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thoughts on justin bieber’s new style

A love letter to the scumbro.

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Sep 21 2018, 1:49pm

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If you needed some evidence that Justin Bieber was currently the hottest and coolest and most fantastically dressed man in the universe, then Exhibit A would be this column from The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman. In it she tries and fails to grapple with the concept of streetwear, and wrings her hands at a fashion trend that, across 1000 hot takes, has been coined as scumbro.

“When the Wall Street Journal ran a photospread of celebrity scumbros recently,” she writes, “It priced up their outfits and they ran into the high hundreds and thousands, even though all the men featured looked as if they’d lost a fight with a 14-year-old’s laundry basket.” LOL. The accompanying picture features Justin Bieber wearing a Vetements x Tommy Hilfiger hoodie and neon yellow baseball. Which is all very normal and quite on trend, actually.

“Scumbros wear oversized, overpriced skatewear by labels such as Palace and Supreme, obscure graphic T-shirts, ridiculous shoes, and even more ridiculous hats,” she continues. “They also wear wildly expensive labels, such as Gucci, Versace, and Prada, but deliberately make them look terrible.” And yet, sorry Hadley, Justin Bieber’s style, and the wider scumbro movement, is the most wonderful and thrilling thing happening in fashion right now.

The scumbro is the coinage of Vanity Fair and is this season’s hottest celebrity menswear style statement. It has hit the apex of the fashion trend news cycle. It was adopted by niche style press, then sneered at by the broadsheets, and then picked up in the tabloids with a wild WTF look at what celebrities are doing now angle. The scumbro is a confluence of a couple of recent trends. It is primarily a psychedelic take on the fuckboy. It is the deliberate and beautiful badness of ugly fashion seen through the down-to-earth relatability of normcore and the eye-catching visibility of neon. Add in a heroic dose of LSD and you have the scumbro. It is weed-soaked, tie-dyed and acid-washed. The scumbro’s style icon is Matthew McConaughey, its attitude pure Patrick Swayze in Point Break. LA hippy with the unlimited bank balance and limitless egomania of celebrity. It’s an incredible thing to be living through.

Jonah Hill and Shia Labeouf and Pete Davidson made early plays to be crowned King Garbagelord of the Scumbros. But Jonah Hill is too knowing, Shia Labeouf too grumpily normcore, Pete Davidson’s face is too interesting. The scumbro relies on the clashing softness of beauty to provide context for its grit. Which is why Justin Bieber has emerged as the style’s natural leader. It is the mustache he has recently grown that’s cemented it, I think. A slithering little mustache that’s crawled straight out of a cinematically grimy roadside motel. He’s got a wonderful little straggling flounce of long hair now too, which is very hunky surfer washed-up in the desert, working in a gas station.

There was a time when Justin Bieber was very boring and very badly dressed in a very uninteresting little tweenie bop singer way. There was always something off about what his minders made him wear. A bowtie with hi-tops. Red jeans and leopard print sneakers. It was Year 10 pop crush by committee. It was punchable. And then he went off the rails as these groomed celeb-pop kids usually do. He started punching photographers. He pissed in a bucket whilst shouting “Fuck Bill Clinton.” He abandoned a monkey in Germany.

This was a great moment for Bieber and great moment for culture in general. It was a glorious year-long piss-up that turned him from cute baby into a Proper Adult Popstar. A move that was cemented when he started working with Skrillex and Diplo and made some genuine bangers. He got a body’s worth of sexy bad tattoos. He went out with a load of models and maybe a couple of Kardashian-Jenners and spent a couple of years breaking up with Selena Gomez.

He’s now either engaged or secretly married to Hailey Baldwin and has transformed his style and emerged -- maybe for the first time in his career -- as genuine style icon. During the Purpose era he was cool, but he was playing catch-up. Always chasing what was hot but always a step behind the avant-garde. It put him in sync with the mainstream. But now, scumbro Bieber is leading the zeitgeist. I can confidently predict that this is what everyone will be dressing like next summer.

The Bieber look I am very into at the moment comes from a couple of weeks ago in LA. He wore a Hawaiian shirt with three-quarter length sleeves, cut-up denim three-quarter length shorts, and Adidas flip-flops. He looks magnetically average. Like a mirage of 90s stoner. And he is the kind of star who has the ability to pull this most standard of looks into something you can consider a seismic fashion trend.

Then he was spotted running, shirtless, through New York, wearing bright red shorts, yellow and blue pastel socks, and red and white checkerboard Vans. And he was in London, the other day, wearing a tie-dye hoodie playing guitar to Hailey Baldwin in front of Buckingham fucking Palace.

It is a relentlessly chilled and defiantly unpretentious style. Too wacky, too off, too unflattering, too memeable. It is easy for The Guardian to take the piss out of. But crucially, it feels like Bieber has freed himself from following the horror of mainstream fashion and forged his own psychedelic path. It is comfy as well as “cool”. But mainly, it is goofy and kinda lovable and very adorable. Right now, Justin Bieber looks like he is having fun.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

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