Takeoff in clout goggles. Photograph by Mark Horton for Getty Images.

2017: The Year of "Clout"

What is "clout," and why did the term rule a certain subset of SoundCloud rappers and menswear enthusiasts this year?

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Dec 20 2017, 3:19pm

Takeoff in clout goggles. Photograph by Mark Horton for Getty Images.

The hardest challenge menswear enthusiasts face isn’t what to wear each morning—it’s how they plan to talk about it. Ever since the advent of the Tumblr-fuelled #menswear era of the late aughts, adherents have drawn upon all manner of lexicons—from sports to rap—to describe their wares. 2017 saw that same thinking extended beyond trackpants and Chelsea boots, and applied to the industry itself. And if there was one word that dominated this past year, it was “clout.”

The origins of the label—an esoteric derivation of the term “influence” for those who probably wouldn’t dare utter such a thing anymore—are hazy. In June, rapper Denzel Curry proclaimed of his Kurt Cobain-esque sunglasses: “These ain’t glasses, baby. These are clout goggles.” The video has since racked up some 188,000 views on Youtube, with a host of Soundcloud rappers going on to favor the sunglass style originally designed by Christian Roth and made iconic by Kurt Cobain—and later riffed on by Acne and Saint Laurent. Meanwhile, a group of LA-based YouTubers began going under the name of “CloutGang.” At present, one tweet that merely reads “#cloutgang” by FaZe Banks has racked up nearly 13,000 retweets. (As a rapidly-ageing 24 year old, I’ll happily admit I haven’t a fucking clue what that’s all about.) In July, a brand titled [Clout] NYC sprang up, declaring itself a “members-only lifestyle brand.” Whether those members are actually real people is unclear, but nonetheless it illustrated clout’s transition from mere word to signifier of social status and taste.

Before long, the Twitter account of the seminal but now-defunct menswear site Four Pins had appropriated the term for its own semi-ironic use, and so "clout" entered menswear parlance through a glut of memes, tweets and Instagram captions. Like much of how we talk about men’s clothing, it borrowed from something that already existed—but in a manner reflective of fashion’s current streetwear bent, applied it in a new context and imbued it with new meaning. Think Chanel’s interlocking C logo being irreverently bent out of shape for Stussy’s "double S" emblem, but for menswear linguistics.

Stemming from the old English word for a piece of cloth or metal, clout’s transition from its contemporary meaning of a violent blow to denoting influence didn’t occur until the 1950s. It’s perhaps not surprising that a term for political influence initially drew from ideas of brute force, but menswear’s deployment of the word is ironically rooted in flippant, nerdy one-upmanship. It’s used as a knowing nod that you “get it.” It, of course, being the delicate interplay between fashion, social media and modern-day marketing which has spawned a glut of people who trade solely in influence—and, to an extent, the ridiculousness of it all. “Clout” is a way of acknowledging that, but at the same time shrugging it off or poking fun at it, conveying authenticity in an online world of all too serious, self-anointed “creative directors.”

This is likely a hangover from 2016, a year in which fashion was battered senseless by irony. Vetements’ DHL t-shirt kicked off what would become the dominant design mode for the following months, eventually culminating in Vetememes, a meme-led bootleg label of the then-Paris based fashion brand (the brand relocated its headquarters to Zurich earlier this year). Over those 12 months, it quickly became difficult to discern who was ‘in’ on the joke, and who was the victim of it. To some degree, the fun in fashion has always been about navigating its codified nature—but the layers of superposed irony made this an increasingly difficult task. Did an oversized $800 Snoop Dogg t-shirt really say much about your fashion credentials and ironic disposition, or was the implicit humor entirely at your own expense (literally)? “Clout” is a graduation of that dynamic, a very clear way of insinuating that you get the joke, but you’re not about to be laughed at.

Menswear has always been underpinned by both a sense of one-upmanship and a competing fear of embarrassment for devoting too much energy to dressing well. British football casuals in the 80s would take pride in not only being harder, but also more stylish than rival firms, whilst streetwear forums of the mid to late-2000s, such as Hypebeast, created the idea of “Fit Battles,” where users would face off against each other to see who was the best dressed. But the idea of dressing well is almost always tempered by a certain insecurity—"out there" enough to be cool, but not so much that you’ll be the subject of derision. That same thinking applies to how we talk about menswear, with “clout” perfectly illustrating that tension between stylish and aloof. Naturally, the only thing worse than being the “most swagless homie,” as the Four Pins meme goes, is looking like you care too much. Mocking use of the word "clout" was therefore a deflection tactic, simultaneously illustrating that you are in the know but ensuring you’re exempt from the concomitant ribbing of declaring that you actually posses “influence.”

It is often thought that menswear is immune to the kinds of rapid shifts in trends that seem commonplace in womenswear. In a sense, that’s true. Silhouettes evolve much more gradually, but the nuances of menswear—the kind that have become cool to nerd-out on, and have inspired the use of exceedingly niche terminology—are ever-changing. By now, a new term for “clout” has probably already been coined on some small corner of the internet, and its relevance in the menswear lexicon will soon diminish. Ironic.