Before gender fluid fashion became more socially acceptable in the US, celebrities like David Bowie, Dennis Rodman, Prince, and Billy Porter were confidently and unapologetically sporting androgynous styles. But outside of Juan Gabriel, we never really had a Latino icon that normalized this within our communities. But artists like Bad Bunny, Maluma, and J Balvin have really been doing their part to change that. In fact, when it comes to fashion, reggaetonero J Balvin has proven he's not afraid of breaking the gender-restricting rules that are often placed on men — Latino men in particular. The Colombian singer and rapper is always pushing the boundaries, but the truth is he's just getting started.
If you've been taking note of Balvin's fashion evolution over the years then truly you've peeped that he's not afraid of turning heads. And while he doesn't consider himself one, the Colombian artist has clearly proven himself to be a style icon. He's an artist in every sense of the word. It's all about expression for him, whether he's doing it through his music or through the looks he chooses to wear. Fashion in many ways is just another creative outlet for Balvin to express his mood and what he's feeling at the moment.
At last year's Met Gala, Balvin showed up wearing a custom Ralph Lauren Label tailcoat tuxedo with a white bow tie and accessorized with an RL867 steel watch, antique pins, onyx stud cufflinks, and a black cane. It was a look. But the year before that, he attended the Met Gala in an impressive Moschino design that featured flowers in a wide array of bright colors, accessorizing with a matching face cover and layers of diamond necklaces. The look definitely gave off similar vibes to his album "Colores," and proved how unpredictable Balvin's style really is.
"Some days, I'll wear color, and some days, I'm in all black. And that's the way I feel," Balvin tells POPSUGAR. When it comes to style, the sky's the limit for Balvin. There's nothing he won't try. The same way he'll sport street style wear, he'll just as easily rock a bright pink faux fur coat as he did for the cover of Flaunt magazine or the all-black puffer skirt he was seen in at the Louis Vuitton Fall 2022 show earlier this year. For Balvin, fashion isn't so confined to gender. He has really made a point to reject gender stereotypes in his style, and it's having a much bigger impact than he probably imagined. In a music genre that was historically known to be rooted in machismo, the look of reggaeton has really evolved over the years. We've seen Bad Bunny dismissing traditional gender norms through his style and has even expressed how he prefers skirts to pants. At this year's Met Gala, Bad Bunny appeared in a cream-colored boilersuit by Riccardo Tisci for Burberry with his hair styled in a mini bouffant with bejeweled hair accessories. Other reggaetoneros have slowly been embracing more gender-fluid styles as well. In just the past few years we've seen artists like Farruko and Lennox showing off polished nails and acrylic tips.
Image Source: Getty Images For Louis Vuitton/Pascal Le Segretain
"I'm not scared of wearing anything. As long as I feel comfortable with it."
"I'm not scared of wearing anything. As long as I feel comfortable with it," Balvin says. "If it's a miniskirt, I don't care, I'm going to wear it. If I see a cool bra and I think the bra would look good on me — I'll wear it. But it has to be authentic to how I feel. I can not feel like I'm in a costume. I can not feel like I'm not being me. I think the most important thing is that you have to stay true to yourself. And that's how people start respecting you because they start getting to know that you're real when it comes to how you express yourself."
It's that confidence, that apologetic attitude, and that self-respect that artists like Balvin possess that makes it that much easier for folks everywhere to be freer in what they choose to wear. When we look at artists who historically wore what they wanted and weren't dressing to please anyone — fans, critics, the media, even their industries themselves — there's a pattern. When they confidently do what they want, society eventually catches up. There's nothing more inspiring than someone who isn't afraid to shake things up and dismantle old ways of thinking. Even if a man isn't interested in wearing a skirt or painting their nails, it's hard not to respect another man who is confident enough to do that in a world that really tries to narrow down what it means to be a man.
In terms of why it's taken Latino men so long to break out of these machismo-driven gender roles, Balvin believes it's because we didn't see enough Latino stars challenge these societal norms before. "I think it's that no one tried before. You know sometimes people say I'm not going to cross that door because it might be closed. I'm not going to cross that door because I'm not sure but they didn't even try. So, it's better to regret a what if? I was like I'm going to dye my hair because I love this color. And I'm not saying that I'm the one who started it. Because if we go back we got Dennis Rodman and we have Pharrell Williams, of course. But I'm talking about in the Latino market," he says. "I think in the whole history it was Juan Gabriel. [He was] the only one who was like this is me and what? But we didn't have those icons. I don't consider myself an icon but that person you see from 20 miles away — that's J Balvin. I didn't see it before in the Latin industry, so I was like why don't we have this? And that's how I started learning about fashion and traveling around the world. Going to Japan and going to Paris. Being in Italy. Being in New York. You know New York is my biggest inspiration. Being in Medellín because there's a lot of taste there. That's how I started building the way I dress. It's really cool because now we have space in the fashion world. Big brands talk to us."
And those big brands go way beyond high fashion ones. In fact, Balvin recently partnered with Miller Lite to launch his Bodegawear clothing line, which features everything from varsity jackets, graphic tees, hoodies, and accessories with vibrant artwork. But Balvin's mission behind the collab goes way beyond some cool fashion pieces. His intention is to give back. So with each purchase of the line, Miller Lite will be donating proceeds of its sales to Accion Opportunity Fund, in an effort to support bodegas, corner stores, and Latinx-owned businesses.
"All the [revenue] from this collab goes to Accion Opportunity Fund, Balvin adds. "We are going to support all the bodegas and corner stores and Latinos too. That's really important because that's how we touch lives and how we help people. That's the most important thing about this. It's great that we're working with Miller Lite. It's great that we're doing our thing. But it's great that we're doing something for the community."
Image Source: Ben Rayner for Miller Lite
Balvin has really made an effort to connect with his fans and his community on a human level. He's not only been open and vulnerable about his mental health but he's also been doing his part to normalize conversations around mental health, especially within the Latinx community. After years of sharing his own journey with anxiety and depression, Balvin launched OYE, a new bilingual mental health app, which is set to release in September 2022. He's also collaborating with NBC News Studios, on a six-part docuseries titled "Gente Sana," where he will sit with a different celebrity every episode to discuss their own mental health journey, challenges, and coping mechanisms.
Outside of his artistry, Balvin wants people to know that he's just a person who wants to make a difference in this world — even if that means empowering others to step out of the box in small ways. "Yes, music is the most important thing because [as music artists] that's our superpower but through that, we can touch people," he says." Really touch people in a way that's going to make them touch others' lives. I want to create a legacy. Music is the most important but I want to also support the new generation — the new kids."