Besides big hair and songs that made you want to dance, every ’80s pop star needed at least one signature accessory. Madonna had her fingerless lace gloves. Janet Jacksonhad the key on her hoop earring. Tiffany had her denim jacket. And Debbie Gibson — whose debut album, Out of the Blue, was released 30 years ago this week — had her black hats.
Gibson, now 46, recalls that the black hat she wore as a teenager in the “Out of the Blue” video and concert movie, among many other places, was not a look she set out to create for herself.
“I stole [a black hat] off of Michael Damian’s head at a Z100 radio station interview the week before Christmas in New York,” Gibson tells Yahoo in an interview. “I was doing the cute girl thing. ‘Oh, this hat, it looks so cute on me.’”
Gibson wasn’t the only musician to rock a black hat during that time — usually a pork pie hat or a fedora, for her — but it’s arguably her most memorable look. (The face drawn on her knee you can see through her ripped jeans on the Out of the Blue album cover is another.)
“I always love hats, but that was just a match made in heaven, me and that hat. I think I just started wearing it from there. Nothing I ever did trend-wise was strategized. It has been, Oh, this is something I like and I’m going to wear it. Oh, I’ll bring it to the video shoot. It was as simple as that.”
The “Shake Your Love” singer worked with stylists for photo shoots and music videos, but a lot of her style, including that black hat, came from winging it.
“I was always glad that I wore it,” she says. “I was always glad that anything that little girls were emulating that I was wearing was really me and not something a stylist tried to put on me.”
The pros helped, but Gibson made sure to keep it real for an interesting reason.
“I always brought a bunch of stuff from my own closet, which ended up getting used,” she adds. “There was always a mix of the stylists’ clothes and my own clothes. Again, my whole key to everything I did back then was keeping it all accessible, so that parents weren’t going out and spending a ton of money so their kids could dress like me. So everything was kind of mall-friendly, and it had a little funkier flair to it.
“I’ve always had a little bit of a theatrical side, and my ’80s counterpart Tiffany would probably tell you to this day that I was always the more theatrical one, and she was more down-home. So she was the denim jacket queen, and I was doing like crinolines, and I had a little bit of that Madonna, like a G-rated Madonna live going, especially in the ‘Only in My Dreams’ video, I would say.”
Speaking of Tiffany, Gibson and the “I Think We’re Alone Now” songstress, who were rumored to be rivals for years, shut down talk of a rivalry years ago. Now they often tour together and keep in touch over text.
Besides that black hat, Gibson’s Electric Youth perfume is something that really stands out from the late-’80s era when she started. It’s tough to imagine in a time when Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and a long list of other music stars sell multiple fragrances with their names on it, but back then it was rare.
“I would love to say that the perfume was my idea, but it wasn’t,” Gibson says. “I think that it came from Revlon. … I jumped at the chance and was able to be a part of designing the scent. To this day, it smells how I like a perfume to smell. I want a perfume that smells like something you can eat. I don’t like a perfume that’s going to make you sneeze. I like fruity or sweet over floral.”
Fans still bring it to shows for Gibson to sign, she says.
Sadly, there is no new perfume to commemorate the Out of the Blue anniversary, but there is a special box set, We Could Be Together, which includes 10 CDs and three DVDs packaged in a coffee-table book, which includes previously unheard songs, remixes, and a scrapbook with rare photos chosen by Gibson.
“When I was closer to it, I would listen to it critically,” the singer says. “When I just finished it, I would hear a million things that I would want to change, and I would think, Oh my God, I’m so tired [on the album]. Because I was tired and sick for a lot of the recording. I was just off the road, and they wanted it in six weeks. There wasn’t even time to go and do like a vocal retake day. Everything was on a schedule, the release date was set, so it was like, well, I’m going to do the best I can with what I have every day. So I can listen back and hear, Oh my God, I had a cold when I did ‘Foolish Beat’ and ‘Staying Together.”
Still, Gibson approves of what she hears.
“When I listen back to that album, I hear all my teenage enthusiasm. I hear all the excitement of what was going on, and I hear all my influences of the time, like Madonna and George Michael, Cyndi Lauper. It was interesting for me to be a teen making music for teens, but simultaneously being in the thick of being a teen music fan at the same time. I just feel that connection to all of that when I listen to it.
“And I’m really proud of it. I think the productions really stand up,” Gibson says. “I still sing live to those … tracks, which is hysterical. I’ll sing ‘Out of the Blue’ live to that instrumental that you heard on the album. It still sounds really full and crisp.”
Of course, Gibson had something to do with that. Besides singing, she also wrote all her own songs and co-produced the album. Her song “Foolish Beat” made her the youngest artist in history to write, produce, and perform a No. 1 song.
She credits her (pre-Kris Jenner) momager, Diane, who “always had a business mind,” with arranging it so a 16-year-old recording her first album could produce her own tracks.
“I will say that my mom single-handedly instilled in me that I could do it. She had me make that happen in the house, so that I could learn it on my own, and do my demos in the garage,” Gibson says. “She knew if I had the tools and the knowledge that I could convey what I was hearing musically. She knew that I was hearing musically what I wanted to come out of the speakers. And that’s really all producing is: It’s about communicating what you hear in your head to the musician so it comes out of the speakers the way you want.”
But the black hat was all Debbie.