News

On Women’s Marches and Fashion – This is What Democracy Looks Like (Fashion Conscious: A Column)

March 9, 2017

by Dominique Michelle Davis

The recent Woman’s march and the ability of women to organize in a effort to protest misogyny and oppression inspired and saddened my heart to know that in 2016 as far as we’ve come we still haven’t overcame. What was inspiring was the fact that women were united and also embraced the support of males in acknowledging what has been a systemic issue in the United States and especially in the politically arena. The march was and is what democracy should reflect. Women, men, children, LGBTQ people, people of color, young and old all chanting in chorus for basic human rights and speaking truth to power.

How does this relate to fashion, pop culture and beauty? Because the beauty of life is that it comes in all forms, shapes, sizes, cultures and experiences. How we fashion our lives to cope with the struggle and challenges of reality may be only the most outer layer of us expressing ourselves, but who would want to be vulnerable and share more when the mere appearance presents a challenge and barrier toward forming a deeper connection? These are just my thoughts about the power of visual appearance and the symbolism it may represent for individual expression.

During the march a young lady was dressed in what upon first gaze was a bit odd and eccentric. Then it dawned on me, she was dressed as a Suffragist.I remember learning about this in history class, and I can acknowledge and site the names of leaders such as Susan B. Anthony and the Women’s Temperance movement with vague recollection, so I was moved to do some fact checking to jog my memory. The task of researching this bit of history also made me realize how easy it is to forget the suffering and struggle of the past when in present day it appears that equal rights is within reach. One of my favorite signs during the march stated “I still can’t believe that we still have to march for this.” That was my exact sentiment and it felt reassuring to be among a crowd who was just as dismayed and angry with the system who would vote for a reality star with no proven track record of what it takes to move a country toward a future that is accepting and embracing all life and experiences; or for that matter, how to build relationships with other countries to foster global and non-exploitative economic prosperity.

Women’s “dress codes” has evolved since the Temperance Movement. In fact, women’s dress in the 21st century is, as it was during the dress reform movements of the 19th century, a progressive movement in and of itself. Women’s garments were very restrictive in function and style and today, in America, we have the option to choose. Hopefully that will remain unchanged under this new administration. Laughing, but very serious.

Beauty, Fashion, On the Carpet, Pop Culture, WERK!

Dominique’s Oscars 2017 Recap

February 27, 2017

by Dominique Michelle Davis

Jimmy Kimmel’s witty and clever one-liners infusing political commentary with Hollywood elite was right on time and made this Oscars much more fun and funny to watch than in recent years. Though many were understandably not happy with his handling of the cast and crew of “Moonlight ” almost leaving the evening without the award that was rightfully theirs, Kimmel did shine with comic moments like his tweeting President Trump live and referencing the “overrated” Meryl Streep tweet from the petty President. One of my favorite moments of laughter.

The other highlight of the evening was Moonlight receiving awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Picture. The 2017 Oscar Awards brought a refreshing and much needed perspective in presenting inclusivity. I was in awe and admiration of Mr. Farhadi’s refusal to attend the awards because of the ridiculous and outrageous ban that President Trump has enacted against immigrants – documented and undocumented. It was inspiring to see Hollywood Celebs using this platform as a means to promote human rights and speak in opposition of laws that go against the very nature of the founding principals of the United States of America.

On the fashion front, here are my Best Dressed Looks for Oscar Night 2017:

Tony, Emmy, and now Oscar winner Viola Davis wearing Armani Privé.

 

Janelle Monae wearing Elie Saab Couture.

 

Last year’s Best Actress winner Brie Larson, wearing an Oscar de la Renta gown.

 

Nominee for Best Actress, Ruth Negga of the film “Loving,” in a glorious custom Valentino in the signature “valentino red.”

 

We always love Chrissy Teigen, and we also always love her in Zuhair Murad. A perfect match.

 

The “around the way girl” herself, Taraji P. Hensen, stealing the show as always in a sexy, sophisticated, Alberta Ferretti gown.

