Express Who You Are Through What You Wear

TW: Use of the word f*g. I don’t condone this usage at all.

One of my favorite fashion events of the year is the Met Gala. My dad worked in the fashion industry for most of my childhood, so it plays quite a role in my individuality. One aspect that I love about the progression of fashion is the blurring of lines between masculine and feminine attire that is becoming so common. In a world where women were expected to wear dresses every day, we now see them rocking powerful pantsuits to proms and weddings. We see men adorning gorgeous skirts without having to label them as kilts for them to be deemed societally acceptable. While the blending of gender identities has always been a part of underground and rebellious counter-culture, it’s been quietly making its way into mainstream fashion. Now, there’s no doubt that Hip-Hop has a meaningful impact on the latest trends. Whether rappers are wearing certain shoes or types of jeans dictates what the masses will wear. I even remember in grade school when the boys would all dye their hair like Wiz Khalifa. So, it comes as no surprise that the Met Gala’s musical attendees were made up largely of famous rappers and Hip-Hop moguls, some of whom are known for their risk-taking when it comes to clothing. Artists like Kid Cudi walked the red carpet in make-up and a dress, receiving mixed feedback. While newer generations encouraged it, I saw a lot of older generations of Hip-Hop lovers on my Facebook make remarks like, this is what’s wrong with these new kids. People seem to think there’s something innately wrong with a man wearing a dress as if they have a neurological disorder. One of the many issues with that thought process is that oftentimes, seeing a person dressed in a garment that’s usually associated with the gender opposite of what they classify themselves as is thought of as gay. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. There is no correlation. And even if there was, that doesn’t make it morally wrong in any way. Fashion is a freedom of expression, an art form, and should be thought of as such. Without risk-taking, fashion can’t evolve. That’s why, in a culture as influential as Hip-Hop, we need to encourage rappers to take these explorative routes rather than restricting fashion and particular garments as masculine or feminine or gay. We need to see these beautiful patterns and textiles as inanimate objects that can be brought to life through art and expression. 

Let me tell you, as a young, single woman in her 20’s, there’s nothing sexier than a well-dressed man who loves fashion. Why is fashion often deemed feminine when we all have to wear clothing? Everyone should want to present themselves well, so the idea that basic maintenance like grooming, skincare, and clothing is thought to make a person less masculine makes no sense to me. A$AP Rocky’s infamous line in A$AP Ferg’s “Work (Remix)” is a perfect example. Rocky is known for his bold fashion statements and couture looks, as exemplified by the Met Gala. How do you think he scored Rihanna? She’s not gonna go for a bum with no fashion sense! So when he raps, “you want that pretty Flacko? Ratchets, designer jackets. The same n* who jack it, be the first who claim we faggots,” he’s not exactly exaggerating. People don’t like things that they don’t understand, and that extends to fashion. Even if I see someone with an obscure outfit, I try to remind myself that fashion is subjective, and just because I may not like it doesn’t mean everyone shouldn’t. So in this situation, Rocky’s sexuality, especially before he gained notoriety in the fashion world, was questioned because of the things that he chose to wore. Once it received some validation, everyone wanted to dress like him.

Similarly, Young Thug’s forward-thinking fashion sense has made him quite the target, which he addresses in his track, “Serious.” He explains that he “[dresses] like a prince, not a fag, modyfucka,” showing that others are simply unable to grasp the regality of his style. Young Thug is probably the most synonymous rapper with gender-bending fashion because he incorporates dresses into his wardrobe, and I think because of that, this line can be interpreted in a few ways. Obviously, one can take it for what it is; one person may think his outfit is ‘gay’ when in reality, he sees it as eclectic and royal. But, it also exposes the ignorance that goes into a comment like suggesting an outfit is homosexual. It demonstrates how his sophistication and grace put him above those who cannot understand his stylistic choices. It can also be understood on an international level. Other places such as African countries, which Thug could be alluding to in the previous line when he raps, “green and red mothafuckin’ flag,” include dresses in their cultural clothing. Even in my culture, men wear more detailed outfits with pieces that can be styled like skirts. This insinuates that while it may be beyond one person’s small scope, he’s thought of as dressing like a prince overseas. Unfortunately, his criticism has even been included in other rappers’ songs such as Nicki Minaj’s “Barbie Dreams.” To take down the men in the game, she throws Young Thug under the bus by rapping, “used to fuck with Young Thug, I ain’t addressin’ this shit. Caught him in my dressing room stealin’ dresses and shit.” Now this line bothers me for several reasons. Is she not fucking with him because he’s stealing or because he’s wearing dresses? I feel like women would be more open to embracing men who are criticized for being feminine, and in this context, the whole line feels homophobic. Additionally, by claiming that she isn’t addressing that she’s made music with him, it sounds as though she’s embarrassed by the fact. And why is that? Why does him wearing a dress take away from his music? For an artist whose signature style used to be quite out there, I’m surprised she didn’t applaud the choices. I just expected better, especially from an artist who has a large audience of gay men who love to dress up for her shows.

