Susan Sontag, in her 1964 essay Notes on Camp, writes that "the hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance".
Could she have been thinking of Liberace? By then, the pianist had become the benchmark for the most overblown style imaginable, and he would surpass himself over the next couple of decades with ostrich feather capes, glittering hotpants, white fur coats with 20ft trains, pompadoured hair, hands weighted with jewels and a mirrored Rolls Royce to match his mirrored grand piano.
The house-tour section of the fansite Bob's World of Liberace reveals that the extravagance wasn't reserved for the pianist's stage shows. At his Hollywood Hills mansion, he slept in a golden bed garlanded with fox tails. His other house revealed a penchant for elaborate antiques, zebra-print carpets and leopardprint wallpaper. He had a piano-shaped swimming pool. And, of course, lots of candelabra.
Remember when Elton John got all that criticism for spending £250,000 on flowers? Amateur.
Doesn't the world seem a greyer place since Dame Barbara Cartland left it in 2000? And, to quote the prolific romantic novelist: "Who can be happy and pretty in grey?" With a colour spectrum ranging from Spam to candyfloss, Cartland's wardrobe was a magnificent commotion of pink, often accessorised with a small fluffy dog and turquoise eyeshadow. Cartland, who could always be relied on for a strong opinion, once said: "There is no point in wearing arty-crafty clothes if you don't look good in them. Women should wear pretty clothes and look like women." Or indeed meringues.
It's the self-deprecation – nobody can do a bashful witticism like her (one example: "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap") – that makes any criticism of Dolly Parton's look seem redundant. So instead of questioning the style merits of the huge blond wigs, pink frills or diamante-encrusted double-denim, all we can do is pay our respects to it. It works because it's authentic – despite what she says, you could still imagine Parton dressing like this even if she hadn't become a multimillionaire superstar, and it's difficult to criticise someone for being themselves. Underpinning the veneer of the fake face and fake hair and fake nails are Parton's talent, brains and warmth. And crucially, she seems to like women. Without all this, she'd basically be Jordan.
Carrying on the tradition of the snappily dressed male writer – which also includes Byron, Wilde and Fitzgerald – Tom Wolfe deserves praise for sticking to the look where others fell away (AA Gill had a mercifully brief flirtation with a monocle, for instance) and for taking it further in the modern era. Does anybody, aside from Wolfe, wear spats?
"Every man and every woman is equally fixated on fashion," he said in one interview. "Men who would bridle at that suggestion are usually men who want to fit into whatever milieu they want to be in. They do not want to stand out in any way, shape or form … Style is always a window into what a person thinks of his place in the world or what he wants his place to be in the world."
What can it feel like to dress like this? It's a firm belief of mine that all the most fun things in life cause a certain number of stains, so does this mean Wolfe – a man who has worn white three-piece suits for decades – has no fun? Perhaps his dress is his fun: he does always seem to have an amused air about him, and anybody who wears spats always seems to be on the verge of breaking out a little tap dance. Wolfe's is a look to lift the spirits, both of the wearer and the observer.
It takes more than a ruffled shirt front to make this list (sorry, Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen). Yes, a few men wore eyeliner and leather in the 80s, but not many have pioneered such consistent flamboyance in recent times as Prince. "Michael [Jackson] and I both came along at a time when there was nothing," he said in an interview with the Guardian in 2011. "MTV didn't have anyone who was visual. Bowie, maybe. A lot of people made great records, but dressed like they were going to the supermarket."
Think of the high heels, the flares. Picture those two perfect buttocks blazing nakedly at the back of a leopardprint suit at the 1991 MTV awards – an image that always makes me wonder if someone played that old superglue-on-a-chair prank just minutes before he was due on. Imagine Bieber or Buble doing anything so interesting.
Gloriously disregarding all boring conventions on age-appropriate dress, and rigidly sticking to the belief that a tanga-cut leotard represents perfectly acceptable daywear, Cher has been a delight for decades. For performances, her costume designer Bob Mackie made use of all available materials known to mankind – lamé, sequins, fishnet, leather, feathers – sometimes even on the same outfit, but it's the creations she wore offstage that stay in the memory. When most stars dress for the red carpet as if they're trying to relive their wedding/school prom, Cher views it as a good reason to commission a new bodysuit.
Little Richard's style evolved quickly from from sharp-suited young man to someone who buys his suits according to how much the rhinestones weigh. I know which I prefer. It doesn't matter that he sports what looks like a nest of muskrats on his head, and maintains a dedication to fringing – Little Richard basically invented rock'n'roll, so he can do what he likes.
Before Carmen Miranda, the fruit bowl was just a place to keep your bananas fresh and your plums unsullied. Providing inspiration to countless drag acts since, the 1940s singer – whose headdresses didn't just involve towers of fruit, but also elaborate constructions of umbrellas, feathers and confectionery – made all her own costumes. Miranda was criticised in some quarters for turning Brazilian culture, particularly the traditional dress of Baiana women, into a joke, though she always maintained she had a deep love of her country and its music.
The fruity headgear also served a practical purpose beyond mere fabulousness: Carmen Miranda was just 4ft 9in, and it added crucial extra height. It also provided at least three of her five-a-day.
Siegfried and Roy
When future historians consider the greatest spectacles of all time, they will include the Roman Emperor Trajan's three-month-long orgy of gladiatorial bloodshed, and that time a dancing dog won Britain's Got Talent. But nothing will compare to Siegfried and Roy's show in Las Vegas. It had everything you could want: live tigers, smoke, sequins and two tanned and often bare-chested German magicians.
The pair's show ran at the Mirage casino from 1990 until 2003, when Montecore, a seven-year-old tiger, decided enough was enough and dragged Roy offstage by his neck. A sad end, but one that should not detract from the achievements of the self-styled Masters of the Impossible. Alas, there isn't room here to relay all the wonders of their lives, from the zebra-print velour suits and frosted mullets to the copy of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel they had painted in the home they shared with lions, tigers and panthers – and, according to one unauthorised biography, the ashes of Roy's mother, which he would often carry around in a Louis Vuitton bag. The following sentence should tell you all you need to know: Liberace was a good friend and mentor.
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image: © PeterTea