Miley Cyrus (née Destiny Hope) twerked up a mediasweat in 2013 with her Disney-cum-MTV good-girl-gone-bad routine. The narrative wasn’t new—before Miley, there was Britney, Christina, and Lindsay—but what was fresh was this: where those princesses channeled MTV’s ur-provocateur Madonna, Miley called upon Lil’ Kim. “In my past life, I feel like that was me, I feel like Lil’ Kim is like who I am on the inside,” said the white girl from Nashville. And on Halloween, while countless boys and girls dressed in teddies like Miley’s at the VMAs, she donned a purple pastie in homage to her chosen soul sister.
Miley’s urban affectations fueled the frenzy around her. “Was her ratchet styling racist?” the media asked, as a barrage of incendiary tweets were fired in reply. Our thought at BULLETT: few questions that can be answered by an 8-ball are worth asking, and this wasn’t one of them. We wanted to know how. How is Miley’s styling racialized or not? How does it reflect fashion and culture at large? How does it make people feel, think, and act? How can we use this case to speak productively about race, class, and subcultural appropriation in fashion right now?
Talking about race and talking about fashion are tricky propositions, but for different reasons. Discourses around race are loaded, weighted with history and the import that there is still so much work to be done, whereas fashion speak is vaporous, bubbly with hyperbole (everything’s just fabulous!). We wanted to respect the messiness that comes from discussions around race and fashion, because media stories rarely do. They’ll give you a soundbite, an argument, something digestible for your lunch break, something black and white. We want to publish a debate so dizzying, it’ll make you lose your appetite, because we’re hungry for change.
We asked 13 voices in fashion, including stylists, designers, performers, and academics, to share their opinions on fashion’s appropriation of urban street style. What’s at stake when Miley kicks it in Jordans? When James Franco wears rows that riff on RiFF RAFF? When Brooke Candy is photographed by Terry Richardson with a gold tooth? When Hood By Air becomes a Style.com darling? Or when Rick Owens hires an American step team to model his Paris défilé? Should anybody be allowed to wear anything they want? Is fashion a post-racial utopia? What’s gained and what’s lost when fashion makes trendy looks that were born of a specific time, place, and people?