Ghetto Fabulous

Gucci Mane in Thom Browne by Rebel Yuth

Ghetto fabulous refers to a fashion stereotype alluding to individuals living in an affluent materialistic style while not actually wealthy. It is part of a larger cultural trend of the 1990s where black, urban fashion was becoming a hot commodity through the rise of ‘hardcore’ rap. Because of the circumstances of many inner city families, poverty and consumerism became the focal point of artistic expression. With the rise of malls in the 1980s, this could be seen in the larger cultural context as well.

‘Excessive consumerism and an obsession with bling are certainly not confined to any particular demographic. We are a nation of excess and instant gratification. It has become the American way.’ For inner city youth, the ghetto fabulous life was about trying to outrun their socio-economic situations. For centuries, fashion has represented socio-economic status, so lower classes will buy outside their means in order to try and fit into an image of the upper classes.

Frequently, the term is used in reference to a person’s material possessions such as a luxury car, brand-label clothing and accessories, or jewelry. The term may also reference personal grooming habits such as having one’s hair and nails done, being tattooed, or having cosmetic platinum, gold or silver caps applied to the teeth. Buying from and vibrantly displaying designer brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci traditionally go hand-in-hand with the trend. Many have gone as far as to customize the exterior and interior of their cars to be coated in the Louis Vuitton design, and Gucci Mane’s stage name is likely a by-product of ghetto fabulous culture.

As a comedic device, it often dramatizes and draws attention to life in poor urban areas. For example, in the motion picture ‘B*A*P*S’ (or ‘Black American Princesses’), the protagonists pretend to belong to an upper-economic class, but in reality they live a lifestyle that is full of superficial glamor. The style has moved into the mainstream along with hip hop, with mega wealthy rap stars rebranding it as ‘uptown couture,’ characterized by common ‘ghetto fabulous’ looks mixed with couture labels, including new upscale/designer labels created by hip-hop moguls like Sean Combs, Jay-Z, and Kimora Lee Simmons.

The phrase has also been the title of several rap albums including one by Mystikal in 1998 and one by Fabolous in 2001. It is also the title of a 1998 Ras Kass song.

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