Kanye West has been in the news for his taste in women, his political accusations, and his always ill timed tantrums. But the self proclaimed “Louis Vuitton Don” has also built a reputation for himself in the fashion industry as someone with that rare talent that can make what only appears to be an effortless transition from exclusive high fashion to (what some would consider) its antithesis, street wear. Recently, I saw Kanye West, along with Jay Z, in concert and Kanye made what may have been his boldest fashion decision yet. He wore a skirt.
Hip Hop has had a difficult time collaborating with the fashion world when it comes to what is considered main stream and mostly conservative. In a genre that is assumed to be mostly gritty and hardcore, there is actually a high volume of lyrics focusing on fashion—mostly high fashion and designer houses.
While I was of course enjoying the music, I found myself asking a series of questions that needed further explanation. I ended up having a bit of an interview with myself.
Is Kanye cool?
He just is. There is something easy about it. He is not trying. Or at least, he appears to not try.
What would happen if you could sense that he was trying?
It would not be genuine. I would assume that he was wearing his clothes for reactions, and not from any internal feelings of pleasure he gets from wearing what he chooses.
How do you think the audience interpreted his skirt?
He was at a hip hop concert in a skirt. I don’t think they understood what was happening—as if maybe, it was just a very long shirt.
What sort of politics are at play here?
In a genre that gets repeatedly lambasted for misogyny and homophobia, a man wearing a skirt is a direct violation of the perceived “rules.”
So, by breaking the rules is he going to be excluded from the group?
That is a possibility. He may get derided as not being a real man. But if we look back at “being cool” then clearly this sort of deviance falls into that category. He is wearing something and doesn’t care what the consequences are. And pulls it off.
As a celebrity, does he have any privilege that others wouldn’t be afforded?
Absolutely. I think the ability to not care or appear not to care is a result of already being in a position to do that. The unknown teenage Kanye fast that walks into his high school cafeteria with a skirt, will most likely be teased before admired.
What if everyone that goes to his concert starts wearing skirts to imitate Kanye?
Well, then it becomes trendy. But I don’t think that is synonymous with being cool. Being cool is almost an attitude, or even a happenstance. Being trendy seems more calculated.
Can you be trendy and cool?
Perhaps. If you’re trendy you want to be current. If you’re current, you care about what people think. If you care about what people think, you’re not cool. If you used trends perhaps in different ways or at a separate time from when they are trends, then maybe that is being cool.
What happens if you don’t care what anyone thinks, have a genuine desire to pleasure yourself through fashion, but do not have the resources to dress/look the way you want?
Well, then we are back to talking about privilege. I have to have access to retailers, or at the very least, fabrics and materials to make my clothes. And in the case of people that are considered cool and vintage, there is going to have to be a professional component to their style. I’m not sure that you can be cool and sloppy.
Do you then have to have money to be cool?
No. I don’t think it would hurt your case, though. Assuming you weren’t overtly trendy as well.
Earlier you mentioned how much hip hop has incorporated fashion into lyrics. How do they get away with being so overt? Wouldn’t that be uncool?
It’s a mystery really. Well, almost. By the definition of cool, this constant mentioning of designer labels, expensive shoes, or even makeup by male artists breaks two rules. Obviously, the first rule being broken is not mentioning, or not trying to show that you’re cool by constantly telling people that you are. The second rule that seems to be turned on its end is that all of this conversation is happening primarily between men for men. It’s a contradiction, or appears to be. If we deem shopping as feminine, then how male artists get away with it, is really quite interesting. It’s like a hidden loophole.
Why do you think the loophole exists and how does it survive?
Well, different cultures do different things with fashion. It sounds simple enough, but I think we forget it. trends are not laws of nature. So, what works here or in one particular group may not work in another. With that being said, I also think there are some sociological influences at work here. We always hear people joke about new money and old money.
Old money is supposed to be established and having had real wealth for a substantial amount of time, this group doesn’t have a need to be ostentatious with their money. So, they do possess things that are quite expensive, but those things are only identifiable to other very wealthy people. It’s code, but hidden.
New money is young and eager to show off their money. They are flashy.
Well what about those without money at all? Whether a historical or situational position, the person that is used to not having anything is in a very different position to express themselves through fashion.
So, I think what happens a lot of times is you have a group of people who are used to not being flashy, not by choice but by circumstance. And if I can’t have something, then at least I can talk about. If I am lucky, I can talk it about so much that I make other people talk about it, and somehow I receive payment for that and can now get the things I want.
So, even though this new group of overtly showy people clearly violates the rule of cool, because they are a part of group with people in the same position, the rule changes.