Boyz II Men is best known for dominating the Billboard charts in the early to mid-‘90s with hits such as “End of the Road” and “One Sweet Day,” but anyone who ever wore a baseball cap with a cardigan or ever had the desire to walk with a cane might also remember the Philadelphia R&B group for its trend-setting fashion.
Here, Wanya Morris — who will perform at the House of Blues Sunday with Boyz II Men bandmates Nathan Morris and Shawn Stockman (Michael McCary left the group in 2003 for health reasons) — discusses the group’s fashion highs and lows over the last 20 years:
Shearling coats with sheepskin: “If you look at the cover of the first album (1991’s ‘Cooleyhighharmony’), we had these shearling coats on. We started doing it thinking we could be just as cool as everyone else. We didn’t stand out. Our old manager, Michael Bivins, felt (that) in order to stand out, we need to be different. … He took us shopping and we purchased our wardrobe for the next year. Everything you saw in 1991 was from that (shopping trip).”
Cardigans and bowties: “(Bivins) wanted to give us a style that would make us different from other black guys: bowties, cardigans, shorts. It was very collegiate — very preppy. He called it ‘Alex Vanderpool’ (after ‘All My Children’ character Alfred Vanderpool). If we walked down the street and somebody was walking by us, they wouldn’t grasp their purse. … He was a visionary. Everybody started wearing it after they saw us. It’s funny. Now people are wearing it (again).”
Matching outfits: “We didn’t mind it at all. That’s what groups did back in the day — dress alike. We followed the blueprint of groups in the old days. We were actually cool with that. It shows unity. We were all together. It made perfect sense. … But no one dresses in unity anymore.
The cane: “(McCary) did it for style, for the most part, in the beginning. It didn’t come until later that he was using it for real. If you look at (‘Cooleyhighharmony’), we all had canes on the album cover. (Bivins) took the canes away from all of us except Mike. He allowed Mike to have one to be cool.”
Dracula jackets: “We played this song called ‘U Know’ on our ‘II’ tour that was a rock song and came up with an idea to have these Dracula coats made for the song. We figured it would be sinister and gangster — the song represented that. Our stylist made the coats but didn’t make them right. They were floppy and didn’t sit right. We wore them one time and after that burned them.”
Shiny blue suits: “I would say the most embarrassing outfits were these blue shiny suits that we had on (the cover of the 2000 single, ‘Pass You By’). They were like cardboard. We had this idea to wear the suits standing in the water and the suits would (digitally) melt away into the water. The record company didn’t want to pay an art director to do the effect, and it kind of (ruined) the idea.”
The grown-up look: “I guess, to a certain extent, we realized with (the 2011 music video for) ‘One Up For Love’ that we had to become more common — more relatable to people. Anyone can go to the store and purchase what we have on when we rock the house. … I would describe our style as grown, conservative and sexy. I would say we graduated from college to professors. It represents cleanliness in a music industry that is very much a dirty game.”