Image source: Getty Images for Louis Vuitton/Pascal Le Segretain
Before gender fluid fashion became more socially acceptable in the US, celebrities such as David Bowie, Dennis Rodman, Prince and Billy Porter confidently and unapologetically sported androgynous styles. But outside Juan Gabriel, we’ve never really had a Latino icon that normalized this in our society. But artists like Bad rabbit, Malumaand J Balvin have really done their part to change that. In fact, when it comes to fashion, reggaetonero J Balvin has proven he’s not afraid to break the gender-restrictive rules often imposed on men — especially Latino men. The Colombian singer and rapper is always pushing the boundaries, but the truth is, he’s just getting started.
If you’ve taken note of Balvin’s fashion evolution over the years, you’ve really seen that he’s not afraid to turn heads. And although he doesn’t consider himself one, the Colombian artist has clearly proven that he is a style icon. He is an artist in every sense of the word. It’s about expression for him, whether he does it through his music or through the looks he chooses to wear. Fashion is in many ways just another creative outlet for Balvin to express his mood and what he feels at the moment.
At last year’s Met Gala, Balvin appeared wearing a custom Ralph Lauren Label coat tuxedo with white bow tie and accessorized with a RL867 steel watch, antique pins, onyx cufflinks and a black cane. It was a look. But the year before that he attended the Met Gala in a stunning Moschino design that featured flowers in a wide range of bright colors, accessorized with a matching face cover and layers of diamond necklaces. The look definitely gave off similar vibes to his album “Colores,” proving just how unpredictable Balvin’s style really is.
Image source: Getty Images/Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Image source: Getty Images/Arturo Holmes/MG21
“Some days I want color and some days I’m all black. And that’s how I feel,” Balvin tells POPSUGAR. When it comes to style, the sky’s the limit for Balvin. There’s nothing he won’t try. In the same way that he will sport street style clothes, he will just as easily rock a bright pink faux fur coat as he did to the cover of Flaunt magazine or the all-black puffer skirt he was spotted wearing at the Louis Vuitton Fall 2022 show earlier this year. For Balvin, fashion is not so limited to gender. He’s 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 historically known to be rooted in machismo, the look of reggaeton has really evolved over the years. We’ve seen Bad Bunny reject traditional gender norms through his style and even expressed how he prefer skirts to pants. At this year’s Met Gala, Bad Bunny appeared in a cream colored jumpsuit by Riccardo Tisci for Burberry with her hair styled in a mini bouffant with bejeweled hair accessories. Other reggaetoneros have slowly adopted more gender-fluid styles as well. In the last few years we have seen artists like Farruko and Lennox show polished nails and acrylic tips.
Image source: Getty Images for Louis Vuitton/Pascal Le Segretain
“I’m not afraid to wear anything. As long as I feel comfortable in it.”
“I’m not afraid to wear something. As long as I feel comfortable in it,” says Balvin. “If it’s a mini skirt, I don’t care if I have to wear it. If I see a cool bra and I think the bra would look good on me – I’ll put it on . But it has to be authentic to how I feel. I can’t feel like I’m in a costume. I can’t feel like I’m not me. I think the most important thing is that you have to be true towards yourself. And that’s how people start to respect you, because they start to know that you’re real when it comes to how you express yourself.”
It’s the confidence, the apologetic attitude and the self-respect that artists like Balvin possess that makes it so much easier for people everywhere to be freer in what they choose to wear. When we look at artists who historically wore what they wanted and didn’t dress to please anyone—fans, critics, the media, even their industries—there’s a pattern. When they confidently do what they want, society eventually catches up. There is nothing more inspiring than someone who is not 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 so in a world that is really trying to narrow down what it means to be a man.
As for why it’s taken Latino men so long to break out of these machismo-driven gender roles, Balvin believes it’s because we haven’t seen enough Latino stars challenge these societal norms before. “I think it’s that no one has tried before. You know sometimes people say I don’t want to cross that door because it might be closed. I’m not going to cross that door because I not sure but they didn’t try it themselves. So it’s better to regret a what if? I was like I want to dye my hair because I love this color. And I’m not saying it’s me who started it. Because if we go back we got Dennis Rodman, and of course we have Pharrell Williams. But I’m talking about in the Latino market,” he says. “I think throughout the story it was Juan Gabriel. [He was] the only one who was like that is me and what? But we didn’t have those icons. I don’t consider myself an icon, but the person you see from 20 miles away – that’s J Balvin. I didn’t see that before in the Latin industry, so I thought, why don’t we have this? And that’s how I started learning about fashion and traveling the world. Going to Japan and to Paris. Being in Italy. Being in New York. You know New York is my biggest inspiration. Being in Medellín because there is a lot of flavor there. That’s how I started building the way I dress. It’s really cool, because now we have a place in the fashion world. Big brands speak to us.”
And the big brands go far beyond high fashion. In fact, Balvin recently partnered with Miller Lite to launch his Bodegawear clothing line, which features everything from varsity jackets, graphic t-shirts, hoodies and accessories with vibrant art. But Balvin’s mission behind the collaboration goes far beyond some cool fashion clothes. His intention is to give back. So with every purchase of the line, Miller Lite will donate the proceeds of its sale to Action Opportunity Fundin an effort to support bodegas, corner stores and Latinx-owned businesses.
“All [revenue] from this collaboration goes to the Accion Opportunity Fund, adds Balvin. “We also want to support all the bodegas and the corner stores and the Latinos. It’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 Little. 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. Not only has he been open and vulnerable about his mental health, but he has also done his part to normalize conversations around mental health, especially in the Latinx community. After years of sharing her own journey with anxiety and depression, Balvin launched OYEa new bilingual mental health app to be released in September 2022. He is also working with NBC News Studios, on a six-part documentary series titled “Gente Sana,” where he will sit down with a different celebrity each 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 someone who wants to make a difference in this world—even if that means empowering others to step outside the box in small ways. “Yes, the music is the most important thing, because [as music artists] it’s our superpower, but through it we can touch people,” he says.” Really touching people in a way that will make them touch the lives of others. I want to create a legacy. Music is the most important thing, but I also want to support the new generation – the new kids.”