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  • Annelise Richards

Country Fashion and the Subversion of Genre

The fashion that one thinks of when brought to the subject of country music is relatively narrow of a field. Usually, it’s highlighted by things such as cowboy boots, leather, and frills, and though those things are staples in the country music scene, it seems as though in the modern age of country music, that idea is changing. Regardless of the stereotype of country music or its singers fashion choices, it's important to understand that fashion has no specific label and that it shouldn't be affected by a preconceived notion of what's appropriate for the genre.

Take, for example, stars like Kacey Musgraves and Kelsea Ballerini. Earlier this week, Ballerini was criticized by fans for wearing a Gucci crop top and Christian Louboutin boots, which, according to unspoken rule, is decidedly not country. She fired back a few hours later with an image of herself in sweats; barefoot and holding two six-packs of Miller Lite, usurping the idea that Gucci is exclusively for R&B and rap with a cheeky “Carry on.” to caption. This statement brings about the question of what is country and what things can be exclusive to country. There's a rigidity to the country dress code that's not present in other genres, which is interesting because country usually is the genre most artists come into. This begs the question of whether or not genre stereotypes should be taken seriously at all and if they should be preserved for traditions sake.

The style of music changes over time, which isn't a secret, and a lot of times it has coincided with the development of decades of fashion. The 1980’s saw a lot of synthesizing that matched the colorful leotards and leg warmers that were custom at the time, and the same is happening to modern music. Kacey Musgraves is a beacon for genre mixing, and her music exhibits just that, with the style and funk of pop and alt rock but the relaxed essence of country that signals a nostalgic time. Her clothing exhibits that just as clearly, between glittery bodysuits and tribal prints to more traditional country flair. This mixing and development blurs the line between things that are strictly country and things that are strictly pop and rock.

However, the simple answer to the question of whether or not country music has a monopoly on a certain fashion aesthetic is probably yes, but not for too long. Simply put, the same way that country has branched out into the pop genre more, pop and rock can branch into country aesthetics more seamlessly and have been doing so over the past few decades. Lady Gaga’s album, “Joanne” is reminiscent of the country vibe, and was received extremely well with her fanbase, likewise goes the fashion. Coachella was once a hub for hippies and pop stars, but over time, the hippie trend of fringe and leather has incorporated cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats into its cruelty-free arsenal.

Fashion evolution is perhaps one of the greatest indicator of a decade change, specifically reflecting the attitudes of audiences at the time as well. The 2010’s has been a decade defined by a sudden shift. It isn't necessarily a political shift, but the first generation of kids born entirely in the iPhone age is now gearing up for middle school, while the last generation of kids born in the latter half of the 90’s, as of 2017, are all adults. It is, in essence, the first truly 21st century decade. This kind of change is unprecedented in the style of society we have. The past few centuries did not have this type of differentiation because the development of technology wasn't the same. We didn't suddenly have social media, we didn't have smartphones, and we didn't have a rapid change in cultural definition. Country music displays that flawlessly, from the age of John Denver and Johnny Cash bringing out the true country stereotype of emotionally driven songs and leather-clad passion for the simple life, onto Carrie Underwood and her obsession with glitter and songs about infidelity, and onto Taylor Swift, indisputably one of the greatest songwriters of the 21st century.

That tie to the world fashion is a tightly-woven network of cultural evolution. We didn't expect Justin Bieber to sing about horses or wear a bedazzled belt buckle ten years ago, but it’s 2018. That’s fair game now. And while this hasn't happened yet, would it be so strange? This blur of fashion and music by genre changes the game as far as what can and can't be monopolized on by stereotype. Country still owns its fashion, though, as of now; but that will change as the lines blur further.

While I don’t see in the future anybody jamming to Kendrick Lamar’s album about boats and trucks and relaxing with a beer on a porch, I can see in the next fifty years, as fashion blends deeper and more roles of society are subverted, that the stereotypical “country look” no longer exists and is a fluid member of every genre. That’s hard to ignore, especially with the implication that it carries in the way that millenials truly do own the 21st century.

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