Interview, Pop Culture

Cultural Enthusiast, Visual Artist: An Interview with Yo Yo Lander

January 25, 2017

by Dominique Michelle Davis

(above image : “Uncomfortable” by Yo Yo Lander; all images: Yo Yo Lander)

I had the honor to interview Yo Yo Lander, visual artist and self proclaimed Cultural Enthusiast. It was a pleasure to speak with someone who is inspired from life to have created a platform of self-expression and artistic direction to create dialogue. Her medium of canvas and paint – which she employs to promote and highlight dissension with societal norms to help bridge the gap of culture – is an interesting play of art imitating life.

Dominique: How did you first discover art and how did you choose your medium?

Yo Yo: I was introduced to art from my Uncle Boykin who traveled to Africa and would send us postcards from Africa that pictured indigenous people. I would stare at the jewelry and that’s where I developed my appreciation of color. It was very different from the very bland color of Sumter, South Carolina of blacks, green and orange. I began traveling to Africa with my uncle in summers who led a group to Ghana and Ethiopia for the African Diaspora Heritage for 21 days. My uncle is a professor at Virginia Union University.

I’ve always been interested in indigenous people of Africa, Indian (Native American, and Mexican cultures). I was always excited for international food day to explore the cultures of others.

Another uncle (Uncle Curtis) was also an artist. His medium is wood. I would go visit his shed where he kept all of his work, but he never shared it with anyone. He has a great gift but he keeps it all to himself.

I was drawn to canvas for creative expression. I was not good at blending which allowed me to create my own lane and I began to highlight my “weakness” to turn it to strength, which is where I get my block coloring.

Dominique: What was your path toward becoming a visual artist?

Yo Yo: I found it difficult to verbally articulate and use art as a way of expression. I went to Howard for undergrad, but I’ve always been an eclectic person an explorer who wanted to see and experience life. I kind of just always did my own thing. I don’t want to be defined by social norms or job labels… which is how I coined my term cultural enthusiast. I’m a cultural enthusiast, a person who is able to monetize off artistic expression and who is invested into culture.

“Market Lady” by Yo Yo Lander

Dominique: Is there a therapeutic component to your artwork? Healing through art and how so? How does your artistic expression become a reflection of self?

Yo Yo: Yes. What you paint is a reflection of what I feel inside. It’s a relationship. One of my pieces was about relationships and as I was painting it helped me to reflect and understand on a deeper level the relationship I had with my sister. One of the first relationships we ever have in life. It helped me to create my work on sisterhood.

It usually takes me about 1 year to complete a group of work. I never touch my art when I’m not in the mood and I tend to find my answers in the silence. Whatever I’m seeking I always find it out. One of the most therapeutic components to painting is you get obsessed with painting. You get lost and you just want to be alone with your thoughts and lock yourself away. There are three steps to painting (1) the idea, (2) draw, (3) paint.

Dominique: How do you use your platform to inspire, create conversation and work for social justice?

Yo Yo: There’s a message in everything. Figuring out how to tie art to a story to create dialogue; a conversation piece; sometimes I don’t choose my subjects my subject chooses me.

My first commissioned piece was a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. with commissioned pieces it usually takes a month, but my spirit must align with the work.

My current catalog is heavily influenced by Ghana (last summer 2016). I’m working on a group work for the African American Museum of Art. This will be featured from October to December 2017. It is a collection of 20 pieces and I’m waiting on the spirit to guide my direction. I’m thinking of “the problem with going nowhere.” The problem with going nowhere – like Good Times; the circle of the cycle, it started to sit with me. Be patient. Every breaststroke has a meaning. To rush is a waste of time and material. [Art] is time, patience and love.

“Black American Girl” by Yo Yo Lander

Dominique: What is your advice to youth and aspiring artist?

Yo Yo: Don’t be obsessed with grades in school. Be obsessed with relationships and experiences and encourage kids to play. People forget who we are, we lose the essence of self we lose our light. In Caribbean culture youth play, let’s change the culture of how we teach our children to encourage them to explore everything and see what you like.

