Fashion in Culture: An Appreciation for Black Fashion By: JoAnna Palumbo
The list of historical contributions that African Americans have made to the world of fashion and beauty stretches beyond the times. The earliest African fashion styles that caught on in the United States were African print dresses. These prints were worn as symbols of pride, and these prints’ variations reached high popularity amongst designers globally. For example, Burberry’s spring/summer 2012 collection showcased the Vlisco bulls-eye pattern, growing it as a fashion trend.
For a long time in history, black designers, models, and trends have been swept aside to maintain a skewed version of the world of fashion. Creative director and researcher at the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora, Teleica Kirkland addresses the African overlap between the Caribbean, South America, and North America. She explains how the institute’s logo has many dots, with lines connecting them all. “The dots are supposed to be the people and the places, with the lines connecting us—because I’m only one person,” she states.
African headwraps date back to the 1700s with the introduction of The Tignon Laws of 1786. The law stated that black women must wrap their hair because they attracted too many white men, so the white women petitioned the government to control the situation. Soon enough, it passed through the Americas into the Caribbean, turning into a bold fashion statement. Black women and even other white French women began to wrap their hair.
Nichelle Gainer, writer, producer, and author of Vintage Black Glamour, has been researching standard Black legends from the 40s and 50s after not discovering them in mainstream media. She talks about Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Audrey Hepburn in the fashion industry. However, there were very few books on African American legends like Margaret Tynes. She was a retired opera singer and millionaire business owner. Gainer created a book called Vintage Black Glamour to highlight black women that people most likely have never even heard of—actors, fashionistas, and writers.
It is so important to remember and celebrate black contributions to the world of fashion. Fifty years ago, there weren’t many famous or successful black designers or models. Today, the fashion industry has become much more inclusive and ready to embrace change. While more work rightfully needs to be done, we are making steppingstones to progression. Some black fashion brands to support during this Black History Month include AAKS, Pyer Moss, Farai London, and Re Ona, to name a few. Check them out!