Gilberto Gil's many Looks

A London look, hippie style, glitter rock, and African clothing have all influenced the singer-songwriter's style, both onstage and off.

By Instituto Gilberto Gil

Text: Ricardo Schott, journalist and music researcher

Gilberto Gil em apresentação no início da carreira (1966)Instituto Gilberto Gil

A Modest Start

When Elis Regina first met Gilberto Gil in 1966, she saw a very different person from the musician who would soon be admired by all of Brazil.

Just starting out in music, while still working as a manager at Gessy Lever, the Bahian performer wore quite a formal look, as though he might have kept his song sheets in a briefcase fit for James Bond.

Gilberto Gil, Jair Rodrigues e Elis Regina no programa O Fino da Bossa (1966)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In 1966, he showed up wearing a tuxedo for one of his appearances on O Fino da Bossa, the TV show Regina hosted with Jair Rodrigues. And the singer-songwriter that appeared on the cover of his 1967 album Louvação was a chubby young man in a dress shirt, playing the guitar. 

Gilberto Gil no III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

That same year, Gil adopted a London look, with a heavy double-breasted jacket, to perform his entry Domingo no Parque at Record TV's 3rd Brazilian Popular Music Festival (Festival de Música Popular Brasileira).

Gil could be seen with the same look on the back cover of his 1968 self-titled album, while the front cover showed him in the formal uniform of the Brazilian Academy of Letters (Academia Brasileira de Letras).

Gilberto Gil no espetáculo Momento 68 (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The following year, Gil began to transition from being a singer with close ties to regional music and bossa nova's second generation to his Tropicália look. But, before fully embracing this new style, he appeared at the Momento 68 show in 1968 wearing a chalk-white pinstripe suit.

Gilberto Gil em apresentação na década de 1960 (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

A London Look

The newly established Tropicália movement required a fresh look, with Gil appearing on stage and in photos wearing long Indian tunics, necklaces, and mostly colorful clothing. 

The Tropicálistas tended to wear clothes by Regina Boni, a designer from Minas Gerais who had opened her Ao Dromedário Elegante store on São Paulo's Rua Bela Cintra in 1968. She also dressed stars of the Brazilian rock-music movement known as the Jovem Guarda (Young Guard). 

Gilberto Gil no III Festival Internacional da Canção Popular (1968-09-14)Instituto Gilberto Gil

For Gil's appearance at TV Globo's 3rd International Song Festival (Festival Internacional da Canção) that same year, he opted for a hippie outfit, which went well with his hair, beard, and mustache.

Gilberto Gil e Caetano Veloso à época do Tropicalismo (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Wearing a floral print tunic and loads of bead necklaces, Gil performed Questão de Ordem with the Argentinian rock band Beat Boys. Caetano Veloso also took the stage, wearing a hippie chic look to sing "É Proibido Proibir" with Os Mutantes. 

Gilberto Gil durante o exílio em Londres (1971)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Once in exile, Gil continued wearing hippie outfits with bell-bottom pants, but he did not ditch formal clothes entirely. When the weather in London turned cold, Gil could be seen in turtlenecks and brightly colored or leather coats.

Gilberto Gil e Gal Costa em Paris durante o exílio do músico na época da ditadura militar (1971)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil no filme O Demiurgo, gravado durante seu exílio em Londres (1972)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil em show na década de 1970Instituto Gilberto Gil


In 1972, on his return to Brazil, Gilberto Gil was filmed for a TV Globo special. The footage shows him singing Back in Bahia, guitar in hand and wearing a laid-back rocker look with bell-bottom jeans and a tight-fitting, plain white shirt. Gil's look was becoming more relaxed. 

He would often appear wearing long, colorful shirts, like the one he wore for the concert that became his 1974 live album Gilberto Gil Ao Vivo; or sleeveless shirts, like in the photo on the cover of the double album Cidade do Salvador, which was planned for 1973 but not released until 1999.

Gilberto Gil em ensaio para o álbum Refazenda (1975)Instituto Gilberto Gil

A Laid-Back, African Look

Continuing this easygoing mood on stage and in promotional photos, Gil wore a kimono for the cover of his 1975 Refazenda album, which fitted well with his macrobiotic lifestyle. The photo shows him eating something from a bowl with chopsticks.

Gilberto Gil durante o período do álbum Refazenda (1975)Instituto Gilberto Gil

On stage, he would often appear shirtless;

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê Refazenda (1975)Instituto Gilberto Gil

 or even wearing a tight shirt, as was the fashion at the time. 

Gilberto Gil e Caetano Veloso em show da turnê Doces Bárbaros (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil

At the time of the 1976 Doces Bárbaros tour with Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso, and Maria Bethânia, he took to wearing a long white leotard.

Gilberto Gil em apresentação à época do álbum Refavela (1977)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In his "Re" phase, spanning albums including Refavela (1977) and Realce (1979), Gil had a fairly relaxed look and a keen interest in African fashion, which he had acquired on a trip to Nigeria.

Gilberto Gil em show à época do álbum Realce (1979)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil em fotos de divulgação do álbum Realce (1979)Instituto Gilberto Gil

At the time of his 1977 album, he tended to wear long clothing with colorful African prints, and African caps. Promotional photos for Realce showed Gil with a laid-back, African style, in long cotton shirts. 

In the music video for Não Chore Mais, he wore a white lace shirt with white pants.

