hgyc edits


“If you take one of my jackets and hang it around the room with fifty other jackets, how would you know it’s mine?” This time Michael hadn’t called on the phone to propose his riddle of the day. It was a week- day in 1988, and he asked this simply yet loaded question to Dennis and me, while marveling at the workshop we had built beneath our home. It was rare to have Michael over, as we usually met him wherever he was – the Ranch, the studio, on set, on tour. But I think Michael, once in a while, liked to see where our conversation to his magic was made: in a modest 60 x 40 room tiled and plastered in the spirit of Tuscany.

Dennis and I thought about Michael’s concern that his clothes weren’t signature enough. Anyone else who walked around with dinnerware on their jacket might assume people would recognize them. By now we were in Michael’s head, though, so we knew that it was a progression with Michael. Nothing could stay the same for very long. We always needed to add something that could stand out and, at the same time, make people ask, “Why?”

So we added an armband.

2 and a half inches wide and 18 inches long, the color of the armband always changed. The world stopped to see what color the armband was and what the fabric was made of. There was even a time when Nancy Grace, the legal commentator on HLN, spent prime-time national news hours trying to figure out what it meant. Michael was playing P.T. Barnum again, manipulating the press and teasing his fans with more “What does it mean?” and “Why did he change it?” It looked too important to not mean anything. Regardless of what it came to mean, the armband started as the solution to ensuring Michael could be identified with just one glimpse of his sleeve.

Coming up with the armband was an improvisation. Michael’s riddles forced us to create instantly without thought. He taught us not to overthink, just do. He tapped the limitless “play” aspect of our minds.

-Michael Bush


I first met Michael when I was in Detroit. He came to Motown, and they were talking about this boy from Gary, Ind., and the Jackson 5, and everyone was excited. He was a little boy then. He would always come into the studio curious about how I worked and what I did. “How do you do that?” “Why do you do that?” I think he understood clearly from seeing various people do the music scene that it definitely took work. He must have been around 9 or 10 then, and I definitely felt that he would be someone. You heard the voice, and all he could do was grow. And that’s what he did.

I remember playing air hockey one time, and we were going back and forth. I play air hockey on the side as opposed to the end of the table because it’s more accessible for me to really understand what’s happening. He said, “Oh, you’re cheating.” And I said, “Aw, I’m not cheating, come on.” And we went on and on for hours, just playing air hockey and being silly. He had a childlike heart. And that was very, very impressive to me. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings, and for those who can’t see that it is possible for a man who’s an adult to have a childlike spirit, it doesn’t mean that they’re weird, it doesn’t mean they’re a freak or whatever ridiculous things people say. We have all kinds of people in the world. The most important thing is that your heart is in a good place.

- Stevie Wonder


We didn’t know where we would take the “Beat It” Jacket after the HIStory tour, but in 2001, when Michael was preparing for his 30th anniversary show at the Madison Square Garden, he called me on the phone one night in August, a month before we were heading to New York City for 2 shows – September 7 and 10. He has decided to perform the opening song all in white and do the rest of the show wearing all black.

His instructions were to the point: “Make my Beat It coat black.”

You can’t make the Beat It coat black.

Singer, dancer and mind reader, too, “It will upset the fans,” he explained. “Let’s see if they notice. If they’re paying attention.”

On September 7, 2001, Michael performed “Beat It” at Madison Square Garden wearing a black snakeskin Beat It jacket. On the shoulders, we replaced the fairy dust with the fuzzy side of Velcro, which had a good texture to it and wreaked rebellion. In the middle of the show, part of the act included me coming out on stage while Michael was singing to change him into the Beat It coat. As I was putting the black snakeskin coat on him, Michael uttered out of the corner of his mouth, “Bush, this is supposed to be red.”

I was horrified, and my face showed it. And that’s when Michael let me know I’d fallen for one of his ruses yet again. “Ah ha, gotcha!”

- Michael Bush

The Renaissance Jacket

Coming with the armband was an improvisation. Michael’s riddles forced us to not over think, just do. He tapped the limitless “play” aspect of our minds.  Even his best friend Elizabeth Taylor knew this about him, loved Michael desperately for it, and did everything in her power to copy him.

In 1991, Michael was to escort Elizabeth down the aisle at her wedding, which would be held outside the grounds of the Ranch.  I was tailoring Michael’s Levi’s to death, because that’s what he wanted to wear to the wedding. When I arrived at the Ranch the week before Liz was to marry Larry Fortensky, Michael was in the middle of a call.

“Here, Elizabeth wants to talk to you,” Michael said, handing the phone without warning. It wasn’t the first time he’d done this to me, and i knew it wouldn’t be the last. 

I no sooner said hello then she demanded, “What’s he going to wear to my wedding?” She rarely said hello when I spoke with her on the phone, and over the years I had come to expect her playful interrogations. I guessed Michael knew what information Elizabeth was trying to pry out of me, because when I looked frantically to him for guidance, he was cutting the air with his arms like scissors, mouthing, “Don’t tell her. Don’t tell her.”

