Jim Henson Was a Style God for the Ages


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Jim Henson spent the bulk of his career hidden from sight: hunched behind elaborate stage sets; cloaked in all black to disappear into the background; and once, in order to shoot the iconic opening sequence of The Muppet Movie, locked underwater inside of a diving bell for hours at a time. Now, however, thanks to Ron Howard’s new Disney+ documentary Jim Henson Idea Man, the visionary puppeteer’s righteous behind-the-scenes wardrobe is finally getting a well-deserved spotlight.

Jim Henson and the Muppets, 1978.

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Henson and Kermit pulling off matching floral shirts.

Nancy Moran/Getty Images

As Idea Man elucidates effectively, Henson was a high-functioning workaholic. At the height of his success in the late ’70s, he was flying back and forth across the Atlantic constantly to film The Muppet Show in London and Sesame Street in New York, while still finding time to manage his ever-expanding production and merchandising empire and develop a gaggle of side projects. For a person that busy, who would sometimes go days at a time without sleeping or seeing his family, it’d be easy and excusable enough to let your own personal style fall by the wayside in the pursuit of other creative endeavors.

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Jim Henson, Fran Brill, and Frank Oz on the set of The Muppet Show in 1975.

Walt Disney Television Photo Archives/Getty Images

But Henson, to his credit, appears to have never once bricked nor wasted a fit across his brief 53 years on Earth. (Which also explains why the Muppets have always been true menswear icons.) In his prime, he favored big-collared floral shirts, often complemented by a dashing neckerchief or a hippie-ish headband, tucked into billowing bell-bottoms, and layered beneath suave suede jackets. He’d show up on Carson in louche leisure suits or smooth leather trousers. And even in his later years, as he transitioned toward dadly knit cardigans and sport coats, he retained his love of playful clashing patterns. If anything, Henson’s boundless creativity seemed spurred on and invigorated by his sartorial irreverence—not hampered by it.

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Henson in a wild jacket-and-tie combo, 1989.

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At the premiere of Blaze, 1989.

Ron Galella/Getty Images

So, yes, there’s plenty of direct inspiration to glean from these photos of Jim Henson over the decades. But more than that, it’s worth taking note of his insistence on delivering great style—on finding joy in getting dressed—regardless of the circumstances or stressors in his way. Or, to paraphrase Fozzie: Don’t go out a-bear, wear a neck-a-tie.



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