Why Does Masculinity Have a Dress Code?

Why Does Masculinity Have a Dress Code?

Romphims are not included.

Published May 22, 2017

If you've been on the internet lately, on this very site in fact, you know that a lot of people are in an uproar about the latest photos of rappers wearing “female clothing.” People. Are. Mad.

I tried to think about why, specifically, but I keep getting stuck. I am not sure if it’s because of who is wearing the clothing or if there are rules of gender-specific fashions being violated based on hyper-masculinity viewpoints. But I want to remind people that fashion is art and like any great art, it pushes the boundaries outside of norms. It's also a form of personal expression and last time I checked, that is one of the few American rights that we retain.

So, why then, are Uzi Vert and Young Thung specifically fighting the "gay" label. I am confused about how exactly “masculinity” defines sexuality. There are plenty of down-low brothers looking like they got their clothes in a supermarket sweep at Walmart.

While I can't speak on how society defines masculinity, I do see a problem with how our Black community is defining it.


As a straight Black man, I see that often the easiest way to discredit a Black, stylish, successful, intelligent, SINGLE man was to toss the word "gay" his way and see if it sticks. As a reminder, it's hard to tell if someone is gay unless you're in their bedroom and even then, some men that sleep with men do not identify as gay. And still, that is none of anyone's business, but for the purposes of this argument, I must emphasize that most people who mean to do harm use the word "gay" as an insult.

Last week, the idea of a man wearing a romper, *ahem* a romp him, sorry, disrupted the internet. Memes on memes about the idea bubbled up like mutating cells in a science lab. Yeah, it was funny as hell to imagine a man wearing something that is so flagrantly female, basic female at that. That is, until they starting saying, “That’s gay!”

What is funny, though, to someone who is a keen observer of fashion and a frequent shopper at that, is the fact that the male jumpsuit is actually not new. I know a lot of guys who thought of rocking the look for the summer but now won’t dare to rock it out of fear of being called gay. 

That often doesn't stop those with a supreme amount of confidence, cue "Coachella Cam" Newton in his matching shirt and pants. We all can't be blessed with his physique, bank account and legions of adoring female fans to subvert gay claims and help with "f**k it, Imma do me" confidence. 

WASHINGTON, DC - November 3rd, 2011 - Kanye West performs at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. as part of the Watch The Throne tour with Jay-Z.  (Photo by Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(Photo: Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

When we Black males do something that is seen as "different" it is immediately flagged as "gay," while for anyone who is not brown, they are allowed to do the same thing and are heralded as “creative," “iconic,” and “ARTISTS.”

To me, fashion is fashion. I asked some of my male friends how they feel about the backlash rappers are getting for stepping out of the box and one said, “Black people seem to have the most stipulations in our culture. We have a rich history with so much art and expression but anything too feminine for a man or different for a man/woman is looked down like, ‘wtf are you doing?’ It’s crazy.” 

I feel that we do continue to build unnecessary division within our culture at times when it comes to expression, in some aspects pushing the most creatives into our community out into the open arms of the white supremacists. Artists like Prince and Lenny Kravitz have been “gender-bending” fashion for years and I think they are the reason unisex clothing bubbled up to the mainstream. But it wasn't easy for them to stand out and to be the only ones. It never is. But tirelessly, over years, they stuck to their aesthetic and it worked because they did it so much. These men LOVE WOMEN and WOMEN LOVE THEM.

Years later, Kanye West had Givenchy design him a leather kilt. You might have a short memory because you're wearing Yeezys and have them in every color but people hated on him relentlessly and called it a skirt. Now, anything Kanye wears sells out within minutes. He's even rapped about having to keep the brands he wears a secret because he understands his influence. Again, he didn't give up. 

Jaden Smith and Pharrell Williams both appeared in women's campaigns for top designers, and were praised, mainly by the white community though. I asked another heterosexual man his thoughts, “I don’t like how Lil Uzi Vert wore the shirt, but I like the shirt. He’s a Marilyn Manson fan and always pushed the border with his different sense of style.”

Honestly people, heterosexual men have been experimenting with clothing for a while now and these men are not “metrosexual,” they just like the way they look. And by the same token, gay men have been wearing anything and everything since the beginning of time. With only 48 percent of Gen-Zers identifying as totally straight, it isn't surprising that you wouldn't be able to guess someone's sexuality from their clothes. It’s just fashion and personal style. The biggest problem is, what do we truly define to be “masculine”? As threatening as Black masculinity appears to be to many people, it is actually no surprise that someone would want to dress in a more feminine way. But I feel like we can only expect a negative outcome when we just continue to box our Black males into strict social constructs. 

"It's sad because fashion already makes straight guys very uncomfortable to step out the box without looking questionable. Hell, you can't even wear high-water pants without something being said." But talk is cheap. Let the internet mob say what they may, and Uzi is laughing because like Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Kanye before him, he just might be Mr. Steal Your Girl. 

Written by Maurice Marcel

(Photos from left: Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post via Getty Images, WENN)


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