The most recent conglomerate of new rappers is a different breed than the OG hip-hoppers who went before.
Naturally, the entire world is changed by social media and exposure; everyone is able to carefully cultivate and curate their own image, to project a concept that they hope others will consume. But these rappers, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Nas X, Jaden Smith, are completely unafraid of pushing the societal boundaries and for many this manifests in dressing in a clothing style that is traditionally considered feminine.
Many rappers have been photographed and filmed wearing ‘women’s’ clothing; a behavior that was far less likely to have happened in the mainstream 20 years ago. But what does ‘women’s’ clothes mean? Doesn’t labeling a garment like that give it too much bizarrely gendered power?
Young Thug’s feature in a dress – a 00s style pinstriped shift – for Calvin Klein’s 2016 campaign, is captioned “I disobey in my Calvins” but who cares? How is wearing women’s clothing disobeying, it doesn’t really matter, does it? The hip hop world is clearly beginning to see ahead of much of the rest of the mainstream that clothes are just that: clothes. They don’t have to mean anything beyond simply existing: it is us who project meaning onto them.
Young Thug, who’s Jeffrey mixtape cover features the rapper in a frilled dress reminiscent of a kind of gothic-Austen look and a pleated parasol esque bonnet, told GQ that the majority of clothes he owns are women’s clothes because they fit better. He’s worn mostly women’s clothes since he was 12 and his androgenous approach is a refreshing reminder that gender is a social construct saying “in my world, you can be a gangsta with a dress or you can be a gangsta with baggy pants”.
Lil B echoes this attitude, stating that “It’s just about being yourself and embracing what connects to you. Also, embracing what connects to you and appreciating you. I think life is constantly growing and so many new things. Every day is new’ wearing a dress, feminine jewelry or accessories is just another means for self expression. He also said “it’s about moving the culture forward, letting the next generation know they can do this.”
There is also the slightly less divisive, comparably more conservative choice of wearing a hip-hop kilt as demonstrated by Kanye West, P Diddy and A$AP Rocky. If you have even the most basic knowledge of what a kilt is then you’ll know that it’s not a traditionally feminine garment anyway but nonetheless, in America in the black community which is generally not rich in Scotch heritage, a kilt is a brave and bold choice.
J. W. Anderson, who has a long term fan in A$AP Rocky, put out a menswear collection featuring dresses in fall 2013, not long after A$AP’s Fashion Killa came out. The same year, Jaden Smith was featured wearing a skirt in Louis Vuitton’s women’s campaign. These campaigns and acceptances are powerful symbols of the validity of dressing for pure self-expression.
All the way back in the good old days (2000) Andre 3000 wore a dress for the single cover image, so this isn’t a brand new phenomenon, but it is certainly one that has gained momentum in more recent years. Any backlash suffered by rappers, or anyone, who chooses to dress beyond the bounds of the gendered norms that society has constructed, is patently anti-self expression and phobic to some degree.
What is especially exciting about the trap and hip hop worlds embracing a sense of fluidity is that rappers have been seen for so long as symbols of hyper-masculinity and unerring rule abiders when it comes to machismo. But when rappers, these signifiers of ultimate ‘manliness’ feel confident bending the supposed rules of what is or isn’t acceptable to wear, it creates an environment where self-expression is more easily achievable for everyone.