I was digging on Dayo’s joint yesterday, but we all know that the black hipster/dandy is nothing particularly new, right? They’ve been around a long time. While we can argue if it's “dandyism” in the strictest sense, Prince was kind of the king of 80’s-era dandys: straight men who embraced androgyny and other kinds of punk/funk fashion. (maybe he was a little close to a maccaroni, but you get the point). All the elf boots, parachute/leather pants, tummy shirts and jherri curls were all part and parcel of the movement. As noted sociologist Charlie Murphy once opined, women preferred men who looked like women in the 80’s – if you looked too masculine, you couldn’t get any play. Many of the OGs rocking Dickies today were sporting tights, lace gloves, hoop earrings and elf boots with asymmetric haircuts and even a hint of eye-liner back then. Back in those days, it wasn’t that unusual. Sexuality didn’t seem to enter into it. It was post-Stonewall, post-Disco, and everything was everything. No one asked, and no one cared.
Only cranks and white preps were (unintentionally) sagging their pants in the 80s. Despite the oft-repeated but completely wrong assertion that the style was born of jail culture, Kwame’ The Boy Genius was really the vanguard of (depending where you were in the country) the White Boy, the No-Butt or the Sag, as it was part of the whole prep look –501 jeans, Polo gear, tie—and general Cosbyfication of the hip-hop narrative.
(ASIDE: Before Mark Wahlberg, brothers weren't really sagging thier pants too tough, until he single-handely made it the preferred way to show off designer underwear. There's a chicken-and-eggness to all the saggin pants controversy that should/will be saved for another post)
So, before Kanye, there was Kwame. Just like Kanye, Kwame's style vacillated between the two extremes –prep and urban dandy—until the inevitable push-back came stomping in from the West Coast. Suddenly, young black men wanted to look like black men by owning that identity in a public, demonstrable, menacing way. Styles changed, the Sag morphed into the Droop, prep became ‘gangsta,’ and the world kept spinning. And here we are, back, full circle.
The urban dandy movement seems to have returned with a sexual identity component it didn’t have back in the 80s. We associate the new dandys with homosexuality, and I’m not sure if that’s correct. Back in the day, all the b-boys were wearing tight jeans and t-shirts while most cats were rocking blouses. So if The Gays brought it back, it makes me wanna ask, who’s swagger-jacking who? I don’t have the answer. I will say this: The new hipster/dandy ethos mash-up has a racial and sexual ambiguity component that seems far less about self-expression and fashion but more about emasculating and homogenizing men of all colors, as if it’s not OK to just be hetero, without apology. What will be interesting to see will be if women begin to push back the way they did in the early 90s – will women insist on dating men who actually look and dress like we expect men to dress? I dunno. I just miss the days when it was cool to be whoever you wanted to be, and your fits were not at all political.
Whenever that was.
Single Father, Author, Screenwriter, Award-Winning Journalist, NPR Moderator, Lecturer and College Professor. Habitual Line-Stepper