Joe Exotic from Netflix’s Tiger King has emerged as the unlikley style icon of the quarantine period, writes Paul McLauchlan.
THE peroxide blonde-mulleted and mustachioed zookeeper, tiger breeder, and convicted felon, is an unlikely figure but given the social media fascination with his larger-than-life character, and the escape it provides from a day of working from home, it is no wonder that his wardrobe offered viewers a respite from their own loungewear.
Joe’s outfits, in terrible taste, varied from sequin waistcoats, shirts with Western-inspired fringe detailing, bootcut jeans to park ranger uniforms - always styled with a baseball cap. For special occasions, such as his three-partner wedding ceremony, Joe favoured a hot-pink shirt and a black cowboy hat. For his music video ‘Carole Baskin Killed Her Husband’, he was bedecked in an all-black tuxedo with a clerical collar. A fringe jacket emblazoned with ‘tigers can take my employee’s arm, but they cannot take my style.’ No less. Nothing is left to chance, his clothing adds to his performance.
The docu-series, released in the early weeks of quarantine, is the intimate tale of Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, the owner of Oklahoma’s G.W. Zoo, and his employees. The show’s eight one-hour episodes portray a tightly-woven but chaotic narrative of a deeply interconnected network of characters such as Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue, with a supporting cast of a cohort of journalists, animal traffickers, Las Vegas playboys, with an insight into Joe’s wild personal life, the murder-for-hire case that landed him in prison, and animal mistreatment, and with the occasional dismemberment of a staff member’s limb in a tiger-related incident.
The show is self-indulgent, it revels in its own twists and turns, from the compulsive targeted harassment and threatening videos to wild allegations and Joe Exotic’s accusations about Carole Baskin feeding her husband to tigers, and his eventual demise. The showrunners capture trashiness and gluttony in unfiltered displays of total madness. At its heart, Joe and his wardrobe, identifiable with the whole premise of the show.
“Who knew that when the world went into lockdown a style icon would emerge from somewhere in middle America, with more swag than your typical hypebeast or die hard fashionista. Well the world needed a hero and Joe Exotic unknowingly stepped up to the plate,” said Thom Scherdel, Menswear Buyer at Browns.
“The brilliance of his style is in his cluelessly confident approach matched only by his charisma.” Scherdel added, “I think Joe Exotic has shown us you can be bold with block colours, statement fuchsias, electric blues and boyband white all seem totally doable now. I hope to see people embrace the majesty in his madness of clothes, rather than anything else.”
But Joe’s wardrobe has long been fashion fodder. It dominated the recent spring/summer 2020 and autumn/winter 2020 runway shows. Animal print is a mainstay in collections from Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. Similarly, Joe’s streetwise spin on decadence has been rendered by Gucci for the past five years. There it looked more skilful.
Moreover, there are historical examples of men embracing Joe’s fabulosity dating back to the 17th century. Scherdel points to collections from Casablanca, Jacquemus, and Gucci as prime examples of labels that inject boldness into their collections, casting the conservative to the wayside. A designer that handles this so well, according to Scherdel, is the London-based Edward Crutchley.
Crutchley men’s clothes are a sign of the times: they’re motivated by finding beauty, celebrating fabrics and patterns, oftentimes spinning a louche verve with relaxed fits, luxurious fabrics, and finished with daring clashes of print. He doesn’t shy away from pageantry, like Joe Exotic, with clothes that can almost seem excessive or sensory overload but, unlike Joe Exotic, are grounded in a subtle sophistication.
About his designs, Crutchley said, “they celebrate what they are and I hope by doing that make the wearer happier and able to celebrate themselves.”
“Of course we can look back the fabulosity of the 17th and 18th century but there are much more recent examples we can perhaps relate to more directly," said Crutchley, referencing 1970s colour-block tailoring with huge flared trousers, or the showiness of the 1980s power suit with pastel graphic clashing with banker stripe shirts and jazzy braces.
“All of these point to a long history of experimentation in menswear with an undercurrent of flamboyance and ‘extraness’.”
It is no wonder that from collections like Dries van Noten, where you can find a slim-fit leopard print shirt with a clashing floral print chest panel, or Prada, where there are vintage-style bootcut jeans, flamboyance is on full view.
The style of the 1970s and 1980s is a departure from office-wear and loungewear, but its welcome wildness is distilled to function easily in men’s lives.
Joe Exotic lived and breathed extraness in his public life and it’s why he’s not exactly an unlikely style icon. In fact, he’s the one we deserve. Society is obsessed with the outrageous aspects of celebrity culture but, more so, the unadulterated narcissism of celebrities and the unimaginable lives they lead.
In one episode, Joe says, “people don’t come to see the tigers; they come to see me.” Audiences are gripped by the magnetic extravagance of his persona, from his actions down to his fringed-trimmed jackets and spangled waistcoats.
But while the murky underworld of the big cat enterprise in America and the crass individuals that inhabit G.W. Zoo or Big Cat Rescue represent the cult of personality, using clothing to further sensationalise already sensational lives, the rest of us can introduce the “majesty in his madness” as a means of brightening up a pair of blue jeans or otherwise plain outfit. On a simplistic level, then your wardrobe is nearly as thrilling as the twists and turns in Tiger King.