I never thought I would make a career from painting, but we also need to make sure we get the parents involved.

Artist Statement:

YoYo Lander is an autodidactic painter living and working in Los Angeles, CA. For YoYo creating art is therapeutic. Yoyo’s visions emanate from all that surrounds her while abroad. YoYo’s work explores unconventional color palettes, bold color contrasts, and womanhood. Her subjects are comprised of an arrangement of brown color harmonies, placed on backgrounds of both subtle and loud color blocks. Yoyo creates her interpretations using personal photographs and stories from indigenous women as her inspiration. The figurative artwork enjoins a conversation between itself and it’s audience regarding joy, identity, sisterhood and community.

Fashion, On the Street

Hat-titude : Our Favorite Fall Accessory

November 22, 2016

By Dominique Michelle Davis (photo credit above: Getty Images)

One accessory that I have always admired most is the woman or man who rocks a hat to complete an ensemble. In thinking about the fall trends for hats this Fall, this piece is giving a little history to the 2016-2017 fall winter hat trend we see on the runways and also on the streets. Brimmed hats: the Fedora, bucket hats, pork pie hats, and british boilers are a few of the hats forecasted for the Fall are officially everywhere.

The Fedora was popular as early as 1891 and was popularized by Sarah Bernhardt in the play titled Fedora where Ms. Bernhardt wore a brimmed hat as a cross dressing heroine. Fedora’s typically have a wider brim while small brimmed hats similar to the Fedora are called Trilbies. Guiseppe Borsalino established Borsalino a hat company in 1857 and is one company that became well known for the manufacturing of the Fedora.

Photo credit: Vogue.com

Photo credit: Vogue.com

Photo credit: Vogue.com

Photo credit: Vogue.com

The bucket hat was originally made from wool felt or tweed cloth and were traditionally worn by Irish farmers and fishermen as protection from the rain.

Photo credit: Style Dumonde

Photo credit: Style Dumonde

Photo credit: Harper's Bazaar

Photo credit: Harper’s Bazaar

And “Pork Pie” hats like those below were first worn by women in the 1830s.

Photo Credit: Hat and Headgear Love (Pinterest)

Photo Credit: Hat and Headgear Love (Pinterest)

Photo Credit: Hat and Headgear Love (Pinterest)

Photo Credit: Hat and Headgear Love (Pinterest)

Fashion

On Queer Lives, Fashion, Mourning, and Pulse (Fashion Conscious: A Column)

August 18, 2016

by Dominique Michelle Davis

The mass murder in Orlando at Pulse Nightclub, which claimed the life of 49 people, had me feeling less than optimistic about the future of our country, although I believe that love has a true power to heal pain and hurt. I tread lightly with the following words as not to unintentional offend anyone. I am not trivializing or trying to marginalize the LGBTQ community to a world of fashion and the arts, we know that LGBTQ people are and bring so much more to the world than that, so know that I get it. Still, the recent murder of all of those people, and the target specifically of the LGBTQ merged with a due date for a article. Unable to mourn without writing, and grieve without mourning, I thought I would try to find a way to accept the clear synthesis of the two for me over this summer. So this column is dedicated to members of the community that identify with the LGBTQ community as allies or otherwise. People have dedicated their life’s work to our society whether embraced or not.

victimsfrom PulseMurder

As a member of the human race and being doubly oppressed as an African American woman, I was floored by the inhuman hatred that we still harbor toward our fellow humans. The human existence is thought to be one of the highest levels of transcendence as we have the ability to intellectualize thoughts and act beyond our worse instincts. The human struggle is difficult enough with the games and systems that exist within our society, and for us to choose to add on the persecution of our fellow human beings based on whom they choose to love or who loves them is deeply sad. This Fashion Conscious column then pays respect to the lives lost to senseless violence due to a hatred caused by lack of understanding, a lack of empathy and persistent intolerance.

Numerous people have written about the many wonderful contributions LGBTQ people have made to history, culture, politics, and religious life. Fashion is, of course, only one such area. In February 2015, for example, Queerty ran a story called “The 15 Greatest Gay Designers,” while legendary fashion scholar Valerie Steele of the Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) presented an exhibit and accompanying book called “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk.”

