When Cyndi Lauper first became an MTV sensation with the release of her debut album She’s So Unusual, she also became an overnight, alternative style icon.

“I did things differently,” she tells PEOPLE with a laugh.

Known for her fire-engine red hair color, layered vintage looks and bangles and beads — lots of bangles and beads — she says she just always dressed that way, even as a teen. Later, in her early 20s, she worked at the famous New York vintage shop Screaming Mimis, where she picked up a lot of her looks.

“A lot of people thought I messed up fashion a bit, but you’ve got to mix it up,” she says. “You can’t always be conservative—especially if you’re an artist.” She adds, “That’s the story of my life. I always wanted to combine music and art.”

However, there was a time after her son Declyn, now 22, was born when she tried to tone down her usual flamboyant aesthetic to look a little more like the other school moms.

“There was a long period when I just stopped,” she says. “Somebody told me, ‘Why don’t you just wear jeans and a t-shirt?’ And so in 2005, I just gave up and started doing that.”

To read more about Cyndi Lauper and her Life in Pictures, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. 

She didn’t love how being dressed down made her feel.

“I felt like I wasn’t really comfortable in my own skin,” she says of her pared-down look. “Then I did this thing with Lady Gaga, and she woke me up a little. What was great about working with her was I didn’t have to worry about looking like a freak. I am a bit of a freak!”

She went back to what she was used to. “I thought, no one is going to be looking at me. I can put colors in my hair. I’m just more comfortable like that.”

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The longtime LGBTQ activist, who also wrote the music for the hit Broadway show Kinky Boots, is still recording and singing, and recently released the song “Hope,” which she wrote for the psoriasis community—a disorder she has battled with for much of her adult life, but has finally gotten under control. (“I haven’t had a flare-up in four and a half years,” she says.)

One of her current missions is to educate others on the auto-immune disorder.

“It’s a very ugly disease,” she says. “And very painful. But it’s not contagious. It’s just dreadful for the person who has it, and it’s awful to see how people suffer with it. But it’s 2020, and there are options. You have to find a specialist. But nobody ever talks about this stuff. I felt better when I realized there were other people like me,” she says.

Lauper recently launched the PSO at Work campaign (psoatwork.org) through her partnership with Novartis, which encourages psoriasis sufferers to share stories of how they get through their workday while dealing with the disorder, so they know they’re not alone and feel better about speaking up about their suffering and getting the help they need.

“I know there are eight million people out there like me,” she says. “I’m not alone. And if you have psoriasis, you’re not alone. But you need to find information. Talking to other patients made me feel better. You need other people to talk to. And you don’t need to suffer. There are options!’

Source: People.com (https://people.com/music/cyndi-lauper-wore-jeans-fit-in-with-other-moms-lady-gaga-changed-her-mind/)