The word ghetto has had many connotations. To some, it's the slum while to others it's the township or ‘hood’.
The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ghetto as a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal or economic pressure. It’s that very interpretation that has led to the characterisation of ghetto glam as a movement of people who embrace where they come from while courting financial success that enables them to lead a glamorous lifestyle.
This lifestyle comes with the frills that one would expect of an aspirational and fancy way of living – a house in the exclusive leafy green suburbs of the north of Joburg, an expensive German car, a selection of the finest European and local designer fashion, children schooled in private institutions, dining at gourmet restaurants and a visit to reconnect with one’s roots through entertainment in the township’s locales.
Emmanuel Tjiya, an award-winning celebrity writer at The Sowetan, says the movement officially began in the United States when hip-hop pushed the narrative of an affluent lifestyle through its showcase of fancy cars, lavish jewellery, mansions, showy displays of cash and in-your-face branded luxury shoes, bags and clothes. Tjiya cites artists such as Mary J. Blige, who was prolific in her fur coats and diamonds, and Jay-Z and P. Diddy, who flew to islands to shoot ostentatious videos, as the people who led this movement.
More recently, the mainstream has reignited its somewhat love-hate relationship with ghetto glam as it was once seen as tacky and crass.
More recently, the mainstream has reignited its somewhat love-hate relationship with ghetto glam as, according to Tjiya, it was once seen as tacky and crass. “I think in recent memory ghetto glam saw a rise in mainstream largely thanks to the way Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie in Empire was styled.
“Here was this black woman who was vulgar in the best sense when it came to her style. From animal print to luxe fur, her flashy style was irresistible. That influence fast rose on the runway with brands like Versace and Gucci taking note and incorporating that into their lines.”
Locally, Tjiya is of the view that there are several big trailblazers who are ushering the movement and giving it a unique twist. Fashion designer Rich Mnisi, media personalities Bonang Matheba, Somizi Mhlongo, Boity Thulo and Lerato Kganyago feature as people who are driving the movement in South Africa.
“Just because it’s ghetto glam it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t look upmarket and impeccable. Rich gets that in his DNA. The rise of street fashion is what has made it so hot too.
“When it comes to ghetto glam, flashy designer accessories are the way to go. Bold belts, shoes, sunglasses and bags are hot buys.” In terms of brands that are popular, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel and Gucci are the preferred designers, says Tjiya.
He adds that fast fashion stores such as H&M are collaborating with high-end designer stores such as Balmain to bring their threads to the public while demystifying their brands.
While fashion is a key component of looking the part, cars in the R1-million price range round off the lifestyle. Boity recently showed off her new wheels on Instagram, an imported Range Rover, with Lerato posting her brand new Mercedes-Benz coupé and Bonang and Somizi regularly showing off their G-Wagons respectively.
The ghetto glam lifestyle wouldn’t be complete without the right address, and suburbs in the north have proved to be the location of choice. Bonang resides in Waterfall Estate where rentals begin at R40 000 a month, according to Century Property Developments. Somizi has a house in Fourways, another sought-after location. Estate homes in that area cost R2 million plus according to Remax Properties.
Boitumelo Mmakou, a YFM producer, says a lot of people are now more proud to represent the townships they're from. Because of this, a lot of areas have become popular.
“Alexandra hang-out spots like Joe’s Butcher, Centurion Shisanyama, Soshanguve Car Wash, KwaMax in Durban to name a few are places that have become well known because celebrities hang out there.”
If you have the money, have all your bills paid, why not treat yourself to an LV belt, bag or shades? Drip in your own hard work.
More upmarket spots include Rockets in Bryanston, Saint in Sandton and Fridays in Blue Valley Estate.
Mmakou explains the ghetto glam lifestyle influences many of the current trends we see in society today, and it’s not only celebrities but educated professionals and businessmen as well.
More young people are getting degrees and scoring high-paying jobs. They can then afford a better lifestyle in comparison to what they grew up with.