It really is a shame when innovation, creativity, and individualism are attacked simply because people can’t understand it enough to give it its respect. Fashion takes courage, especially with reactions like these. Many extremely well-known fashion designers are male and identify as gay, straight, bi, pan, and everything in between. Imagine if a certain profession was deemed gay. While there are connotations for some jobs, those stem from outdated stereotypes. So then, why should the products that these designers create be any different? I love wearing my dad and my brother’s shirts, and yet that’s normalized. If they asked to borrow something of mine, why should that be taken as strange? GASHI summed it up in his track, “Run,” when he rapped, “dress like a faggot, whatever weird you attack it.” It could be a loud pattern or a bright color, and people will claim that it’s gay or unmasculine. It’s a piece of fabric. Childish Gambino has rapped quite a bit about this particular form of criticism in his song, “You See Me.” He raps, “I watch these haters take they shots like they were alcoholics, ‘what is he wearing? Somebody jack that fool’s steeze.’ If I’m a faggot, spell it right, I got way more than two G’s.” People criticize these outfits as if we could ever afford them. Imagine a high-profile designer specifically wants you to wear their clothing. Most of us that are talking shit would never pass up the opportunity. These designers request the artists that they know would appreciate their pieces because they know that they have an eye for fashion, and that’s a huge compliment. But having that eye shouldn’t define things like your sexual orientation or gender identity.

Similarly, cross-dressing and drag don’t define your gender nor your sexuality, and yet people think that they always do. Furthermore, people seem to think that there is something morally wrong with a man wearing make-up or women’s clothing. Like, punched an old person wrong. People think it’s the end of the damn world. In A Tribe Called Quest’s homophobic “Georgie Porgie,” the group outlines the story of a man who may do things slightly differently than what they’re used to. In fact, the song is so repulsive and disrespectful that their label wouldn’t even allow them to release it. They criticize George for “[fooling] around with his mom’s lingerie,” claiming that he “even wore a dress and on his face he had swine. He cipher monkey cipher, you fucking faggot. Couldn’t wait for gay parade so you can drag it.” As much as I love Tribe, this whole song is essentially gay-bashing this man, using stereotypical behavior of homosexual men to show how George used to be a heavy-hitting drug dealer and then “spiraled” into a gay man. The line, “he cipher monkey cipher,” spells out the word homo using the Special Alphabet, but uses the word monkey instead of master to especially criticize his character simply because of his preferences. But once again, associating cross-dressing with preference and identity reduces the notion of artistic expression and instead makes it sexual, much like fashion as a whole. It also insinuates that he’s doing something weird and absurd, when once again, it’s a piece of clothing. Wasn’t he doing worse things when he was robbing and hurting people? But no, apparently applying make-up and liking men was the worst thing he could do with his life.  

I think that the criticism is also representative of the tension between old-school and new-school, although we’re starting to see that dissolve as older rappers are complimenting artists like Lil Nas X. With that being said, it isn’t all of them. For a while, fashion-forward rappers were criticized by older rappers for changing the image of Hip-Hop with their style, bringing in tighter fitted clothing and brighter patterns and prints. It took away from the street credibility. Snoop Dogg exemplified just how much it pissed him and the rest of Hip-Hop’s greats off on the track, “Pay Ya Dues.” He starts off his verse by rapping, “I knew a brother who used to dress just like a faggot, real tight jeans, some boots, and leather jackets/when he walked, he switched like a woman, rode a pink bike, man, the sucker was soft.” I’m glad that we’ve steered clear of the idea that someone can “dress like a faggot,” because obviously that’s ridiculously rude, but it also pushes men to restrict themselves in terms of expression. However, Snoop changes tones when he says, “just the other day, I turned my radio on. The Mack Attack kicked on a brand new song. I didn’t know what it was, I never heard it before. But the record was smooth and hardcore. I said to myself, ‘hey yo, I gotta see this group.’/Took a look at the stage, and yo, whaddya know? The same old faggot from a long time ago.” This very line demonstrates that you can’t judge a person by their appearance and that you can’t determine a person’s worth by their fashion choice. I will never understand the outrage about these situations when we have cultural icons like Boy George, David Bowie, or Prince, who defied gender norms and created some of the most timeless, innovative music. It just showed that their talent and minds were beyond comprehension, and because of that, people criticized them. But to say the way that artists are dressing now is a new phenomenon just shows a lack of cultural insight; this has been done for years. By describing the music as hardcore, Snoop also contradicts himself by proving that the way you dress isn’t what makes you a man. This guy wore tight leather and had a bright pink bike, but still could make hardcore music. That’s because the two attributes have nothing to do with one another. The verse takes on another transition as Snoop starts to vent with frustration that “yesterday he was a momma’s boy, now he’s rappin? Foolin’ the crowd because he got you all clappin’ and tappin’, an example of what I’m tryin’ to prove, a sucker like this who ain’t never paid dues.” But, he’s clearly got you fooled, too, since you came out to the show? His style clearly had no impact on his music if he could achieve radio play and pack out concert venues, so what dues does he have to prove? He convinced fucking Snoop Dogg to come to a show with one song. I think he’s proved enough.