Jenny Shimizu - QueerHistoryOfFashionBookCover

Writings like this article and book provide such important insights into some of the many contributions that queer people have made to fashion for more than a century.Confirmation of these contributions are all around me. Every time I look around at the day to day fashion in the city of Chicago alone, I stand to view at least 1 person wearing a Michael Kors watch, purse, or shoes, not to mention he was a major factor in project runway, Yeezus shouts out Ver-say-ce in “when it all falls down”, Nikki Minaj repped Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein has been an influential figure within the fashion industry and the list continues beyond the world of fashion of how many people have contributed to advance our culture and broaden the perspectives of curators and critics.

In the days following the murders at Pulse, many people took to news and social media to grieve. Several noted that what was sad was that so many of the people were so young and had so much they would do with there lives and contribute to the world. I understood that and share that sense of loss, and and yet, I hesitate to highlight or mourn these contributions in the same way I have talked about what queer people have given to fashion here because, what Pulse taught me about mourning queer lives taken with such disregard is that it shouldn’t take for a person to be a great designer, dancer, singer, actor, politician, religious leader, teacher or anything at all for us to mourn them. The death of any person, and in the context of what I say here any queer person, is a loss because it is a loss of a human being who other people loved and needed. So much of the focus on those who were killed at Pulse, and the queer people who are killed everyday because they are queer, makes the well intentioned point that their death means also the death of potential for what things they will have bought to the world. My point here is that their potential doesn’t matter. It is a loss regardless and tragic regardless. The simple taking of a life is sad enough, and focusing on what those people could have or would have been seems also a bit too insufficient. So this column ends, perhaps rather abruptly and still very sadly, in not really knowing what to say, but hoping that we can create a space to be.

Fashion, On the Carpet, On the Street

Are Dress Codes No Longer A Thing? (Fashion Conscious: A Column)

June 6, 2016

by Dominique Michelle Davis

In a recent discussion with a close friend the topic of appropriate dress attire was debated. I took personal offense to the attire worn to a business casual event and said as much, which got my gears grinding about the inception of formal dress codes and the purposes behind them. I went to my Emily Post book and scanned a few articles about western and eastern dress codes and the class and social status that dress can portray. There was clear evidence of a haves and the have not’s formation in the writing there, so it imagined people as being either wealthy or poor. Are we seeing a reduction in dress due to a reduction of the middle class? Or is it pure rebellion against restricted social structures that pre-approve style trends?

Emily_Post_etichette_good-manners

Post is the author of the legendary etiquette guide. It is either loved or hated or some combo of both.

As a person who questions all forms of conformity within society I really had to think about why this particular issue bothered me so. I saw my friend as an extension of me, which was something (his attire) and someone I couldn’t control. I took personal umbrage because I knew that he was aware of the rules and chose not to oblige, yet, I choose to break dress code rules as a way to establish individual style and personal preference all the time.The great thing about people pushing back against codes of appropriate dress is that it encourages individuals who choose not to follow traditional and conservative paths of dress to the work of developing cultures and norms off the beaten path, something that could also then extend into their pursuing career fields and environments more accepting of their individual expression (or perhaps even changing the sense of what is and is not appropriate dress in some of those more restricting and conservative fields).

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A glimpse at some perceptions about acceptable and unacceptable work clothes.

The free spirit and conservative conformist within me polarizes my thoughts and led me to a temporary state of confusion and concluded with why do I even care how another person chooses to dress? I know from personal experience that I loathe when people try to dress me in what they deem to be appropriate for the context or setting, but sometimes it’s just easier to get along and go along than to stand my ground on the issue. Some battles just aren’t worth it. Some days I wish I could just go to work in jeans and a t-shirt. It’s not as if my intellectual capacity is in any way affected by my outward appearance. SO again, why was I so bothered?

