Kanye’s kilt: Avant-garde fashion or affront to hip hop?

Behold, the kilt. This one is from 2011.

Behold, the kilt. This one is from 2011.

Kanye West has set the Internet abuzz by appearing at last night’s Hurricane Sandy relief concert in a leather kilt. The general reaction has ranged from disbelief to disgust that the Louis Vuitton Don would be caught dead wearing a skirt.

But Kanye wearing a skirt is nothing new, and most of this negative reaction is about a year late. Kanye wore a leather kilt and leggings throughout last year’s Watch the Throne tour. While Jay-Z rocked the standard all black everything, there was Kanye in his knee-length garment. I’ll admit I was shocked. Then about 10 minutes into the show I got used to it, and about 20 minutes in I thought it was kind of cool. Strange, but cool. And cool precisely because it was strange.

Kanye is the most innovative and fashion-conscious hip hop artist out, so we really shouldn’t be surprised that he would make unconventional clothing choices. And yes, on one hand a leather kilt and leggings is just bizarre. But it’s also incredibly refreshing, because it defies the standard hip hop uniform of sunglasses, gaudy jewelry, t-shirt that may or may not be removed and sagging pants or uncomfortably skinny jeans.

I get that hip hop is largely about masculinity and bravado. But Kanye is no less masculine or brave because his fashion choices don’t reflect the choices that everyone else in hip hop is making. One could argue that he is more masculine and brave simply because he is willing to make those unpopular choices on such a grand stage. I like Kanye’s kilt for the same reason I like A$AP Rocky’s faux Amish getup in the Fxckin’ Problems video. It’s weird and unusual. And hip hop needs more weird and unusual. We already have too many people doing the same stupid thing simply because it’s accepted and expected and they’re not secure enough in themselves to take a risk.

And lest we forget — the kilt is a piece of traditional garb worn by men in other countries, like Scotland. From our good friend Wikipedia:

Although the kilt is most often worn on formal occasions and at Highland games and sports events, it has also been adapted as an item of fashionable informal male clothing in recent years, returning to its roots as an everyday garment. …

Contemporary kilts (also known as modern kilts and, especially in the United States, utility kilts) have appeared in the clothing marketplace in Scotland, the US and Canada in a range of fabrics, including leather, denim, corduroy and cotton. They may be designed for formal or casual dress, for use in sports or outdoor recreation, or as white or blue collar workwear.

So before we rail against Kanye for wearing a garment that is traditionally worn by men in other cultures and is increasingly being worn in our own, let’s set our sights on some elements in hip hop really worthy of our vitriol. Such as our jewelry full of conflict diamonds. The messages we send to our young people. The way we treat our women. Sagging pants that emulate prisoners forbidden to have belts because they could be used to commit suicide. Let’s attack some real problems in hip hop, not fashion choices that make us uncomfortable because we are secretly insecure about ourselves.

If Kanye wants to move hip hop in a new direction through fashion, as he did through music, then I’m down. I doubt anyone is going to show up to the club rocking a kilt, but I appreciate that Ye is willing to take a risk without fear of repercussion from narrow-minded people.

Hip hop has always embraced innovation and rebellion. If some people could step out of the tiny boxes they’ve constructed for masculinity and hip hop culture, they might be able to see that’s exactly what Kanye’s kilt represents.


2 Comments on “Kanye’s kilt: Avant-garde fashion or affront to hip hop?

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