Who You Callin' ‘Grown & Sexy’?

How this marketing term for the young, black and upwardly mobile has been become shorthand for vapid, bourgie materialism.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

About 15 minutes after stepping into the place, I wanted to go back home and go to bed. A few friends and I decided to check out this “special night” hosted at a popular Washington, D.C. nightclub. The party, according to the radio spot, was for the “grown and sexy.” I didn’t know what the phrase meant exactly, but it sounded alluring.

Decently paid professionals, my friends and I were certainly grown—we made our own money, lived alone, paid our own bills, etc.—and relatively sexy. (We had attitude and made sure we looked damn good every time we left the crib.)

But the “grown and sexy” night was a bust. It was like walking into an overgrown fifth-grade dance: Women in low-cut clothes and ultra high heels congregated on one side of the bar, while guys in flashy, pointed-toe loafers and French-cuffed shirts stood around on the other. The DJ was predictable; the mingling was tentative, to say the least. Folks stood around watching each other, sipping on overpriced cocktails and posing for cameras that weren’t there.

That was a few years ago, and since then, I’ve heard the phrase used dozens of times to promote parties, clothes, blogs and even incense. Given the ubiquity of the phrase in urban circles in recent years, “grown and sexy” has been rendered meaningless. But the term never had a clear definition to begin with. Urban Dictionary offers a “formal” one: “… used to describe people who [have] reached a point in their lives where playing games and immaturity is behind them, and they have grown up and are ready to take on bigger and better things.”

But this has nothing to do with sex appeal. Often, the term has been attached to things or events of little significance, such as a party in a cramped club or a sleep-inducing CD by a ’90s superstar. (Yeah, Babyface, I’m talking about you.)