Swag beyond gender: How Young Thug’s carefree attitude deconstructs masculinity

By nature, humans love to categorize. It’s selfish, but we just can’t stop putting people in boxes in order to “better understand them.” If someone deviates from the norm, then they become the object of our hatred and ridicule.

Unapologetically, Young Thug is that someone. While known for his frenetic, squeaky, mumbled raps, Thug is also on our radar for what some consider outlandish style choices:  known for his love of a good skirt, Jeffery Lamar Williams toes the line in YSL.  

And despite the positive attention that Thug has received from the fashion community, hip-hop journalists are constantly scrounging around for evidence to confirm that the “suspect” Young Thug is gay — oh, the horror.

Of course, these witch hunts are uncalled for, but it’s also important to acknowledge that for all the frocks and fuss, Young Thug isn’t a queer icon. As of yet, he hasn’t come out as gay or bisexual, nor has he rushed to slap an alternative label on his gender.

Because for him, it’s not that deep. There is no edge quota for Young Thug. He just loves fashion. Like your average rapper, more money means more cars, more bottles and more designer digs. And that Thug isn’t weighed down by the etiquette of fragile masculinity enough to shy away from a fantastic dress is incidental.

Whether or not Thug wants to claim a feminist impact, the result is extraordinary. Simply by copping nice threads like any other rapper, Thug manages to unravel traditional masculinity.

This past Wednesday, Thug made a splash at New York Fashion Week by getting up from his front-row seat to stop a VFiles model and adjust their outfit.  

This is by far the most memorable part of the show, but Thug’s style fix was only part of the picture. It’s no wonder that Thug and his fiancee Jerrika Karlae were seated upfront: he’s a VFiles panel mentor. More importantly, there was also the need to support the creative force behind one of his most controversial, gender non-conforming looks to date.

The end of August brought Young Thug fans closure when it was revealed that the “Jeffery” project wasn’t just an identity crisis, but a record. The name change merely hinted at the way each song paid homage to Thug’s celebrity faves. In the context of feminist and antifeminist discourse, what really had people talking were the Alessandro Trincone ruffles and umbrella hat that Thug rocks on the album cover.

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Inspired by Japanese kimonos and trousers, Trincone told W Magazine, “The androgynous identity of my garments [for the Spring 2017 collection] reinforces my belief of no gender binaries between men and women.”

Likewise, Trincone said that he hopes to showcase “the feminine side of every male” in his collection and “introduce a new meaning of masculinity” distinct from that of history.

@a.trincone (and @thuggerthugger1) #vfilesrunway

A post shared by VFILES (@vfiles) on

Considering Trincone’s fashion statement, of course we can see that the quest for high-fashion androgyny was what drew these two kindred art spirits together. But what’s not-so-obvious is how the two are different.

Thug doesn’t use sociology-tinged jargon to justify what he does. He just does it and he can’t help himself. Fashion, it seems, courses purely through his veins.

In Thug’s 2014 Complex feature, we get a quiet vote of confidence from a producer who notes that “[Thug] was the first person I knew who was wearing skinny jeans and peacoats and stuff. He’s never been your typical Atlanta guy.”

A year later, we see fashion photographer Harley Weir shooting him for Dazed Magazine’s fall issue. Thug looks a lot more like a Tumblr muse here: honey blond hair and a septum ring catching the sun, thick-rimmed circular sunglasses on his face, silky tie-neck blouses, sparkly sweaters, heavy lace, a see-through PVC top, weed socks.

By the time summer 2016 rolls around, Thug is truly being rewarded for his risks and enjoying his newfound attention. Alongside Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner and FKA twigs, Young Thug joins the Calvin Klein pack to #disobey.

And of course, there’s the brand’s quick interview with Thug, where a piano tinkers in the background and Thug stands shirtless in a sunset-colored haze.

“In my world, of course, it don’t matter. You could be a gangster with a dress, you could be a gangster with baggy pants,” Young Thug tells us with a mirthless laugh. “I feel like there’s no such thing as gender.

Thug has blossomed since his first curious days of style experimentation, and the Jeffery campaign and the VFiles appearance are only the natural progression of things for the Atlanta rapper at this point. It’s no surprise that he’s quoted in the September issue of Billboard Magazine as saying we can expect him in a dress when his wedding with Karlae finally comes around.

As futile as it may be, however, Thug’s detractors will continue to not let the skirts go. Thugger occupies a strange space between disdain and adoration for many men: while male fashion writers aren’t afraid to praise Thug’s clean lines and good taste, others struggle. Scoffing, they’ll make snarky asides that reek of insecurity and transphobia.

Nevermind Jeffery’s social and actual capital, his fabulously jet-setting life or his lovely fiancee: Twitter’s fragile cis-male underbelly will give itself pats on the back for the clever ways in which it invalidates Thug’s manhood.

Yet, begrudgingly, they will still find themselves singing along to the catchy mix of 70’s R+B and dancehall that is “I Know (There’s Gonna Be Good Times)” or the smart, meme-born “Best Friend” or the baffling, breezy “Digits.” And who can resist him and Travi$ Scott begging you to “Pick Up the Phone?”

Of course,  Thug doesn’t care and he never has. When your happy place is front and center at New York Fashion Week, looking like several tens of thousands of dollars next to the love of your life, why would you? What matters is that in the grand scheme of things, it’s undeniable that Thug’s unbridled passion for aesthetics and craftsmanship will leave just as much of a lasting effect on the philosophies behind art as his music does.

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