Over the last few weeks, we’ve been breaking down our list of 16 classic fashion icons everyone should know. Last week, we covered always elegant actress and princess Grace Kelly. This week, it’s all about a completely different kind of super star—Janis Joplin.
Janis was a rock, blues, and soul singer. Her distinctly amazing voice and carefree approach to being herself have made her a symbol of '60s music and style. Keep reading to find out more about her early life, legendary career, tragic death, and legacy.
(TW: Janis's bio has mentions of bullying and substance abuse and may be uncomfortable for some readers.)
All About Janis
Janis was born in 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas. The community there was extremely conservative, and Janis grew up singing in the church.
But she never fit into the cultural climate there. During her school days, she was bullied over her weight, acne, fashion sense, and her views on equality and sexuality. The other students humiliated her, and for a while she had no friends.
“Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” - Janis Joplin
Janis hated Texas, and a lot of biographers believe her unhappy childhood left a life-long struggle with loneliness and self-acceptance. She made references to how hard it was having thousands of fans, but few people close to her.
Eventually, she made friends with a group of other outcasts in the area. This is how she discovered blues music and gained her reputation as the tough chick who could out-sing and out-drink any of the guys. She also developed her eclectic, messy style and knack for swearing in public.
Just Getting Started
Once she graduated high school, Janis made a bunch of attempts to find where she belonged. She enrolled in college a couple of times but never finished—she was always drawn back to music.
She left for southern California and began working as a musician, but her early use of drugs and alcohol stalled her from getting too far. She had to go back home to Texas to recover, weighing in at just 88 pounds.
“You can destroy your now by worrying about tomorrow.” – Janis Joplin
Her addictions to methamphetamine and alcohol were slowly destroying her, but so was the thought of staying in Texas. Once again, Janis set off to pursue her dreams.
During her four-year long recording career, Janis played in a bunch of different groups, like Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Full Tilt Boogie Band, and as a solo artist.
What made her stand out was how different she sounded from other female artists of the time. Popular women folk singers in the '60s typically had smoother voices (think Joni Mitchell or Mama Cass), and the soul singers from Motown had flawless feminine vocals (like Diana Ross). Janis’s gritty, unrefined voice was unlike anything people had heard before (or heard since).
She was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and she's inspired countless artists with her songs and covers like "Piece of My Heart," "Cry Baby," "Me and Bobby McGee," and "Summertime" (arguably the best version of the standard ever released!).
Her music was—and still is—so respected in the rock and blues genres, and her first albums were successful. But, her only number one song was released posthumously, as was her most successful album, Pearl.
She performed a still-talked-about set at Woodstock, and even got to play at Madison Square Garden with Tina Turner.
“You can fill your life up with ideas and still go home lonely.” – Janis Joplin
But throughout it all, Janis’s ongoing battle with substance abuse kept going on, even as she made attempts to get clean. While still working on recording Pearl, Janis Joplin died of an accidental drug overdose, alone in her hotel room at age 27.
Fashion Inspired by Janis Joplin
When you think of the '60s, you probably think of matching sets and mod dresses or flower-child hippie vibes. Janis Joplin’s look was neither of those—she was bohemian with an edge. Her style was busy and messy, but beautiful. Janis was true to herself and wore what she wanted to wear. In every picture, you can see her individual personality shine through.
And though that personality could never be replicated, we can certainly try! There are three things to remember when going for a Janis-inspired look: carefree, colorful, and crazy. She always infused pops of color into her looks, and she wore layers upon layers of wild pieces... regardless of whether or not they were conventional.
Laid-Back and Loving It
Even in her performance costumes, Janis always looked casually comfortable. She wasn't into the glitz and glamour of '60s fashion, instead opting for a more natural face and less pristine clothes. As you can see by this super modern-looking t-shirt and pants combo, she was decades ahead of her time.
Janis loved to accessorize, so when channeling her look don't be afraid to layer on those necklaces! Bold earrings are in right now and are a great way to include her vibrant, boho flair.
She also loved to rebel, which is why I had fun mixing these nice pants with a rugged t-shirt. It allows you to be just a little more dressed up while still staying true to the bluesy-chic outfits of Ms. Joplin. Pick your own favorite band shirt or print and get even more messy with it.
Layers Upon Layers
Janis could wear a dozen different pieces and somehow not look overdone. Her staple was to wear layers of bracelets and necklaces over her layered outfits, which usually included things like vests, headpieces, and belts, along with lots and lots of jewelry.
A good pair of distressed denim pants are a quintessential element of the bohemian wild child style. You could go all out with a fringe vest, but something like a lace and tassel cardigan brings a more modern aesthetic to the look.
Get as many beaded bracelets and necklaces as you can and rock them all. If you want to pay tribute to some of Janis's famous headwear, try working in feather earrings (a subtle nod to her feather headpieces) or even a faux-fur headband (like her iconic fur hat).
Woman of the Blues
When Janis performed, all eyes were on her. It was her voice that captivated audiences and made her a music legend, but photos of her singing have stuck around for a reason. She looked magical in her flowy tops and pants with wild prints and accessories.
Bell-sleeve tops are so much fun, and Janis sported a lot of them when singing. They gave her a mystical aesthetic. Paired with comfy, printed wide-legged pants, they're the perfect combo for a casual but show-stopping look. As always, you'll need to go overboard with necklaces and bracelets, but if that's too much, try something like a standout bag with a unique print or shape. It will give you the boho color and vibrancy without the added layers.
Will you be channeling Janis Joplin?
Her easy-going style and infectious smile will never be forgotten. She may have been gone too soon, but her striking personality lives on in our hearts and our playlists. Janis's influence on music is one-of-a-kind.
Will you be sporting some layered beaded necklaces soon? Are you ditching your heels for some boho sandals and matching fringe vests? Let us know in the comments!
For more information on Janis Joplin, check out these great sources:
Allmusic.com Janis Joplin Biography
Biography.com Janis Joplin
Encyclopedia Britannica Janis Joplin
Encylopedia.com Janis Joplin
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Janis Joplin