Teddy Riley's Uncleisure, Explained

Illustration for article titled Teddy Riley's Uncleisure, Explained
Screenshot: Teddy Riley (Instagram Live)

You’re really sticking to this gimmick now, huh?

So yesterday for dinner I made a bunch of lamb chops, and they were really good. For breakfast this morning, I had lamb and eggs. Lunch will be lamb and salad. Dinner? Lamb, spinach, and mashed potatoes. My point? Once I find something that’s working, I stick with it.


LOL at “working.” You’re just lazy and you eat too much meat. Anyway...so what are we talking about again?

Teddy Riley and uncleisure.

Yup! Expound!

Last Saturday, Teddy Riley and Babyface—two titans of American music—were set to battle each other on a highly anticipated round of Verzuz. Over 400,000 people were on Instagram Live to witness what we hoped would be an iconic event. And it was—but just not for the reasons we anticipated.

Teddy Riley, apparently possessed with the spirits of every uncle attempting to install Microsoft Office, couldn’t get his sound right, and mayhem ensued. Shade flew, jokes punched, memes landed, and Tyrese threw in the tile.

You mean “towel” right?


Anyway, it was a beautiful evening—easily the most entertaining night of the coronatine—but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead, I want to talk about how it was a watershed moment for clothes, and we’ll never be the same again.

How so?

Both Babyface and Teddy Riley existed at different locations on the appropriate black uncle wear spectrum. Babyface, with his velvet smoking jacket, open collar white shirt and sunglasses represented a very specific drip that’s appropriate for lounges, cabarets, jazz cruises, gospel brunches and phone calls with Oprah. I didn’t see his feet, but I’m 100,000% certain he either had on some sockless loafers or alpaca house shoes. His entire steez was a projection of aggressive unbotheredness.


Teddy, on the other hand, with his maroon sweatsuit and matching fedora, represented the finest in uncleisure—a very specific style of dress that’s appropriate for ... lounges, cabarets, jazz cruises, gospel brunches and phone calls with Oprah too.

So there’s no difference?

Not really. The black men who uncleisure do it everywhere. They will wear velour sweats to a wedding. You could send them to the moon, and they’ll step off the shuttle like they’re about to coach a middle school football team. It’s uncanny.


Interesting! This concept of uncleisure is fascinating.

Right? Uncleisure happens when you’ve learned to be brutally efficient with the fucks you give. You still give a fuck about looking nice. Teddy Riley’s (presumably) Ivy Park fit was fly and #BlackAf might just be a Trojan horse for Kenya Barris to model his world-renowned inventory of high fashion sweats. It’s just that the fucks you might have given before about performing and appeasing have been redirected into comfort.


This is also something that only black men of a certain age and station can get away with. If a 50-something white man tries Teddy’s fit, he’s not fresh. He’s Paulie Walnuts.

Shit, I guess you’re right. Anything else?

Unfortunately, black men who uncleisure sometimes act like their sweats are built with vibranium. This explains why Greg, my 54-year-old uncleisuring neighbor, tore his achilles last summer when trying to dunk (with a flask of Johnny Walker in his left hand). And why your 61-year-old uncleisuring Uncle Ralph thought it was wise to fry 40 pounds of whiting outside during a hurricane. He will be missed.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



I threw in the tile when you switched from uncleisure to uncleisture.