Is there Racism in Fashion?

April 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

 Browsing one of my favorite sites Fashion Bomb Daily I came across this post : speaking on comments that there is no racism in fashion and I remembered this section of my senior thesis for Women’s and Gender Studies,

      “The political nature of clothing in our history is inextricably linked to the fashion culture that has developed in the African American female community. The political significance clothing has in our society is one way fashion is made into a political arena, but as well the invisibility of African American women’s contributions represent our socialized impressions of black women. Speaking back to Collins’ idea of controlling images, these images have informed our understandings of black women and have contributed to their invisibility from history. The manifestation of our social prejudices of black women in the fashion world is the second way this space is made into a political one. Despite this, we see African American women creating a space within one, where they control and craft their own representations that are deeply entrenched in the development of an African American political narrative. Yet this has been ignored by historians in part because of the understandings of fashion as separate from political activism”1

Racism as I see it in fashion is the denial of the ‘historicization’ of African American work into the fashion canon ( i made this up sounds pretty sexy). The perpetual illegibility ( Tricia Rose) when viewing African American fashion and creative styles is reflective of this racism. Fashion is not new to the African American designer, model, photographer or stylist but none of our fashion ancestors are given the respect they deserve.

Fashion is both a cultural mirror and reflector consequently racism is embedded in its foundations. Fashion is not a separate entity existing outside of the political, it is the political because it is the personal.

So is there Racism in Fashion- we answer with a big resounding MOST CERTAINLY!- YES!

Its time to pay respects to our Fashion Ancestors ( at least a few)

             Elizabeth Keckley- Dressmaker for First Lady  Mary Todd Lincoln

                  Zelda Wynn Valdes- Designer for Harlem Renaissance Elite

1- Fashioning Black Women’s Political Activism; Dressmaking and Designing in the Early 19th and 20th century

R. Otoo for Pearls and Revolution


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