The answer for me, and for many, is that what has been impressed as acceptable has molded my view for dress codes to be in alignment with venue and social settings. Deep down I admired my friend’s ability not to care about what other people think, yet his choice to choose that setting to make a point to be an individual had me less than pleased. My ability to recognize my conformity to rigid social structures of dress has helped to create a voice that I never knew could coexist with following a set of rules imposed against what some may call free will. It is important to also consider, put simply, that these rules are often in place to create new structures for disciplining people on the basis of their identity – especially gender, sexuality, race, and age – and that this too is reason to be very critical about too while also investigating our individual belief systems about dress codes. That is, what is the underlying statement or implication for statements we make about the dress of others particularly as it relates to systems of oppression, marginalization, and injustice?

dress-code-4

The Patriarchy always got something to say about fashion. These are facts.

In 2016 where the rule stands to be there are no rules, or moving further along those lines, do dress codes even still exist? And when is it ok to make a fashion faux pas? Kanye West’s recent display at the Met Gala speaks to previous writings by Dr. Eric Darnell Pritchard in an essay for Ebony Magazine called “Who Gets to Make a Social Fashion Statement?” In some respect, lending credence to artists who have created a platform have the ability to make socially conscious or unconscious statements with dress is a win for everyone as it disrupts rigid belief systems of propriety that limit who can and cannot transgress in everyday life.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Kanye West attends "Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology" Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

photo credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Met-Ball-Best-Dressed-Kanye-West-3x4

We don’t know about these blue eyes, but I am here for this Balmain Trucker jacket and YSL boots though.

I am in no way in support of the blue eyed contacts Kanye wore to the MET Gala, or even suggesting that Mr. West was making a socially conscious statement, but one does have to question why he chose that venue, that setting and that platform to make a world debut of a clearly statement on representation and race by wearing blue eyed contacts after creating recent songs such as “Black Skinhead” and “Blood of the Leaves,” I’m just saying. I’m really interested in understanding his thoughts with his latest fashion statement and how it, as an example, might inform my larger comment here about social spaces and appropriate dress. Kanye’s introduction to the black skinned blue-eyed West was probably the most appropriate place to display his break. Maybe he actually knows the Bluest Eye and will enlighten us in his new album; title yet unknown.

Dress codes, and a lack thereof, ranging from white tie to grunge all fall within an economic class, and in many cases a performance of race, that has been normed by those included to be an inclusive safe haven. I think about a quote from Emily Post, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” Fashion, personal style and dress codes create an outward outlet for freedom of expression, which also has the ability to offend our delicate sensibilities when it doesn’t align with constructed worldview that we’ve created. In this respect we see how the feelings of others can be both something that liberates, but also in the case if dress codes, can constrain and regulate people across difference and individual as well as communal modes of style for expression. Kudos to those who create their own lane, it takes courage to break the mold. Just maybe give those of us who aren’t prepared a heads up? Even if you do not give a heads up, there always seems to be a code to be included regardless. The code when you are breaking the social norm is you are not to be trusted because here comes trouble. It is worth it to think about what that response to dress code transgressions mean and what effect they have for the transgressors and also the transgressed.

 

Fashion

Uniform Madness? (Fashion Conscious: A Column)

May 2, 2016

(above: Eco-conscious haute couture look by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel.) 

by Dominique Michelle Davis

Over the past few weeks I’ve begun to read Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul by Dr. Tanisha Ford, and reading Glamourtunist editor Dr. Eric D. Pritchard’s recent post of “Dissonance, Denim and Social Change,” I began to wonder about the origins of uniformed apparel as a sense of belonging to an outfit or organization demonstrating solidarity among its members. This brought my thoughts back to my very first “Fashion Conscious” column, when I learned and wrote about the first known fashion designer to create his own fashion label which was a break from societal norms placing him on the vanguard within the fashion industry.

In thinking about what keeps fashion current and moving forward are the artists that are willing to take risks and break from the traditional molds to present a different view for consumers. This could include incorporating political messages or an affront to societal rules by redefining hemlines, incorporating traditional and cultural ethnic inspired prints, color contrasts and mirroring nature. The Gucci spring/summer 2016 show perfectly exemplified breaking out of the mold and uniformity along multiple lines, especially mixing colors and prints on clothes and accessories in gloriously wacky ways.

gucci_spring_summer_2016_collection_milan_fashion_week1

Gucci, Spring/Summer 2016.