Other rappers have continued to express their dismay with the direction of the culture. Killer Mike didn’t hold back in Bun B’s track, “Some Hoes,” when he rapped, “point 1, rappers act gay and dress like it too.” Cassidy seemed to target Soundcloud rappers in his song, “Catch A Body.” He rhymed, “you said I wear purple Dickies, with a durag and a 5X tee. But you dress like a true fag, tight ass shirts, squeezing your man breasts. Tight ass pants, looking like Spandex. You better stop it, or you get popped like a Xanax.” He illustrates the contrast in older styles verse newer trends among younger generations like Soundcloud rappers, with the primary difference being fit. The frustration with that is the use of feminine associations, like breasts, ass, and spandex. As much as I adore the absurdly large fits from the 90s, I love a man in proper fitting clothing. You would think that’s not too much to ask for, but apparently, if you buy your clothes in your correct size, you’re a homosexual. Sorry fellas!

TW

However, apparently, dressing gay is something some rappers appear to aspire to do. While we’ve mostly analyzed dressing ‘gay’ as a negative trait, maybe it just means some of these artists have been jealous of some very well-dressed men? I’m not sure if this is the most credible source (but maybe it is because he really doesn’t give a fuck) but, Lil B shows that being called gay doesn’t offend him in any way in his track, “GQ Magazine.” He raps, “I dress like I’m gay, you feel me. And I might look like I’m gay, but I’m one of the hardest n***** in this mother fucker, you feel me.” I’m not going to lie, I don’t entirely feel you, but you rapping that you might look like you’re gay is a flex to me. Own that shit. Because in this context, I’m going to assume you mean it like you look good and stylish and icy. Fat Joe reiterates that dressing gay can be used as a measure of style in his song, “Preacher On A Sunday.” He exclaims, “all these so called killers try their best to dress gay, everybody beefing it’s the same old day.” Unfortunately, both of these songs once again treat ‘gay’ and masculine as mutually exclusive, but, in this particular line, I also see it as Fat Joe rapping about how these guys are just trying to look good. It’s not the worst use of the word. My favorite line, however, comes from Masta Ace in his song, “Enuff.” He raps, “I shopped Fifth Fab, but I still can’t find enough. Iceberg to swerve, don’t dress gay enough.” While gay still shouldn’t be used as an adjective unless meant as happy, this is the only line I’ve cited that hasn’t had to put down the idea of being gay to equate it to looking good. Instead, he recognizes that he’s not flashy or stylish enough. I appreciate him for humbly accepting that he is indeed not fabulous enough to be a gay man. I may be blowing this out of proportion, but that’s okay. Either way, that last example is how we need to treat the idea of dressing gay. You should be so lucky as to be told that you dress like a gay man.

In a world as terrifying, exhilarating, unpredictable, and joyous as ours, artistic expression is necessary to comprehend and demonstrate our thoughts and emotions that we otherwise may find difficult to show. It’s also a large contributor to the beauty around us, and fashion is just one method of art that excites our senses. If we put such constraints like gender and sexuality on something as personal as expressing yourself through your clothing, we’re adding to unhealthy stereotypes and restricting one’s ability to fully embrace who they are. To bully someone over what they wear fails to take into consideration their economic situations as well as their upbringing, but it also fails to acknowledge the influences that make someone who they are; things like their personality traits or their culture. It also makes it more difficult for those who do use fashion to express their gender or sexuality by making it unorthodox and treating it like it’s morally wrong. Rather than passing assumptions and bullying others, we should celebrate those who take such bold risks to keep life fresh and exciting while applauding their courage for being themselves wholeheartedly.

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3 Comments

  1. Great read, and I love how many examples you used to fully explain the spectrum of attitudes toward men’s style. It seems like society in general and also hip hop culture criticizes men more sharply for dressing androgynously or femininely, while women are less criticized for dressing androgynously or masculinely. It’s like a weird reverse double standard. I agree with you that clothes, fashion, haircut, makeup etc aren’t linked to a person’s sexual orientation!! Much appreciation for the icons who wear what they want unapologetically. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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