Mr. Me Too: Rediscovering Originality in Urban Fashion
I find it very ironic that I write this article in the midst of the "Mannequin Challenge" because, for the past few years, I've been seeing a lot of mannequins. Not mannequins in the sense of folks standing still, but in a fashion sense. Over the last five years, I've seen many young men purchase their outfits right off the mannequins or copy looks from Instagram or straight out of a magazine (By the way, do people still buy magazines?). They see a look they think is dope and run with it without taking the time to customize it to their own style.
Now before the hate begins, I don’t have a problem with drawing inspiration from an outfit that was seen display at a store or one worn by your favorite celebrity. That’s natural, but to completely copy the look is wack. I wrote an article a while ago about fads killing streetwear; in that article, I posed the question, "What happened to individuality and self-expression through style?" As trends change and people "ride waves", dressing increasingly becomes cookie-cutter. Everyone wears the same looks and follow the same trends which, in part, is why trends fade so quickly, especially in streetwear.
The fact is, we are straying away from what I think the primary goal of fashion is: individual self-expression. I don’t want to chastise or preach at folks for wearing things they think are hot, because I too fall victim to it (I bashed dad hats for months and ended up buying one. I was so ashamed.) Regardless, I feel like it's time we get back to dressing ourselves instead of letting Fabolous, Future or whoever we follow on Instagram dictate what we wear and how to wear it.
The rise of the blogosphere and other social media outlets has helped us become a more connected population. With that, we’ve learned about styles from other cities and even other countries because our peer groups have expanded. This, for sure, has both its pros and cons. The upside is obvious: we now have the chance to try looks influenced by places we've never even visited. But the converse is that we now put ourselves in the position to be overly influenced by our peers, cyber- and real-life alike. Online “influencers,” Instagram likes and comments, blog posts, and Twitter opinions all now shape our culture and with that they help dictate what’s “cool” and what isn’t. Regardless of if you look at this as a good or bad thing, it’s a thing nonetheless, and it plays a role in the trend of individuality in fashion.
We definitely get ideas from our favorite celebrities and even our peers. But there was a time when we put outfits together from head to toe without copying anyone else. For instance, Nelly – for some unknown reason – had us wearing backwards jerseys; then Hov had us throwing away those jerseys and replacing them with button-ups. But at least back then we put our own twist on things. We weren't just buying stuff because of the price tag and we damn sure weren't getting dressed for social media likes. We put together our looks based on how we felt and how we wanted to be seen: we matched the jersey to sneakers and the sneakers to the cap, plus a Nike rubberband and a tee under the jersey that set it off just right. It’s an art that, with time, is slowly being lost.
As long as black men have been getting dressed and stepping out, we have always found ways to differentiate ourselves from one another. I go back to the early 2000s “jersey era” because that's when I was coming up and, for me, streetwear and urban fashion was at its most creative. No one wanted to be in the function with the same jersey as their friend, and even before that, no one wanted to have the same denim or velour outfit on as someone else. That's missing now. Getting dressed has shifted from a statement of "this is who I am" to "this is what I own," even though 4 other people in the club are wearing the same outfit. It has been far too long since we took the time to create looks for ourselves. Let's get back to it.
P. S. This goes for you too ladies!