Rapper Missy Elliott’s inflated ‘trash bag’ helped create new space for women in hip-hop

A look at some of the notable fashion items in the history of hip-hop and their legacy in the culture.

In 1997, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott debuted the video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” the first single off her first solo rap album, Supa Dupa Fly. We’re introduced to the rapper as she stands with her back to the camera’s fish-eye lens wearing what looks to be a blown-up Hefty garbage bag.

For the next four minutes and 13 seconds, she wears seven different outfits: smiling in a crisp white T-shirt, fingerwaves and berry-colored lips on full display; dancing in rubber overalls, white T-shirt and rain slicker on a soundstage; puckering her lips in a yellow leather shorts set with a highlighter green tee underneath; driving to the beach in a moto jacket and red sunglasses; at the beach in a leather flight suit; and sitting on top of a hill in neon green sweatsuit. But it was the first look that set the tone for her career: the inflated catsuit.

“It was not a trash bag,” stylist June Ambrose clarified to VH1. “It was a couture Michelin suit!” And 26 years after the video’s debut, Ambrose said putting Elliott in that inflated look is one of her favorite moments of her career.  “[During] my early career in hip-hop culture, I was forced to design the looks in order to get the couture attention that the culture needed,” she told Bustle. “It had no stitching, it was all seamed with tire glue. The outer layer — which was the patent leather vinyl — we were able to sew up. Any little leak could throw off the inflation.”

Earlier this month, after Rolling Stone named “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” the greatest hip-hop music video of all time, Elliott shared that when they shot the video, her inflated suit had to be blown up at the gas station and she had to walk down a busy Brooklyn street in New York to get back to the set because she couldn’t fit in the car. On set, Ambrose had to follow her around with a bike pump to keep the suit inflated.

“Big up to those who remember when this video dropped!” Elliott tweeted. “I most def wasn’t the so called size or look ppl expected back then but I’m grateful that people minds were open CREATIVELY and VISUALLY to rock with it.”

The “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” music video marked a noticeable shift not only in how women who rap were viewed. 

“Early on, female hip-hop artists mimicked the style of their male peers in an effort to be taken more seriously. “That’s also just the culture of hip-hop at that moment,” said Rikki Byrd, co-curator of The Culture: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art. “Hip-hop is quite literally still coming from the streets during that time and the clothing items that are being created, especially in the boroughs of New York, are reflective of what people are experiencing in their respective communities.”

Elliott’s debut video does an incredible job of capturing where hip-hop is about to go stylewise, how it’s about to enter the mainstream while mentioning past trends, and creating a hip-hop iconography we keep coming back to.
“It’s just like, of course she’s creating a whole new way for us to think about Black women in this space,” said Byrd. “Of course, she is creating a new way of Black women thinking about how their body shows up in this space … which is hip-hop and claiming it as their own.”

Channing Hargrove is a senior writer at Andscape covering fashion. That’s easier than admitting how strongly she identifies with the lyrics “Single Black female addicted to retail.”

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