Is camp the new black or the new normal?

The Gucci Cruise collection 2018
The Gucci Cruise collection 2018

“Influencer culture is a scam. Most of these people are basic as fuck and appropriate underground culture. I know people who don't have 10k followers but are more progressive than these culture vultures who are tryna (sic) dress like we do (sic) 5 years ago, bye....”

This recent tweet from Fela Gucci of the music and performance art duo FAKA solicited over 400 retweets and 1,1K likes with many of the retweeters in agreement.

While one can only guess what may have sparked this tweet, it does highlight a visible shift in popular culture where camp aesthetics are increasingly becoming mainstream, no doubt in part because of queer visibility. 

READ MORE: Queer fiction written by queer writers you should be reading right now

As WGSN fashion editor Nick Paget notes: “A quick scroll of Instagram shows male models rocking floral print kick flared suits as well as pussy-bow blouses and skirts, and women in loose fitting, over-sized trousers teamed with a men’s suit jacket.”

Paget adds: “With artists and fashion designers expressing notions of fluid sexuality and non-binary gender in their work, these ideas are gradually homogenised from the persecuted fringes of society and translated for mass consumption by magazine editors, fashion bloggers and stylists, keen to celebrate this new diversity with shoots, editorials, articles and blog posts a go-go.” 

Gender bending is no longer so novel as far as fashion design is concerned. A case in point is luxury label Gucci, where head designer Alessandro Michele has taken the brand in a gender fluid direction. It’s hard to imagine, for instance, brands like Rich Mnisi, Nao Serati or Nigeria’s Orange Culture outside of their gender non-conformist proclivities. 


A post shared by Nao Serati (@naoserati) on

AW18 at @lagosfashionweekofficial ?? @prince__noble

A post shared by Orange Culture Nigeria (@orangecultureng) on

In recent years, several retailers including Zara, Selfridges and ASOS have put out limited unisex collections, and, of course, not a lot of people turn their noses up at any man rocking the distinctly campy millennial pink, a colour trend that has confounded observers with its staying power.

While ‘over-the-top’ dressing has always been associated with queer expression, these days even rappers embrace camp aesthetics. 

READ MORE: Hey, hetero peeps! Our queer friends are tired of being the "exceptions"

It’s hard to imagine, just a few years ago, for example, rapper Riky Rick being celebrated for his non-conformist sartorial choices, but this kind of dressing no longer raises questions about a person’s sexuality. It’s become de rigueur as men have become far less conservative in their sense of style.

Yasmin Furmie, the Johannesburg style connoisseur and co-owner of shirt label SiSi, stands out as an example of someone who pairs masculine shapes with feminine accessories, creating a decidedly camp style sensibility that is her signature.

Dressing up #tailoredforme #bespoke #nightout #ysl #gucci ?? @ilyeezy

A post shared by Yasmin Furmie (@yasminfurmie) on

Rharha Nembard and Selfi designer Celeste Arendse’s recent collaborative capsule collection La Loba merged masculine and feminine silhouettes incorporating free flowing shapes, clean lines and uniform structures in what the duo said was an aim to disrupt perceptions of femininity.

But is this all just a blip on the trend radar? Not so, says trend analyst Dion Chang. “The influence of Generation Z is where the longevity of this trend will stem from. There’s a recent study, for instance, that found that 56% of Generation Z don’t identify within the gender binary.”

This is to say more than half of this post-millennial cohort are gender fluid. “For them, fluidity is the norm,” Chang adds. “They are now coming into the work force and will have to be listened to.”

This liberal attitude towards gender and sexuality extends to popular culture where the popularity of TV shows like RuPaul’s drag race, gender-bending K-Pop stars like G-Dragon, and Lee Hong-ge and figures like Jaden Smith are popular in spite of their subversion of gender norms. 

As women emerge from the shadow of men to take centre stage, gender stereotypes are crumbling, and younger generations begin to define gender on their own terms.

While they’ve previously only used female models in their campaigns, beauty brands like Covergirl, Maybelline and Rimmel have awarded modelling contracts to male beauty influencers like James Charles, Manny Gutierrez and Lewys Ball owing to their massive social media following.

Even within reputably homophobic spaces like hip-hop we’ve seen, over the past couple of years, the rise of queer and gender non-conforming artists Le1f, iLoveMakonnen, Taylor Bennet, Azealia Banks, Cakes da Killa and others is symbolic of a cultural shift.

It’s not just queer visibility that is driving this trend, however. There’s also the effect of changing gender roles, and the realisation of the ‘female century’, the concept trend observers have been touting since last decade.

According to Chang, we’ve begun to see it taking shape in the form of women’s voices becoming increasingly amplified through movements like #MeToo and #MenAreTrash. The trend analyst also notes powerful speeches like that of 2018 best actress Academy Award winner Frances McDormand, who asked all women in the room at the award ceremony to stand up with her. 

READ MORE: '#MeToo won't change anything for women in hip-hop' - Cardi B

It manifests in Hillary Clinton, although not winning the US election, getting the popular vote. It manifests in women assuming positions of power in society and dismantling the patriarchy. As women emerge from the shadow of men to take centre stage, gender stereotypes are crumbling, and younger generations begin to define gender on their own terms. 

It is abundantly clear in how we dress. As gender expectations fall away, we begin to experiment with merging masculinity and femininity, making camp the new normal.

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