Black Style and Blackness in Fashion / Project Overview

THOUGHT PROCESS | Black Style and Blackness in Fashion

Broadly speaking, my MRP revolves around the subject racial diversity in fashion. Under that subject, it can be narrowed down to four key themes which I have identified as the following:

  1. black style and blackness in fashion
  2. the portrayal of the black subject in fashion-related imagery
  3. street style and style in subculture
  4. the advent of the blogosphere and the importance of the “fashion” blogosphere

I’ve already started compiling literature that revolves around these themes and will continue to add more as I continue on. I’ll start with the theme that is probably the most important to my MRP which is black style and blackness in fashion. A vast array of research has been conducted on black style and I gathered literature of some of the key researchers/academics for my MRPP. For now, I will start with Carol Tulloch.

Carol Tulloch is a Reader at the Chelsea College of Art and Design. She has written extensively about and curated exhibitions on black style, style narratives as well as dress as it relates to black identity. She edited Black Style, which was published in 2004 to accompany an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Black Style is a collection of essays that focuses on blackness as it relates to dress and culture. Black Style and her 2010 article “Style-Dress-Fashion: From Black to Post-Black” are two crucial sources for my MRP.

At the moment, I’m working with a loose definition of the term “black style.”  Tulloch broadly defines it as “… the dress culture of individuals of African descent” (Tulloch, 11). On paper, this definition is perfectly reasonable but as I move forward with my MRP, I’m quickly realizing “black style” is  much harder to visually identify. Since my own street style photographs will be a large part of the online exhibition, I think I will need to make the distinction between a person of Black African descent who is simply well-dressed and a person who is indicative of the advancement of my definition of black style. However, the more I think about these people are probably going to be one in the same. It will very difficult to differentiate between the two but once I start taking photographs I hope it will get easier. The people who I hope to find and photograph will reflect the trends as seen on the street style, style diary and fashion-themed blogs that I have chosen to research. This is all very convoluted so I’ve consulted other researchers academics to further define what black style today is. In my MRP I wrote,

“In her article “African – American Aesthetic of Dress: Current Manifestations” (1998), Gwendolyn O’Neal explores    the African-American aesthetic(s) of dress, how it is manifested and culturally perpetuated and how African-Americans perceive it to be. She goes as far as to categorize this aesthetic into four elements: “the affinity for ‘high affect’ colors; ‘style’ or individual expression; improvisations and exotic features; and the tendency to dress up” (O’Neal, 170). Much of what she describes, namely the “element of style or individual expression”, is relatable to the blogs I intend to examine.”

I would say that all four elements of this aesthetic is identifiable on the blogs I’ve begun looking at. In addition to these elements, I’ve noticed elements like the ‘affinity’ for graphic and animal prints, emphasis on footwear and the tendency to wear natural hairstyles. Of course all these elements are not unique to those of Black African descent but I think that they have been adopted and worn differently. I also think that those of Black African descent adopt mainstream fashion trends (i.e. the top five trends as seen on the Fall 2012 runways) differently.  As Dilia Lopez-Gydosh and Joseph Hancock explain in “American Men and Identity: Contemporary African-American and Latino Style” (2009),  “African-American and Latino men adorn and wear clothing as an integral part of personal identity. Their styles, fashions, and popular  music have impacted American culture during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”  Their article has an interesting passage on black style and mainstream fashion.

“Helen Bradley Foster contends that while the clothing of American blacks has traditionally been clustered into one style, it possesses many unique looks and qualities that reflect the dichotomy between American and African. She also argues that while African-Americans have traditionally ‘‘adopted the prevailing cultural dress of each period, their style often sets them apart’’ (Foster 16). She notes that American fashions came from Europe until the 1950s; however, black styles began to inspire the fashions of white American dress as well. Many items from both Latino and black style have been adopted as mass fashion, including sneakers that minority athletes have worn first, doo rags made popular by African-Americans and Latinos during the late 1960s, Yamamoto Kansai sweaters (also known as Bill Cosby sweaters), and hip-hop and reggaeto´ n apparel (Foster 16). However, it is the zoot suit that launches the associations of minority men to fashion in the United States.”

Gwendolyn O’Neal also explains that,

“Although objects of dress are designed and manufactured by the dominant culture, African-Americans may use these objects to dramatize cultural differences in the manner in which they wear them and in the attitude that supports their expressiveness. Thus, the object is not complete as purchased but is reshaped by the wearer to express nonverbal messages of resistance, conflict, accommodation, rebellion, or even cultural identity.

 Style allows the wearer to don the garb of the dominant culture while refusing to accept that culture’s definition of him-or herself” (O’Neal, 173).

I found this video on Style Like U  that sort of encapsulates this whole discussion

Obviously Preston is a very well-dressed person and uses fashion as tool for self expression. I would as consider his personal style as a perfect example of what black style can mean today.


Hancock, Joseph and Dilia Lopez-Gydosh. “American Men and Identity: Contemporary African-American and Latino Style.”

O’Neal, Gwendolyn S. “African – American Aesthetic of Dress: Current Manifestations.” Clothing and Textiles Journal. 16:4 (1998): 167-175.

Tulloch, Carol ed., Black Style. London  UK: V&A Publications. 2004. Print

Tulloch, Carol. “Style-Fashion-Dress: From Black to Post-Black” Fashion Theory. 14.3 (2010) : 273-304. Print.

Miller, Monica. Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2009. Print.

Preston Davis on Style Like U


2 thoughts on “THOUGHT PROCESS | Black Style and Blackness in Fashion

  1. Pingback: Reading Reflection and Notes | Stuart Hall’s “What is ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” | On Black Style

  2. Pingback: THOUGHT PROCESS | Conclusion of this chapter of my creative process | On Black Style

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