There Was A Method To The Madness In David Bowie's Labyrinth Costume

"Dance magic, dance!" "Labyrinth" released in 1986, and while hardly a hit critically or commercially at the time, the Jim Henson film has become widely beloved in the years since. The movie follows Sarah (the fantastic Jennifer Connelly), a teenager desperate to rescue her baby brother from Jareth, the Goblin King (played to perfection by David Bowie). Although Trevor Jones composed the score, Bowie wrote several songs for the film, which are permanently etched into my heart. A sequel is in the works, and whoever takes on the role of the Goblin King (or Queen) has some pretty tremendous boots to fill.

Bowie was one of my earliest childhood crushes. I would go onto become a rabid fan, beginning in my early teens, devouring everything from "Hunky Dory" to "Aladdin Sane," "Low," and so many others. But it was his turn in "Labyrinth" that first introduced me to the legendary performer as a child. I was completely obsessed with the film, watching it over and over, but one aspect of Jareth, um, definitely stuck out to me, particularly as I got older. Anyone who's seen "Labyrinth" has also witnessed Bowie's wildly impressive and somewhat intimidating codpiece, and you might be surprised to learn why it was so ... large.

Listen, you'll never hear me complain about Bowie's pants being too tight, but the bulge was pretty impossible to miss — which was actually kind of the point. Jareth was clearly dangerous, but he's also undeniably sexy, and there's a certain time during adolescence when few things are more frightening than sexuality. It turns out none of this was lost on Brian Froud, who was responsible for the film's conceptual designs. In fact, he was banking on it.

Pants magic, pants!

According to Empire, in David Bowie's mind, the Goblin King was a romantic at best, but at worst, "a spoilt child, vain and temperamental — kind of like a rock star!" — also kind of like Sarah herself. Brian Froud explained to the outlet that Sarah is on the verge of a sexual awakening, and because she crushes on rock stars, of course, she created this character in the image of one. Froud discussed the motivations behind Jareth's costume, saying:

"We're not looking at reality, we're inside this girl's head. There are references to all sorts of things in his costume. There's the danger of a leather boy in his leather jacket, which also has a reference to the armor of a certain type of German knight in it; there are references to Heathcliff from 'Wuthering Heights'; and the tight trousers are a reference to ballet dancers. He's an amalgam of the inner fantasies of this girl. Everyone always talks about Bowie's perv pants, but there was a reason for it all! It has a surface that's fairly light, but then every so often you go, 'Oh, my God! How did we get away with that?!'"

But they didn't totally get away with it. Apparently, the studio struggled with the size of Jareth's package, which is why it's at its largest in the first scene that was shot (when Sarah and Hoggle are confronted by the Goblin King in the tunnel). Jim Henson's son Brian (who also worked on the film) said after the studio saw the footage, "The calls came back very quickly, 'you're absolutely nuts if you think David Bowie's going to keep wearing that thing.'" His father was not a fan of reshoots, so after that, Henson recalled, the codpiece just grew smaller and smaller.

The stuff of dreams ... and nightmares

Brian Froud has said they did get into some trouble for David Bowie's tight pants, but the choice was "deliberate." However, there was more to the costume than that, with the artist adding in subtle details as well, making Jareth something of a pop star Sarah had dreamed into existence. Froud also referred to the Goblin King as "a romantic hero," and spoke about the scepter, which he called a "swagger stick," explaining that it's basically Jareth's microphone. As for the famous codpiece, Jim Henson was a fan. Brian Henson said:

"You should have seen Brian [Froud]'s drawings ... that codpiece just got bigger and bigger. And my dad was like, 'This is great! It's terrifying to a teenage girl!' He was like, 'This is great, this is what the movie's about. She's 15 and she wants to be treated like an adult, but whoa, that thing's scary!'"

Ultimately, Froud's costume designs only accentuated Bowie's ethereal presence in "Labyrinth," and Sarah isn't the only one whose sexual awakening is forever tied to Jareth. There is plenty of sexual subtext throughout the film, not to mention Sarah and Jareth's strange and somewhat disturbingly charged dynamic. Honestly though, all the weirdness is part of what makes "Labyrinth" so wonderful. Another detail worth noting is Sarah's inspiration for the Goblin King's look is actually her mom's boyfriend. Sarah has a photo of her mother standing next to her new beau, who also happens to be played by Bowie.

Bowie was a singular talent with no equal, and his performance in the film is just another aspect of his incredible career to celebrate. What is growing up if not scary and uncomfortable? If only it was also magical. At least "Labyrinth" makes it a little more so.