It wasn’t enough for Michael Jackson to be the greatest dancer on MTV – he wanted to wear outfits that caught your eye before he even made a move. That wasn’t easy to do in his videos, which often had magnificent distractions: A sidewalk would glow in time with his choreography, or punks would dance with him in a subway station, or he’d meet a supermodel in ancient Egypt.
He had an outfit to go with whatever concept happened to cross his mind, a few of which became part of his own image. The clothes he had on in “Beat It” and “Smooth Criminal” – he wore a red and silver jacket in one, a blue shirt beaming from a white outfit in the other – represented the grandeur of what he did, like the suit of a superhero.
His jacket for “Thriller” was like that, too. With its red dazzle and black edges that ran along its tornado frame, not only did it make him stand out in a crowd of dancing zombies, but it’s the most notable thing anyone in the whole production had on. On another guy, a jacket this unconventional might’ve looked strange. On him, it looked almost as fantastic as the way he moved in it.
It’s hard to put a price on a jacket that iconic. For anybody who wants it when Julien’s Auctions offers it on Sunday, though, the bidding starts at $200,000.
“It is a conservative auction estimate,” Julien’s founder Darren Julien said. “This jacket is not only the most iconic piece of Michael Jackson, but the most iconic piece of pop-culture history.”
If $200,000 seems steep, remember that apart from the beat-up copy he wore with his zombie costume (which wound up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), it’s the only genuine “Thriller” jacket out there. Yes, the sequined glove also had a big effect on his career, but he owned a number of them, which might explain the low starting price of $20,000 for one at the auction.
Of course, some gloves have more meaning than others. “The highest price paid for a Michael Jackson item in our previous auctions is $420,000,” Julien said, “for (the) white glove that he wore at the ‘Motown 25’ special.” Considering this was the first time the world saw Jackson perform the moonwalk, maybe the price was right.
Then again, wearing one glove was his trademark – the jacket had been a one-shot deal. When the video took off, however, the jacket came along for the ride. “The jacket was featured in a video that really helped usher in the MTV era,” said Vice President David Reeder of GreenLight, an agency that represents celebrity estates. “Each release of a single and accompanying video was a must-see for music lovers around the world.”
That’s enough to pull in a good amount of money right there, but ever since Jackson died in 2009, everything he touched has turned to gold. “Without a doubt, Jackson’s passing has positively affected the value of his memorabilia,” Reeder said. “Collecting a piece of him through the purchase of exclusive memorabilia like this jacket allows people to capture a piece of their own history.”
It’s also a big part of designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis’ history, given that the “Thriller” jacket might be the most famous piece of clothing she ever made. (There are others, including her outfit for Indiana Jones.) What’s weird is that Jackson’s popularity didn’t even matter to the design. “I wasn’t dressing a rock star,” she said. “I was dressing an actor that was singing and dancing.”
No matter how she thought of him, she made sure that anyone who saw “Thriller” knew exactly where to look…not that he wouldn’t have gotten people to notice anyway.
“Michael never needed fancy dress,” Landis said. “He would be the center of attention in a T-shirt and jeans.”
This article was originally published in AllMediaNy.com