How Dennis Rodman, ’90s Outcast, Became Dennis Rodman, Style Godhead

In this universe, prophets get a tough shake. The passages dedicated to history’s most transgressive figures are almost always punctuated by exiles, burnings at the stake, crucifixions, cancellations. This, in part, explains why, during the peak of his notoriety, Dennis Rodman — the NBA’s rainbow-headed rebound savant —  was unfairly dismissed as America’s strange, recalcitrant, septum-pierced nephew. It also explains why, today, he’s better understood as an insurgent, wildly ahead-of-his time style visionary. In the little over two decades since Rodman’s Madonna-courting, wedding dress-wearing celebrity zenith, the sartorial quirks that for the longest time saw the power forward-turned-pro wrestler-turned-walking Ed Hardy billboard-turned-diplomat relegated to the realm of pop culture sideshow have made him a sort of contemporary Patron Saint of Cool.

This revelation was recently enshrined in a tweet—a screengrab of Rodman’s August 1996 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. The then-Chicago Bull is wearing a sheer, black, floral-patterned burnout blouse buttoned no higher than his navel, if it’s buttoned at all. His nails are painted black. His eyes are protected by bug-eyed, Oakley wraparound sunglasses. He has three chains on: a silver cuban-link choker, a crucifix, and a longer one with a gold pendant. He’s sporting his trademark facial piercings — a silver ball in his right nostril, a silver hoop in his left, and a pair of massive captive bead, stainless steel earrings. His hair, of course, is bleached blonde, and further spray-dyed a splotchy kelly green. “Everyone in 2019 looks like dennis rodman in 1996,” @cowboybagel declared to the tune of 22,512 retweets and 73,155 likes.

Getty Images / Time & Life Pictures

And it’s true: the trail that Rodman blazed all those years ago has been rediscovered by a whole new generation of style agitators. His outré Marilyn Manson-meets-Prince-meets-Flea approach — with its seemingly random infusion of elements from rave culture, emo, hip-hop, and fetish wear —  no longer feels that far out there. In fact, The Rodman is probably one of 2019’s more recognizable online style archetypes. I’m not saying that Dennis Rodman was the first e-girl, but I’m not not saying that.

For the uninitiated: the terms “e-girl” and “e-boy” refer to the growing subset of post-influencer Gen-Zers who spend all day online posting Facetune’d selfies in their new kawaii crop tops and spiked dog collar chokers, or as Vox’s Rebecca Jennings put it, they are “what would happen if you shot a teenager through the internet and they came out the other side.” The result is startlingly Rodman-esque. From their rotating carousel of hair colors to their gender-ambivalent incorporation of goth and BDSM elements, these kids are tidily following the blueprint the NBA Hall-of-Famer first began sketching a little over a quarter century ago.

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