The Evolution of Dave's Stage Clothes
June 6, 2021
If not known for his singing and dancing, Dave Gahan is quite well-known for his striking sartorial style, particularly on stage. From his bad-boy glam looks in the '80s, colorful grunge looks in the '90s, and dazzling suits in the '00s and '10s, Dave has been a chameleon of stylish (and not so stylish) looks for 4 decades. In this article, we explore the evolution of Dave's fashion choices on stage, plus in an extra bonus section, we also take a look at how much some of these items have sold for over the years! I want to thank Tumblr user mijamija1234 who gave me the idea for this article.
1. Homemade and homegrown
In the beginning, Dave's stage outfits were the work of his own hands as well as items from thrift stores. We do know that he had a talent for designing clothes and that he made them for his friends1, so there is no reason to think that he did not also design his own stage clothes, practically from scratch! Some of the futuristic-looking outfits that he wore in the photos above definitely look handmade, for one. He frequented clubs and followed bands like The Damned and The Clash, so no doubt his early fashion choices were influenced by the bands that he saw and liked. He was also enamoured by the flamboyant looks of David Bowie (in his Ziggy Stardust days) and Gary Glitter. At the turn of the decade, Dave was a very fashion-forward individual, experimenting with different colors, textures, and even heavy makeup and hair products. Sounds at the time called him the "trendiest, best coiffed Mode."2 His and his bandmates' style of dress caused the media to label them as "Futurists" and "New Romantics" even though they denied being associated with those groups.
2. Wholesome and corporate
For a long time, Depeche Mode struggled to find a lasting image that they could call their own. In 1982 in particular, Dave's stage outfits ranged from boy-next-door to I'm-having-my-very-first-corporate-job-interview. He didn't look bad per se, but if he was meant to promote a group that was on the cutting edge of music and fashion at the time, then he was putting out a really inconsistent image. In fact, take a look at this footage of them performing on The Tube in 1982...the band look terribly "plain-Jane" compared to much of their audience! To be fair, Depeche Mode never really purposefully set out to create a lasting image or become fashion pioneers; they were all about the music and just trying to make pure sonic magic. But at this point, their image was just too discordant with the music they were making and it is clear that the band don't look back on this period with fondness for this reason.
3. Bad Boy Glam
Many tend to agree that 1986 when Black Celebration came out was when Depeche Mode finally found their image. Aesthetically, it was Anton Corbijn who gave them that coolness and edge. Sartorially, it was all about black leather and chains, especially for Dave and Martin in particular. While Martin went more for a feminine BDSM look, Dave veered towards a more masculine and tough look, but he put his own twist on it by wearing crop tops and lots of jewelry. The result was a "bad boy" look with a touch of glamour and sheen. In other words, here was a guy who could rough you up and look incredibly stylish while doing so! All-black became the common theme, but Dave liked to mix it up every now and then with bright colors, sparkly sequins, and even all-white. Perhaps the white jeans worn during the Music for the Masses and Violator tours was a conscious decision to draw more attention to his twitchy tush?
4. Colorful Grunge
If the '80s were known for bright colors and polished looks, the early and mid-part of the '90s were the absolute antithesis to that. While Dave may have followed the grunge trend off stage with drab-looking flannel shirts, wifebeaters, and ripped jeans, onstage, he brought a little bit of the '80s color and polish and gave it a contemporary twist with his long, grunge hairstyle, beard, and choker. He frequently liked to pair sharp-lined suits in bright colors with frilly pirate shirts. In the '80s, those frills would've associated him with the New Romantics. In the '90s, it gave him an artsy look and was admittedly pretty daring. But it didn't matter much as by the end of every night, all of those colorful and frilly layers were shed to reveal a very grungy-looking rockstar.
5. High-end suits and high heels
In the mid-2000s and 2010s, Dave was all about high-end suits and high(ish) heels. Gone were the days of looking like a femboy ready to rough you up; this was a man of refined and expensive tastes- or at least he looked the part. And damn, did he look fine. In a 2009 interview with actress Chloë Sevigny3, he explained the process of pairing up with various designers to work out the looks for his stage outfits. For Touring the Angel, he worked with Johan Lindeberg, founder of the J. Lindeberg Swedish clothing company. For Tour of the Universe, he worked with April Johnson, a stylist and designer based in New York. In addition to these dapper-looking suits, Dave liked to pair them with fancy Cuban heel boots. He started out with basic black and brown at first, but then went more daring with shiny red and sparkly metallics in more recent tours.