Elizabeth said, “He’s telling you not to tell me, isn’t he?”

“Yes, Elizabeth.” And then she really caught me off guard.

“Is he going to wear a sword to my wedding?”

She knew whatever it was going to be, Michael’s outfit would be over the top. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, and then…

“You tell the little bastard not to wear a sword to my wedding.”

They were words fit for a sailor, but I had become accustomed to Elizabeth’s trash talk. She loved vulgarities, and she worked them pretty well.

When I hung up the phone, Michael was relieved that the Levi’s remained a secret.

“If she knows I’m wearing Levi’s,” Michael explained, “she’ll want to wear them too.”

So we did a Renaissance coat, circa 1400s, with a sash across it to go with the Levi’s. But Michael left the sword at home.

- Michael Bush (“The King of Style”)


While Michael had an appreciation for the art of dressmaking and a natural affinity for style, Michael believed his clothes served one purpose and one purpose only: showmanship. But to him even a walk down the Hollywood Boulevard on any given Sunday deserved special attention to style, so there weren’t many days that didn’t include some sort of showmanship.

A man who parade around in sashes and sterling silver boots and championship belts preferred all the comforts that loungewear affords. It is just another dichotomy of dressing Michael Jackson. His performance clothes were fitted, skin tight and flashy: his private clothes, baggy and often sloppy. If you told Michael he could dress down somewhere, he’d be relieved.

Little things like that pleased him. Sometimes at the studio, Michael deemed it “Casual Day.” Everyone coming in for meetings or recordings or whatever didn’t have to be concerned with dressing to impress. On those days, Michael would whoop with such excitement you’d think Walt Disney had just invited him to dinner.

People thought that Michael ran around wearing his famous sequined glove, but it was only worn when he was moonwalking. No sooner would he finish a performance or an appearance, than he would start dropping the pieces, with me running behind him, scrambling to catch what he sent sailing over his shoulder. He just didn’t care about wearing his show clothes beyond the purpose they were indeed to serve.

More than anything, he despised fittings. He considered them a huge waste of time. He’d rather save the minutes and hours of the day for things of importance, like making music, perfecting his dance, and watching The Simpsons.

“Why do I have to try this on?” he’d argue and fidget. “If you know what you are doing, then it should fit.” He wasn’t exactly happy about having people constantly fiddle with, pull at, or rearrange his seams, hems, and collars.

The “Michael uniform” was all he wore when he wasn’t performing: corduroy shirt, usually red; black cotton pants with box pleats, sometimes with a cuff; and his loafers. Ask him why and he’d say, “Bush, if I have 50 red corduroy shirts in my closet, I don’t have to think about what I’m going to wear. What a waste of energy and time.”

Practicality aside, Michael’s love of play was ubiquitous. “If I only have one choice in my closet,” he told me, “then you won’t know if I have had this on for the last 3 days. Is it clean? Is it dirty? You don’t know…” He loved to keep people guessing because it meant they were paying attention.

- Michael Bush


The Four Fs of Dressing Michael Jackson:

FIT: Material needs to be sleek, elastic, tight-fitting but porous. Nothing bulky. The goal was to fit his clothes so his choreography could be facilitated and appreciated.

FUNCTION: To work with Michael’s movements the clothes needed to be able to stretch. In addition, bell-bottom pants were considered nonfunctional, as they covered Michael’s footwork and caused tripping.

FUN: From fabric that made noise when rubbed together, to zippy zippers and clanking metal, Michael loved it all. Clothing that was fluid and moved with him was fun to him. Shine, bounce, even electricity was not only a welcome addition to Michael’s wardrobe, but a defining factor of it.

FIRST: Think so far outside the box, you’d need a plane ticket to fly back into it. Our mindset became, “What hasn’t Michael worn? What haven’t we put on him yet?” We never wanted to do the same thing twice.

- Michael Bush

Michael and I were riding together to the studio one day in 1990, and he was fiddling with the fabric of one of his jackets, investigating the glowing foiled rhinestones that rowed the sleeve. “Bush,” he said, “how do you not hurt your fingers when bending back the little prongs behind the studs? How can you do so many without bleeding?”

He was referring to the prongs on the back of what is known as a “rim set”, which holds a stone in place so it can fasten onto the fabric securely. I was sort of confused by the question. Why would he care?

“I have a machine.”

Well, you would’ve have thought that I just told him where Big foot lived.

“You do?”

Is he pulling my leg again? I wondered. He can’t really believe I pressed each prong of the hundreds of rhinestones onto his clothing by hand… can he?

“I want a machine.” He said it like a little kid who just saw his sister with a big ice cream cone and was salivating to have one, too. “When we were first starting out,” Michael went on to explain, ”we had to make our own show clothes. My mother, my brothers and sisters, and me, we were the ones who made them. I remember pressing those stones into my clothes one by one, and my fingertips would bleed. Those prongs were sharp. It hurt, Bush.

“Michael, you could’ve used a thimble.”

“We didn’t have those.”

It was then I realized that Michael had a real appreciation for what Dennis and I did because he experienced what it took to do it.

- Michael Bush