as Men’s Fashion Correspondent.