If Black people aren’t some of the most fashionable people on the planet, I don’t know who are!
Growing up, my mother was always adamant that my brothers and I dressed our best to head out the door. As I liked to say, she’d dress up to get the paper from the front step. It took a while for that lesson to take hold in my mind, but as a man and now as a parent myself, it’s important to me to represent, making sure people know I came from a solid upbringing.
No matter what kind of Black person you are, I’d argue you see clothes as a direct reflection of yourself. Businesspeople. Gang members. Ballplayers and fashionistas. It’s the colours, the cut, the brand names and more—it’s completely woven into our culture with mentions in our music, movies, magazines and more… we are what we wear, and Black people rarely shy away from that!
It’s especially important for me as a Black Dad—we gain this reputation as slobs once we enter this phase of our lives, so focused on raising our kids that we don’t spend any time on ourselves. I’m looking to fight against that amidst a wardrobe of tailored suits, polished shoes and three-quarter length coats in the winter.
As Mark Twain once said—”Clothes make the man.”
But don’t take my word for it—two of my contributors, Marcia Reid and Chantel Bedward have their takes on what role fashion plays in Black culture, and they’re both on point.
Give it some time. Soak it in. See what we see. I hope you enjoy it!
The Meaning of Fashion
If you are over the age of 10 and still unaware of the travesties of slavery, or of the glory of Black Empires, then it will be difficult to comprehend why Black people are so fashionable.
Fashion is a form of storytelling.
From ancient temples and churches, empires to slave ships, storytelling was an integral part of preserving and passing on knowledge, history, and culture. In adverse times, storytelling inspired, taught, and gave hope.
Personal style creates conversation, a story, an idea, an illusion or even a truth to come.
Personal style is an expression, a creative discipline. Creativity runs through the DNA of black people.
Despite what you learned in school about the Greeks inventing nearly everything, Africans were the first people on earth—they created much of what’s accredited to cave dwellers, Europeans, etc.
Besides, nobody is more creative than the marginalised… the have-nots, have-littles or the want-mores. If you want to know how many ways there are to cook a potato, just ask a person who is living on a tight budget… or a farmer!
Fashion manipulates ideas or conforms to them as well. It dictates identities, education levels, classes, salary brackets and status.
Fashion is an accessible power that can be wielded in so many ways. It is no surprise that style is central to the black experience for these same reasons.
Attire can challenge or encourage stereotypes. Why wouldn’t a black woman or man want that type of power—and only for a couple of hundred dollars?
Even in a diverse country such as Canada, the beauty standards still mirror much of the European beauty standards.
For black people, we have an intimate relationship with the notion of “looking the part” and understand its love affair with being able to play the part.
To look the part often garners the confidence to successfully play the part. Without an audition, you don’t have a chance to get the role. Perhaps it’s now in the DNA of black people to seek out chance, opportunity — to get in where you fit in.
“Fashion is the ﬁrst step out of poverty. You have nothing and then you put something on. It is one of the ﬁrst things you do to elevate yourself. … Why are people scandalized by spending money on clothes? Everybody is so passionate about this — there’s a resistance to fashion — an idea that to love fashion is to be stupid. Clothes are very intimate. When you get dressed, you are making public your idea about yourself, and I think that embarrasses people.” – Miuccia Prada
Economic disparities give life to the narrative that blacks often have to do twice as much to be considered half as good, and not granted the many of the privileges others enjoy. There is an unspoken rule known among people of colour: look and be whatever is required… while making sure to come across as non-threatening—the good field slave. On the other side of the pendulum, there are those who strut afros, nose septum’s, tattoos, dashikis, and black pride tees as expressions of self-love—not just as defiance to “ideal” beauty standards and the system at large. Brands like 100Miles and LIWI68 make sure the storytelling continues; that we don’t forget monumental moments and subdued historical events like Africville.
In short, fashion is a coping mechanism; it gives people chances and opportunities. It creates stories and alternate realities. Fashion is power.
Black people… Africans and descendants of Africans, undoubtedly yearn for and deserve that power—that’s what we get through fashion.
“There is an obvious and prominent fact about human beings…” wrote Bryan Turner “…they have bodies and they are bodies…”.
“In her essay ‘Addressing the Body’; Joanne Entwistle interprets this assertion to suggest that our bodies constitute our environment, making them inseparable from self. She also identifies Turner’s obvious and prominent omission—that human bodies are dressed bodies. “Nakedness…” she writes, “…is wholly inappropriate in almost all social situations and, even in situations where much naked flesh is exposed (on the beach, at the swimming-pool, even in the bedroom), the bodies that meet there are likely to be adorned, if only by jewellery, or indeed, even perfume”
Marcia Reid currently works in finance at the Toronto Film School and is the Creative Director of BS7, an entertainment blog. She has styled musician Fefe Dobson for Boss Magazine, captures and shares some of the most happening events in Toronto, and in her blog interviews she often asks the questions nobody wants to ask but everyone wants to know about the movers and shakers in the fashion industry such as her interview with Coco Rocha, and Yasmine Wasarme.
Marcia is known to collaborate with other creatives to bring their visions to fruition so definitely contact her if you are looking for assistance with your next creative project or event.
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Fix Up, Look Sharp
Chantel Bedward is a Torontonian through and through and proud of it (well not as proud as she is to be BLACK). She describes herself as a “Jill of all trades, on her way to mastering them all”! From managing nationwide PR campaigns to creative direction… she’s definitely on her way to being her greatest (and, of course, to mastering them all!)
Fix up. Look sharp. Your clothes tell a story—make sure it’s the right one!
Thanks for checking this out and until the next, I remain,