Hypebeast culture may inadvertently be breaking gender constrictions…
You might not immediately associate teenage boys in £200 trainers, queuing round the block to get a chance at copping the latest Supreme drop with dad’s credit card with the topic of gender politics. However, with streetwear having gone from a niche, tribal community to a billion-dollar industry, it’s clear that men (and particularly young men) are taking an interest in fashion which goes beyond “Is this t-shirt tight enough around my biceps?” And it’s not just die-hard disciples of hyped streetwear that are feeling its relevancy either. Whether it’s the fact that many young people I know, myself included, own multiple pairs of trainers despite never going to the gym, or that — if you have an Instagram account — streetwear-related content is nearly impossible to miss, be they memes or genuine “fit pics”. Streetwear has a grip on pop culture, and with its rise comes perhaps a little bit of liberation.
What do I mean? Well, in the words of Bobby Kim, owner of Los Angeles streetwear label, The Hundreds, “Streetwear was an easy way for guys who were interested in clothes to get into it and also not be seen — in a homophobic sense — as being gay or trying to be like a girl.” It makes sense that streetwear would be the vehicle through which more men embrace clothes, since it had its humble beginnings in the 80s and 90s far from fashion week. Its gritty past puts a lot of space in between it and the rest of the fashion industry. Due to its ties with male-dominated countercultures like skate, surf, hip-hop, street, and graffiti, as well as the air of rebellion in openly looking like a disrespectful youth, streetwear could be a safe way in which a man could explore his style whilst also saying “no homo.”
I’m not saying young men in Palace and Supreme is an outright form of protest against the expectations of masculinity, but there is something to be said about the space it gives for straight men to express themselves through fashion without worrying about any unwelcome assumptions about their sexuality. Of course, it’s a problem that any such labels would be assigned to someone based solely on their dress (and it’s a problem that this label would even be a problem, but I digress), but in our societal context, this is what we’re dealing with. It seems hypebeast culture is not the hero we deserved, but the hero we needed.
Although I always love a bit of cultural analysis, I did also want to check whether my male peers would echo my sentiment. When asked if they agreed with Bobby Kim’s statement, some interesting points were brought up (and I breathed a sigh of relief, learning that I wouldn’t have to scrap the concept for this article). Namely, the fact that the streetwear industry is dominated by and marketed to men, separating it from the fashion industry at large (traditionally steered by gay men and marketed primarily to women). Or, the fact that within the realms of hype culture, men can be just as ostentatious with their clothes but are immune to the feminine connotations of high fashion due to the “edge” factor of streetwear. Plus, there’s the intrinsic link between famous rappers and streetwear, which could legitimise the movement in the eyes of some. Having prominent figures in pop culture expressing themselves freely through fashion and being applauded for it makes it accessible to those men who want to have fun with style but were previously apprehensive of the opinions of others. With the rise of male style icons who push boundaries yet maintain mainstream, masculine respect, doors are opened for all the “normies” who don’t have the cultural clout to protect their risky fashion choices.
For instance, lover of streetwear and luxury fashion, rapper Lil Uzi Vert is unphased by the traditional constrictions of the industry. In 2018, he was asked by a reporter about his decision to wear women’s clothing, responding: “I bought everything in the men’s section. There’s nothing else to buy, I bought everything, literally.” Portraying the wearing of women’s attire as a “flex” (a sign of affluence) rather than something unnatural or disgusting is a valuable step. It helps to break down the taboo of cross-dressing that has been associated with men who may venture outside the accepted apparel norms. Note that, fashion-wise, women are not limited to the same constraints because for us it is obvious that the choice to wear a dress vs. a pair of trousers from the men’s section does not say anything about our sexuality. They’re just clothes.
Tyler, the Creator, too, is making welcome waves in the pool of traditional masculinity. He has long been a favourite amongst skaters, since he established his own clothing label, Golf Wang, in 2011. But in 2017, he showcased a softer side to his persona (lest we forget, his past lyrics infamously include “I just want to drag your lifeless body to the forest and fornicate with it.”) with his album Flower Boy, which inspired an aesthetic embraced by boys the internet over. The album was accompanied by Tyler’s collaboration with Converse, giving the world colourful, flower-adorned trainers. Amongst the colourways are pastel shades of blue and pink; purple and green; orange and “candy pink”. Granted, men wearing rosy shades is hardly revolution, but it’s a start. “I Ain’t Got Time!”, a song from the album in question, includes the lyrics “I been kissing white boys since 2004.” Whether or not this is Tyler’s way of coming out, there is value in this normalisation of gayness by a celebrity with a large heterosexual, male audience. It’s certainly a welcome alternative to Migos’ “I cannot vibe with queers.”
Another marker in the swell of the streetwear tide is the popularity of PAQ, an online series featuring four friends and entertaining fashion content. Dazed dubbed the show “Top Gear for hypebeasts,” and with almost 650,000 subscribers on YouTube, it’s clear to see that male-centric fashion content is being well received. PAQ members, aspiring musician Dexter Black, skater Danny Lomas, art student Shaquille Keith, and model Elias Riadi are passionate about subverting the traditional constrictions surrounding the way that men dress. In an interview with GQ, they mentioned that topics close to their heart include gender neutrality and challenging machismo stigma with regards to fashion. Elias explains the liberating effect of the series: “You can connect with one of us and be like ‘oh actually you’re really confident wearing nail polish, you’re really confident being the most flamboyant guy, you’re giving me the confidence to just be myself.’”
However, despite the wins in chipping away at gender constrictions, I should be careful in assigning too strong a progressive label to this movement. Hypebeast culture is by no means a liberal utopia. Rather, it seems that some of its followers would resent the “social justice warrior” narrative I am spinning. An article on the aptly named Hypebeast.com, titled, “To Survive, Streetwear Must Abandon Sexism,” has accumulated an abundance of hate comments. “Fuck this SJW bullshit.” “This article reeks of shit.” More troubling than the pushback against PC culture, though, was a comment I stumbled upon referring to Kim K, Cardi B, and Amber Rose as “cum receptacles”. It seems wherever you have a congregation of young, “edgy”, straight boys on the internet, misogyny is never too far away. There’s also the subject of Ian Connor, model and stylist, who has worked with Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Wiz Khalifa, Virgil Abloh, and Kylie Jenner. The unsettling thing is that he has maintained this it-boy status despite being accused of rape by six women. With #MeToo still fresh in public memory, bringing attention to allegations of sexual misconduct regarding established, renowned fashion photographers like Mario Testino, it is eerie that Connor’s career hasn’t taken a hit.
The dark corners of the streetwear industry don’t invalidate the culture as a whole, though it is still a conversation that must be had. Yes, the movement is flawed and has a sleazy underside, but credit should not be taken away from those who are making it more acceptable for other men to express themselves through fashion. Perhaps it’s natural that in such a male-dominated sphere there would be instances of — dare I say it — toxic masculinity, but it fosters some hope seeing those who are using the environment, which was born as the antithesis to fashion, to push style boundaries.
Anastasia Vartanian is a writer currently based in the United Kingdom.