Fashion has long been used to differentiate between prostitutes and ‘respectable’ members of society. Whether through state enforced sumptuary laws or less formally imposed but equally codified visual markers, the identity category of ‘prostitute’ has been constructed in such a way as to annul all others, defining the bearer of the title according to their illegality, sexuality and perceived immorality. Nowadays, however, from the mainstreaming of the thong – a garment devised to censor the bodies of ‘exotic’ dancers – to the street walker chic of wet-look leggings, few areas of Western popular culture today remain impervious to the power of the aesthetics of the sex industry.
Nowhere is this influence more acutely apparent than in the products of contemporary hip-hop culture, wherein the hegemonic hyper-sexualised caricature of woman as ‘ho’ belies the early emancipatory messages of female artists such as Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, et al. Hip-hop is a multi-million dollar global phenomenon and - when the combined revenues of music sales, fashion labels, films, TV series, advertising endorsements, video games, cars, jewellery and other ‘lifestyle’ accessories are factored in - it generates more money annually than the GDP of a small country. Its influence can be felt world-wide, with distinct hip-hop cultures evolving on nearly every continent and with the dichotomous gender roles that it endorses embedded in all its various manifestations.
The ‘ho’, as one of the dominant representations of womanhood discussed by male hip-hop artists, presents a paradoxical image that is both threatening and desirable; ‘hoes’ are needed in order to effect a ‘pimp’ identity and display the ‘pimp’s’ business and sexual prowess, but the seeming avaricious nature of the ‘ho’ threatens the ‘pimp’s’ financial and social status if not perpetually kept in check. The ‘ho’s’ complex contemporary signification, from the ‘pimp’s’ reliance on her as a defining status symbol to her implied mastery of both male and female sexuality will be examined here. Further, the ambivalent role that high end fashion labels play in indicating both her ‘keptness’ and her acquisitive autonomy will be explored; for as 50 Cent states in his 2003 single P.I.M.P., ‘She got a thing for that Gucci, that Fendi, that Prada, That BCBG, Burberry, Dolce and Gabbana, She feed them foolish fantasies, they pay her cause they wanna’.
Franklin, A. (2019). There’s no b’ness like ho b’ness: Deconstructing the hip-hop ‘ho’. In J. Turney (Ed.), Fashion Crimes: Dressing for Deviance (73-80). Bloomsbury