The 2010s have been a decade of gender upheaval and some of culture's central figures have reimagined the traditional boundaries of female and male identities. My fashion moment of the decade is Young Thug’s iconic mixtape cover for his 2016 album Jeffery, originally titled No, My Name is JEFFERY released on 26 August of that year.
In the image, the rapper wears a ruffled lavender skirt and a white shirt, and periwinkle straps wrap around his upper body and tie themselves to his arms. On his head is a parasol shaped hat, that he tilts forward to cover his face, meaning it is only his hands and forearms that are exposed. The ensemble is by the Italian designer Alessandro Trincone as part of his ‘Annodami’ collection. Trincone is famed for creating gender-challenging pieces that redefine what men can wear.
The internet reacted loudly to Young Thug’s album cover. Some simply made fun of the dress, comparing it to a feather duster, while other messages contained overt homophobia. It was apparent that in 2016, the danger of performing slackened gender boundaries on the world stage was still keenly felt.
Nevertheless, the cover landed a mighty blow against the traditional understanding of what it is to be a straight male, especially one that dwells in the traditionally masculine sphere of hip-hop. The impact came at a moment when the rules of gender were being publicly discussed, and actively broken, as feminism was starting to move from niche protest movement to mainstream media talking point. While at the time of writing, gender boundaries sadly haven't been completely eradicated, Thug paved the way for a new cohort of rappers to experiment with women's clothing in their fashion choices, like Lil Uzi Vert, A$AP Rocky and Lil Nas X.
My relationship with the image is complex. It came at a time when I was questioning my own identity and I found myself rejoicing in this refreshing play on gender enacted on such a monumental stage. Thug’s decision stunned me, who was at the time a quiet 17-year-old girl fumbling at the edges of her identity while stuck in a small Welsh village. Suddenly, questions about my sexuality bubbled to the surface and I felt, perhaps, I existed in a world that would not condemn me to the fire for thriving in my difference.
However, we must be careful not to present Young Thug as something he is not. Whilst Thug is wearing traditionally female clothes, the album cover does not dislodge his identity as a straight male rapper. The songs on the album still contained hip hop tropes of masculine sexual prowess, with lyrics such as the line, 'Only here for one night lemme put it on your face / Let a n**** nut, only way I go to sleep' in the opening track, Wyclef Jean.
Given that his lyrics still contain misogyny even while he is dressing as in women's clothing, how can we applaud him? For me, it is Thug’s seemingly normal interaction between the revolutionary and the carefree. He personifies contradictory themes, he is a young straight man wearing the clothes he feels beautiful in, which just happen to be feminine.
This decade, traditional gender assumptions have moved beyond what could have been imagined the decade prior. Young Thug’s striking album cover contains the complex notions of what gender was and would become, our attitudes towards it, all re-packaged into an easily consumable image. I believe it was fashion - and its role on this album cover - that provides a visual record of the changing rhetoric of our times. Clothing has been used to give these ideas over to the masses and a discourse has entered the mainstream that substantially changes everything.
At its core, the image is stubbornly beautiful, both aesthetically and emotionally. A young straight man poses comfortably in a feminine garment, one that ripples with frills and glows with an ambient hue. But when I consider the next decade, which feels increasingly unknown and insecure, I find myself drawn to the hope I once held while looking at small images of change like this. We must ask ourselves where change will come from in this new decade and how can we ensure that the freedom of individual expression, in fashion and gender, is maintained.