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê Luar, 1981, From the collection of: Instituto Gilberto Gil
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Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethânia e Caetano Veloso em camarim na década de 1980 (1981)Instituto Gilberto Gil


White was always one of Gilberto Gil's favorite colors and, incidentally, one of the colors of Ogum, his Candomblé orixá or deity.

Gilberto Gil em entrevista durante a turnê do álbum Luar (1981)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gil defined white as the color that "brings all the colors of the rainbow together into one that promotes peace, because unity brings peace and harmony." In the music video for A Gente Precisa Ver o Luar (shown on the Brazilian TV newsmagazine Fantástico in 1981), the singer wore an all-white jacket, shirt, and pants. 

Gilberto Gil durante gravação do filme Corações a Mil (1981)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Other videos of Gil at this time, which can now be found on YouTube, show the singer mixing colors but always including at least one item that was white. For an appearance on TV Globo's Geração 80, Gil sang Palco dressed in a white jacket, black shirt, and printed pants.

Gilberto Gil e a backing vocal Neila Carneiro em show da turnê Um Banda Um no Parque do Ibirapuera (1982)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Prints would make a reappearance at other moments in Gil's career, like around the time of his 1982 album Um Banda Um.

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê Um Banda Um no Parque do Ibirapuera (1982)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Or for his Extra album in 1983, when he wore animal prints. Also in 1982, he was photographed wearing a very see-through outfit at the As Aventuras da Blitz album launch party.

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê Um Banda Um (1982)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Prints also started to feature in his stage wardrobe

Gilberto Gil e Nara Gil em show da turnê Um Banda Um (1982)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil em viagem à França na turnê do álbum Um Banda Um (1982)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil e Nara Gil em show da turnê do álbum Extra (1983)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê do álbum Extra (1983)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The artist on the Extra album tour with an animal print outfit.

Gilberto Gil e Amin Khader nos bastidores do Rock In Rio na década de 1980 (Janeiro de 1985)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Rock in Rio and Beyond

During one of the more pop phases of his career, Gilberto Gil appeared on stage at the first Rock in Rio festival, in 1985, wearing a look that included a colorful jacket and several necklaces. 

Gilberto Gil durante seu show na primeira edição do Rock in Rio (1985-01)Instituto Gilberto Gil

"I performed in full make-up, with my hair in a quiff. That was the time when we were doing our version of glitter rock, with a pop-rock style that was all about the look...

Gilberto Gil em apresentação no Rock in Rio (1985-01)Instituto Gilberto Gil

 I did dabble with those things, but I never got caught up in the fads of the time," Gil recalled in an interview published with the CD version of his Raça Humana album that was released as part of the Palco box set, in 2000. 

Gilberto Gil em ensaio para o álbum Dia Dorim Noite Neon (1985)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Soon after the festival, Gil adopted a more restrained look, wearing a white buttoned shirt on the cover of his 1985 album Dia Dorim Noite Neon. He started alternating between more formal clothes and laid-back outfits. 

Gilberto Gil no 11° Prêmio Sharp da Música Brasileira (1998-05)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In 1993, both Gil and Caetano Veloso showed up at the Sharp Awards (Prêmio Sharp) ceremony wearing Pakistani sarongs.

O então ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil na cerimônia de posse da equipe do seu Ministério (2003-01-15)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gil the Politician

When Gilberto Gil became culture minister in Lula's government in 2003, he began to opt for more formal clothes, including suit jackets, which he would wear on stage, as well as for government meetings.

Gilberto Gil na turnê do álbum Quanta, em Nova IorqueInstituto Gilberto Gil

A short while before that, he had already started wearing more serious outfits, like the long-sleeved shirt he wore at some of the concerts on his 1995 Quanta album tour. At that time, his laid-back look was limited to the leather sandals on his feet. 

Gilberto Gil e banda durante show da turnê Banda Larga Cordel (2008-10-31)Instituto Gilberto Gil

 He stepped down from his ministerial post in 2008, but continued to wear suit jackets on stage, as he did on his Banda Larga Cordel album tour that same year. Since the 2000s, Gil has generally been seen wearing more formal clothes, often favoring the color white.

Gilberto Gil em ensaio fotográfico para a série Retratos de Torquatto (Agosto de 2009)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil em ensaio fotográfico para a série Retratos de Torquatto (Agosto de 2009)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Credits: Story

Exhibit credits

Text and research: Ricardo Schott
Assembly: Chris Fuscaldo
Copyediting: Isabela Marinho e Laura Zandonadi

General credits

Editing and curating: Chris Fuscaldo / Garota FM
Musical content research: Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo, and Ricardo Schott
MinC content research: Carla Peixoto, Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo, and Laura Zandonadi
Photo subtitles: Anna Durão, Carla Peixoto, Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo, Daniel Malafaia, Gilberto Porcidonio, Kamille Viola, Laura Zandonadi, Lucas Vieira, Luciana Azevedo, Patrícia Sá Rêgo, Pedro Felitte, Ricardo Schott, Roni Filgueiras, and Tito Guedes
Data editing: Isabela Marinho
Acknowledgments: Gege Produções, Gilberto Gil, Flora Gil, Gilda Mattoso, Fafá Giordano, Maria Gil, Meny Lopes, Nelci Frangipani, Cristina Doria, Daniella Bartolini, and all photographers and characters in the stories
All media: Instituto Gilberto Gil

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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