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All hail Joe Exotic, the problematic king of wild style

The big cat enthusiast, diss-track supremo, and all-round messy bitch who lives for drama is 2020’s first unlikely fashion icon

Over the course of the last few days, sandwiched between the steady stream of existential dread-tinged social distancing memes and the seemingly never-ending (and more than a little smug) posts depicting fresh, home-baked bread that are taking over the timeline right now, you may have noticed an unusual figure crop up. 

For those of you who haven’t yet sat down to devour new Netflix doc Tiger King in one singular, six hour-long session avec a disgusting amount of snacks (got a lot on, have you?), allow us to introduce you to Joe Exotic – the sequin-draped, baby tiger-clutching, peroxide blonde-mulleted proprietor of Oklahoma’s GW Exotic Animal Park.

Without giving too much away, Tiger King is a wild ride that starts with Joe’s rise from big cat lover to bonafide local celebrity, and ends with his ultimate fall, as he’s thrown into jail for not only exploiting the animals under his care, but also allegedly hiring a hitman to take out his arch-nemesis, the hippy-dippy smiling assassin (Joe alleges) Carole Baskin.

The story is basically as berserk as they come (see: understatement), with a whole host of brilliant, oddball supporting characters including a chain-smoking journalist who’d once been intent on turning Joe Exotic into a prime-time reality TV star, a cartoon-like Hollywood animal trainer with multiple wives, and Exotic’s late husband Travis, who wouldn’t have looked (or, in fact, been) out of place on the Jackass line-up circa the early 00s. 

What captured our attention from the very moment Joe flamboyantly burst onto screen however, was his wardrobe. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis circa that time he seemingly raided Goodhood’s sale rail and came out looking like the kind of fuckboy that would 100 per cent leave you on read, and Anna Delvey, who managed to manipulate perception so much that we named her one of 2018’s biggest style icons despite the fact she looked like she was wearing head-to-toe Jane Norman (RIP), Joe immediately became 2020’s first unlikely style icon and a remedy – at least for our eyes – in these bleak, bleak times. 

From his Vetements-esque stonewashed denim jeans, cut-off plaid shirts, and GW Exotic Zoo-branded trucker caps (accessorised with all manner of snappy leather dog collars and beads) and his fave left-undone-to-the-navel sequined and leopard-swirled shirts that have more than a touch of Versace about them, to the countless ensembles that could pass for Alessandro Michele-era Gucci and the bullet-hole tattoos that may or may not have inspired Mowalola’s AW19 collection, Joe Exotic is a one man lewk machine with a passion for fashion. So much so, in fact, that even Jared Leto is taking style tips from him (and tbh, could have been for a while now).

Given we are far less superficial than the reality TV and movie depictions of fashion industry insiders would have you believe, it’s not only his effortless talent for pulling off an exaggerated shoulder here or some dramatic, yeehaw agenda-pushing fringed leathers there that turned our heads, though. While Joe is obviously highly problematique and we absolutely do not condone the mistreatment of incredibly cute baby animals, he’s also wildly charismatic, and, (dare we go there?)... kind of inspiring.

Surrounding himself with a rag-tag bunch of ex-cons and fringe-dwellers in a part of the US where men pride themselves on upholding traditional (and pretty archaic) ideals of masculinity, Joe Exotic is unapologetic about his sexuality, dressing as flamboyantly as he wishes, and making no effort to hide his love for his (many) husbands in front of those visiting his roadside zoo. Add to that his truly insane Carole Baskin diss-tracks which demonstrate a level of petty we truly aspire to reach and prove his status as a messy bitch who lives from drama of the highest degree, and reader, we cannot help but stan ((his aesthetic at least).

He may have fallen from grace as king of the tigers, but, for now at least, Joe Exotic is the king of wild style – pls do not @ us.