Bonus 1: Honorable Mentions
I tried to hit on the biggest and most impactful stage looks of Dave over the years with the list above, but I know that I have missed many looks that are also quite iconic. Here are a few of those below!
The photo of Dave in this sheer, attention-grabbing shirt was taken during a DM show on May 16, 1997 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California in support of Ultra.
Dave wore these white loafers a lot during the Ultra era, including for at least one performance. Unfortunately, he lost them (or possibly had them stolen) which he retells in this interview (at the 2:08 mark) several years later.
Dave really likes to play with color in his stage outfits. During The Singles Tour, he looked trendy and sharp in olive green and pinstripes!
Very few people can pull off wearing a waistcoat and nothing else on top. Dave is one of them and it also happens to be one of his most preferred ensembles in recent days, it seems.
Bonus 2: Pleasure, (Not So) Little Treasure
Did you know that some of Dave's stage clothes have been sold and/or auctioned off over the years? There are some lucky folks out there who actually own a piece of history and legend, thanks to charity auctions and contests that have taken place to sell off some of Dave's most iconic pieces of clothing. In this bonus mini-section, we have a look at some of those pieces including what they actually sold for!
"Shake the Disease" jacket
This black leather jacket allegedly worn by Dave many times in the mid-1980s including in the video for "Shake the Disease" was sold by someone from Ontario, Canada on eBay in 2017. I only say "allegedly" because Dave had never confirmed it, himself, but the seller had very solid provenance that this indeed was legitimate. From the original eBay listing, the seller alleged that they had obtained the jacket from Jonathan "Wob" Roberts who had worked with Depeche Mode via a contact of his where it was salvaged from "Depeche Mode's storage cage at Music Bank in Southwark, London, England." Add that to the fact that it sold for over 3,000 USD with over 100 bids meant that plenty of people were well-convinced that it was legitimate, too! Can you imagine how much more it probably would've sold for if DM, themselves, had confirmed its provenance? Here is another webpage that has more information about it.
Paper Monsters Tour waistcoat
This waistcoat worn by Dave during the Paper Monsters Tour was sold in 2008 for the Grammy Foundation/MusiCares Foundation Charity Online Auction on eBay. It also bore his autograph on the back! Unfortunately, pictures of the waistcoat, itself, have not survived the passage of internet time so my best guess is it was the one in the pictures above based on the following description: "With a pinstripe front and silk back, this stylish vest from Harwood is a perfect match for the stylish Gahan...Black and white pinstripe front, Lavender Silk back...'V' shaped stain at the upper center of the back, likely a dye transfer from a dark shirt or suit lining resulting from perspiration while performing." The auction was prominently advertised on Dave Gahan's official website at the time.
Leather boots, possibly from Tour of the Universe
This pair of Balenciaga "grey" leather boots (which actually look more brown to me) was sold in 2017 for the Small Steps Project, a UK charity. The boots are also signed by Dave and even list the size- EU 42! Nowhere does it say that these shoes were actually worn by Dave or when but they do look a lot like the boots he wore during the Tour of the Universe (shown above).
Delta Machine Tour jacket
This jacket worn by Dave during the Delta Machine Tour was sold by Julien's Auctions in 2020 as part of the MusiCares Charity Relief Auction. The description reads, "A metallic silver blazer stage worn by Dave Gahan while performing with Depeche Mode in 2013. The jacket was worn in multiple concerts throughout the band's 2013 tour. Silk interior lining, label reads 'Alasdair.' No size present."
- "Private Lives: The Depeche Mode Story Part 1: Dave Gahan: The Wild Boy", No1 magazine (May 4, 1985)
- "THIS YEAR'S MODE(L)", Sounds (January 31, 1981)
- "Dave Gahan", Interview (July 6, 2009)
Which of Dave's stage outfits are your favorites? Are you lucky enough to own a piece of clothing worn by Dave or know someone who does? Either way, I would love to hear from you. Please comment below!