Jaden Smith isn’t afraid to take fashion risks. The 17-year-old famously showed up to Kanye and Kim Kardashian-West’s wedding in a white superhero costume, and he’s been known to wear loose fitting dresses just for the hell of it because he likes “drapey things.”
While the rest of the world seems to want to put Smith in a box, the teen doesn’t follow conventional fashion rules. Instead, he uses his style choices to reflect his mood.
“I’m just expressing how I feel inside, which is really no particular way because everyday it changes how I feel about the world and myself,” he explained to GQ.
And the fashion world has taken notice. Because of his bold, androgynous choices, Smith is featured in the Spring ’16 ad campaign for Louis Vuitton’s womenswear line.
In the images released so far, Smith is styled in a leather jacket, a black-and-white patterned skirt, and a fringey top….and it’s freaking some people out.
Since the images hit Instagram a day ago, folks all across social media have derided both Smith and Louis Vuitton for attempting to “emasculate” young Black men.
One Twitter user implored Smith’s parents to “get [their] son,” as if Will and Jada aren’t aware that he likes to dress unconventionally, while another called the move “an attack on the psyche of the Black boy.”
While it’s true wearing dresses and skirts for men and boys isn’t the norm in America, it’s not an automatic sign of emasculation or disrespect either.
In cultures around the world, men wear what we’d consider skirts or dresses every single day, and few people would dare question their sexuality or masculinity. But in America/the West, and in particular, Black communities where masculinity is so rigid it forces men to conform or risk being taunted, Smith’s fashion choices are looked upon with scorn, or worse, as a ploy to poison young Black men into dressing and behaving like women. The implication being women are not as good or powerful or worthwhile as men.
In his TED talk, Tony Porter breaks down the problem with trapping men and boys in this “man box.”
I come to also look at this as this fear that we have as men, this fear that just has us paralyzed, holding us hostage to this man box. I can remember speaking to a 12-year-old boy, a football player, and I asked him, I said, “How would you feel if, in front of all the players, your coach told you you were playing like a girl?” Now I expected him to say something like, I’d be sad; I’d be mad; I’d be angry, or something like that. No, the boy said to me — the boy said to me, “It would destroy me.” And I said to myself, “God, if it would destroy him to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?”
Aside from what the reaction to Smith’s clothing says about how society views women, it’s completely ridiculous. Sexuality isn’t something one picks up by osmosis, or by seeing a celeb rocking a particular outfit. Moreover, masculinity should not be so fragile that it’s threatened by one person’s decision to dress however they see fit. But apparently, it is.
While many of us idealize freedom of choice and self-determination, some are only cool with it so long as it fits within certain confines. It doesn’t appear Jaden Smith is one of those people, and I’m so here for it.