Fashion today is unequivocally pioneered in Black culture. However, the history of Black fashion is complex. Mostly built on colonial racism and the subjugation of Black and brown bodies, fashion industries were well known to whitewash and profit off of Black culture without respectfully acknowledging our history. With the events of 2020 regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, the importance of Black culture and its monumental influence on fashion today must be acknowledged.
Here are some prominent fashion trends we have the Black community to thank for:
Dating back to 3000 B.C., Egyptian women wore artificial nails created from ivory, gold and bone. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese used nail shades to make class distinctions; the most privileged painted their finger and toenails red as a symbol of status.
From this, acrylic nails were brought to the US in the 1950s. Donyale Luna, the first Afican-American model to grace the cover of the British edition of Vogue wore them on the cover of Tween magazine in 1966. Then they became ubiquitous with ‘70’s Disco stars such as Diana Ross and Donna Summer who are fashion icons in their own right as well.
Modern acrylics as we see them today are considered an art form for most POC’s. Though they are not necessarily a Black invention, Black women have undoubtedly played an ongoing role in the cultural emergence of acrylic nails.
The oldest hoop earrings found were from Sumerian women in 2500 BC. Hoops then became an essential accessory for Egyptians. They were also worn in 4th Century Nubia, a civilization in Africa around Egypt and Sudan populated by dark skin women. They believed earrings enhanced a person’s beauty. This is what essentially played a part in the rise of hoop earrings.
During the Jazz age, notable Black performers, such as civil rights activist Josephine Baker, wore hoops to symbolize the vibrancy of Black culture in the 1920’s. Then, during the rise of the hip-hop era in the 80’s, hoops grew in popularity and in size. Iconic artists such as Missy Elliot, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill contributed to the popularization of hoops at this time. Along with this, many latin women from Southern California began to hop on the trend (VICE).
Eventually, gold hoops entered the runway in the 2000s and paved a way for the continuation of this trend to present day, despite the fact that women of color were told that they looked “unprofessional” and “ghetto” with large hoops.
Sneakers were created in the 19th century as a simple rubber-soled shoe designed for sport-related activities. It wasn’t until the 20th century that sports like basketball began to develop and the sneaker found its athletic vocation. Brands like Chuck Taylor All-Stars became popular on and off the court.
Sneaker culture, which is particularly notable today with the increasing popularity of street wear brands, started in the 1970s. It developed from a simple sportswear to a burgeoning hip-hop movement. It’s increasing popularity with basketball stars and the emergence of Michael Jordan’s 1985 ‘Air Jordan’ shoe line, revolutionized the streetwear culture. The increase of signature basketball sneakers, along with its affiliation with the hip-hop scene helped to elevate its demand.
Shoe historian Bobbito García notes in the exhibition catalogue `Out of the Box’ by Elizabeth Semmelhack that “the progenitors of sneaker culture were predominantly kids of colour”. ‘Urban’ black youth launched the popularity of the sneaker culture, though they receive little to no recognition for their influence. Sneaker culture has augmented streetwear into something new. Thanks to hip hop culture and black youth, it has revolutionized in the last two decades.
Check out the 2015 Amazon Prime documentary ‘Fresh Dressed’ to learn more about the history of ‘urban fashion’ from the streets of the Bronx.
The origin of monogram print is often debatable. Some believe it can be traced back to 1896 when George Vuitton created the ‘L’ and ‘V’ logo. Some think it goes back to the symmetrical mirrored ‘G’ logo on bags and accessories in the 1960’s. However, many people believe the real founder of logomania was from an American fashion designer and haberdasher from Harlem, New York ‘Dapper Dan’.
In Harlem, New York during the 80’s, Dapper Dan was illegally screen printing designer logos on leather and clothing in a way that other brands, such as Chanel, have not thought of before. He was eventually shut down by police in 1989, but fortunately he already had the support of the hip-hop and rap community from New York with big names such as Jay-Z, P Diddy, LL Cool J, and Floyd Mayweather. This was instrumental in the popularization of this trend and created the demand for more logomania products. However, the trend of the monogram print today has been reappropriated by the same luxury brands who tried to shut Dapper Dan down.
Other fashion trends that were popularized by the Black community include: hair extensions, snapbacks, and sports jerseys, just to name a few. These styles are essential to our society today, but heavily appropriated. We must simply acknowledge and educate those about the historical influence of the Black community within the fashion industry, rooted in a historical struggle for cultural creativity and credibility.