“So occasionally, young professionals will buy a kota from the township or wash their car in the hood. This is because public figures have done the same, thus creating the notion that it isn't too bad of an idea to be ghetto glam.”
Phila Tyekana, Metro FM drive time producer, is of the understanding that social media has a large impact on how ghetto glam success is perceived and re-enacted.
“Society somehow dictates that if you've made it in life, you ought to wear expensive clothes, and they too are following that path. If you have the money, have all your bills paid, why not treat yourself to an LV belt, bag or shades? Drip in your own hard work.”
However, Mmakou cautions about how realistic the lifestyle that characterises ghetto glam is. She believes it creates a competitive culture with people yearning for things they can’t afford.
“It's negative in the sense that not everyone is genuine about it, others are doing it for show. But there are those celebrities who genuinely love keeping it real and staying in touch with their ghetto side. Those are the people who have made it OK for their consumers to be influenced by this, and find it to be a positive action.”
The top 10 ghetto glam brands
While he collaboratively dressed and styled Beyoncé during her Global Citizen tour last year, it’s his ability to pair strong Afro and tribal elements into his clothing that make Rich Mnisi stand out.
Together with Fila and Ellesse, the Italian streetwear powerhouse has been reintroduced to the local market with flashy logos and branding that make it sought after.
Gucci and Versace
From bags and sunglasses to threads, these are the standard feature of ghetto glam. Its hefty prices are framed by the fact that they're considered a sign of privilege and accomplishment.
The classic Chanel bag can set you back a cool R100 000 but that’s no feat as it's a must-have symbol of social status.
Nadia X Redbat
The rapper’s partnership with Sportscene gave her greater access to the ghetto glam movement and undoubtedly her fans. By teaming up with the store’s flagship brand, Nadia’s line has reinvented local female casualwear, making it a combo of accessible and street chic.
The world’s premium sportswear continues to dominate and is the preferred mode of style for the gym and casual wear of ghetto glam frontmen.
Owned by contemporary African fashion designer Rina Chunga Kutama, Ri.Ch Factory is often endorsed by stars such as Nomzamo Mbatha, who has incorporated it into her own ghetto fabulous style.
Designer Virgil Abloh creates ready-made streetwear through his range, which has been adopted on red carpets, in townships and suburbs alike.
The French luxury fashion house has become a staple among celebrities and upper middle class who seek to cement their authority in the style stakes. Seen regularly on the arms of Somizi, DJ Zinhle and Bonang, it's the go-to brand for showing off a healthy bank balance.
Originally a skatewear footwear line, US brand Vans have gained popularity as an everyday sneaker that can be paired casually over weekends, and for Sandton’s urban crowd on Fridays with denims and a blazer.
Street art vs. traditional art
One feature of the ghetto glam movement has been the shift from the celebration of street art to the preference for traditional art.
For years, street art in the form of graffiti was seen as an expression of self, creativity and freedom. Supported by musicians who provided a platform for artists in music videos and for fashion showcases, both street and traditional art have the power to be controversial and the ability to be emotional.
Nathi Ngubane, a Joburg-based artist and illustrator, has keenly followed both scenes over his 10-year career. When looking at how ghetto glam has evolved, Nathi says that it’s about status, power and accessibility. Where street art was the ultimate expression of cool; traditional art has taken over as a token of success. Nathi expands saying, “Traditional art has the privilege of being displayed in the most prestigious art galleries, where art lovers get to purchase pieces for millions. Therefore, traditional artists get their respect by being represented by these galleries.
“Street art, on the other hand, is unsanctioned. This type of art is mostly frowned upon because of its ‘invasion of public and private property’. While it was a symbol of creativity and functioned well alongside those at the forefront of ghetto glam, the smart vandalism seemingly no longer has a place at the centre of the movement... It is no longer just about art but about the venue, how it's housed, who's seen there and how that contributes to one’s image and status.”