“If David Byrne walks on a stage and he’s wearing a suit, I’m like, ‘There he is. There’s his fucking blazer. There are his shoulders,’” Hayley Williams muses. Byrne, The Talking Heads frontman, is known for his uniform-like garb of suits with exaggerated shoulders. Williams, lead singer of Paramore, has recently worn suits on tour in allusion to the rock legend, “but I’m doing it with hot pants and a little boxy blazer,” she assures me. After Byrne, Williams continues to list her icons: Debbie Harry of Blondie, Jane Birkin, even Doug Funnie and Mr. Rogers from the animated series Doug, each of whom is known for their highly individual style. “I love someone who knows who they are and what they like,” she continues. After twenty years of touring, that sense of identity is evident in her own closet, as well.
So much of her performance style can be summed up in a teeny tiny shift dress. A white sleeveless Theory, a black and white collared ShuShu/Tong, and a sparkly mock neck Sportmax hang side by side in her traveling wardrobe currently set up at The O2 Arena in London. Standing at only 5’2”, she wants to show as much leg as possible. “I want to look tall—Tina Turner-ish,” she says. “It’s not giving Ariana Grande in a hoodie and no pants, but it’s definitely like, ‘How short can the bottoms go before they’re not pants at all?’” She’s not kidding. In the case of one Pushbutton mini skirt, the briefs are essentially longer than the skirt. (Fittingly, Sheertex tights are always on hand. “For some reason when the skirt is that short I can’t be showing my real legs—there’s got to be some barrier to entry, you know?”) These micro hemlines she often pairs with tall boots or chunky flats, “B-52’s-style” hair, and exaggerated winged eyeliner for a retro-futuristic vibe she says reminds her of both The Jetsons and the British punk scene. Onstage, it’s all framed by a backdrop inspired by set designers of the ’60s, ’70s, and Stanley Kubrick.
The band works with stylist Lindsey Hartman (who also works with BoyGenius) to craft their looks. “She understands this punk subculture that the [band] and I grew up so interested in,” Williams explains, “but then she also has this massive appreciation for designers and really big fashion moments.” For the This Is Why tour, Hartman sourced a mix of well-known names and emerging designers ranging from Courrèges and Coperni to ShuShu/Tong and Paloma Wool, even digging for old Vivienne Westwood on Depop.
“I don’t like bringing a bunch of shit,” Williams explains of her packing strategy. “I don’t like a lot of waste; I’m not trying to make a thousand decisions every night.” Her tour looks, uniform in their eccentricities if not in exact style, occupy only about half the rack. The rest of the space holds items she wears for non-performance events (sweaters, blazers, etc.) and pieces she acquires while traveling. Williams collects vintage t-shirts and old buttons. Jewelry from Justine Clenquet litters a nearby surface, as does a recently broken (soon-to-be-fixed) Catbird bat necklace that reminds her of a formative memory when her Nashville home was infested with the creatures. A hat emblazoned with: “American Psycho; I Am Simply Not There” was a gift from her partner (both romantic and bandmate) Taylor York gave to her. This she wears nearly every day.
Obviously, there’s a contrast between her glam-rock feminine onstage persona and the t-shirt-and-button-collecting normalcy. “When I’m just hanging out with my friends, I feel the most comfortable when I’m dressed like a hardcore kid,” says Williams, “just Dickies, Converse, a big huge vintage T-shirt, and a cap. I look like a Beastie Boy.” That said, the pop-punk singer has a surprising affinity for color when it comes to her wardrobe. “I don’t actually love wearing black all the time,” she says. “Black looks clean and anyone really can look good in it, but I don’t feel the most myself when I’m in that.” Known for her mop of previously rainbow hair (most iconically red, but she’s tested out other shades, as well), Williams’ hair is currently bleached platinum blonde. This, she says, has allowed her to experiment with color even more in her onstage ensembles.
Regardless of what she wears for a performance, it has to pass a functional test: Williams needs to be able to dance around “like a maniac” for hours. “When I throw on a look, I move around like crazy just to see if we can get a feel for how it’s going to move and shift on me,” she explains. However, “it’s never enough because two hours of pure chaos onstage—you can’t replicate that in a room in a fitting.” That onstage “pure chaos” is largely unplanned, she says. “So much of the show is a freeform explosion of raw energy, and that’s what makes a Paramore show feel really special,” the musician notes. “I think I’m at a point where the things that I can control that I am okay with feeling a bit same-y most nights, like that identity piece.” Since she was catapulted to pop-punk stardom as a teen, the rock icon has been a chameleon with both her style and her hair for decades of performances. Now, she’s isolated the variables that best fit. “Maybe it’s my age,” Williams muses, “but I’m ready to get into a space where, when we show up somewhere, people are like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the thing I thought she was going to wear.”