David Byrne is famous for Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense, and his comically large grey suit. The suit has left an oversized impact on popular culture, and some are comparing it to what Justin Beiber wore to the Grammys. Here’s its origin story.
The Famous Scene
Byrne wore the “big suit” in the iconic concert film Stop Making Sense. He emerges with the suit on during a rousing performance of “Girlfriend is Better.” He took many publicity stills with the big suit on, so it became the look most closely associated with him.
In an interview with the New Yorker, costume designer Gail Blacker called the big suit “more of an architectural project than a clothing project.” It did not go unnoticed by audiences and critics. Pauline Kael wrote in her review, “He’s a handsome, freaky golem. When he dances, it isn’t as if he were moving the suit—the suit seems to move him.”
How It Came To Be
Byrne divulged the secrets of the suit to EW. He was inspired to create it after a friend told him “you know what theater is – everything has to be bigger.” The friend was not referring to clothing, rather gestures, but Byrne “took it very literally.”
The “Once In A Lifetime” singer had also just visited Japan. He said, he “had seen a lot of traditional Japanese theater, and I realized that yes, that kind of front-facing outline, a suit, a businessman’s suit, looked like one of those things, a rectangle with just a head on top.” If you look at kabuki outfits for men, you’ll see what Byrne is talking about.
Luckily, it didn’t really hurt to wear. Byrne says “the actual suit hangs, barely touches your body.” The suit barely touches him. While the suit itself is only on screen for a few minutes, it’s left an enormous impact. Byrne would later use the suit in a skit for the Late Show.
A Different Cut
Beiber’s Grammy outfits certainly evoke Byrne’s, but it differs in significant ways. It’s certainly oversized and has the by-product of making Beiber look small. The key difference would be the shoulders. Beiber is clearly wearing the suit. It’s touching his body, while Byrne’s does not.
Only Bieber knows if he was doing a tribute, messed up his measurements, or wanted to make his own statement. In any case, his Grammy outfit is a good reminder for everyone to carve out time from their day to watch Stop Making Sense. It’s earned its reputation as the pinnacle of concert films.