I also think about the cliché term that history and fashion repeats itself which brings me to one of the current fashion trends forecast for this spring and summer which is 70s inspired suede and fringe garments. We’ve seen the look presented in the 2016 collections of designers Jonathan Sanders, Alberta Ferretti, Rebecca Minkoff and Olivier Rouesteing. Historic recurrence is thought to be the repetition of similar events in history.

Rebecca_Minkoff_spring_summer_2016_collection_New_York_Fashion_Week1

Rebecca Minkoff, Spring/Summer 2016

Staying in line with what was happening in the 1970s we could draw a few parallels to the current state of affairs in the decade of 2010. In the 1970s films like “Rocky” and “Star Wars” were released and the rise of technological advances saw of the first commercially available game being released. In 2015-2016, “Creed” and “Star Wars VII” were released and we see the advancement of social media networks such as Instagram, Snapchat and Kik.

Reviewing the political climate of the 1970s in comparison to the current state of affairs it is interesting and noteworthy to mention how the people continue to use threads as a method of communication to advance social change.In politics, the second wave of the feminist movement grew celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the 19th amendment to the United Stated Constitution which also saw the Women’s Strike for Equality and other protests as well as Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister in the United Kingdom in 1979, and of course in 1972 Shirley Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

shirleychisholm-fashionEBONY

In 2009 the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed and in 2016 Hilary Rodham Clinton is running for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination for President of United States. With this in mind I think of Karl Lagerfeld’s recent eco-conscious haute couture collection for Chanel to be mindful to use repurposed materials and bringing an environmentally conscious collection to the forefront for consumers and fashion elite alike.

chanel-ecofashion

Karl Lagerfield’s recent eco-fashion collection for Chanel.

Dr. Ford and Dr. Pritchard shed light on how apparel was used to help bridge the advancement of blacks across the African diaspora and promote social change. Apparel has long been used to show solidarity in wardrobe uniformity across political structures to showcase party allegiance. The use of colors, and structure and likeness of uniforms creates and promotes cohesion and at the very least the appearance of harmony and conformity. Individual breaks and/or the use of uniformed apparel to break from rigid or traditional norms attempts to cause a disturbance to what has been understood to be acceptable. The ability to have free will and choice of how to appear clothed in public can be liberating and maybe evening therapeutic for a sense self expression. The use of apparel throughout history can be viewed as having multidimensional in its approach to represent a structure, a movement or a creative vision to spark a conversation for change.

Fashion, History, News, Pop Culture

Denim, Dissonance, and Social Change (Review of FIT’s “Denim” Exhibit)

April 15, 2016

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

Recently I visited the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (“FIT) and took in three of their most recent marvelous exhibits on fashion. All three were spectacular, but the one most exciting for me was “Denim: Fashion’s Frontier.” Just the week after I saw this exhibit I was scheduled to do a series of lectures on fashion and style and activism in a course I teach called “Black Freedom Movement Rhetorics.” One of the lecture was going to focus on denim in order to provide some foundations for an article I’d assigned to my students (more on that later).

The FIT exhibit did not disappoint by any means, and provided lots of great historical context and details about fashion design, marketing, and cultural meanings of denim. All of this proved to be very useful to my lecture and my student’s discussion of the  lecture and readings. What follows are photos and my commentary on the exhibit mixed with notes and additional photographs from my course lecture. It was truly a great exhibit that I highly recommend; one that helped me to seamlessly integrate fashion and style into a history of dress as rhetorical activism as enacted by various social movements, and especially within the Black Freedom Movement.

Among the first looks you see entering the exhibit is of men’s blue brushed cotton denim trousers from about 1840, and a woman’s blue denim jacket from about 1850 which would have been worn for work:

Photo Mar 24, 5 08 45 PM

What this was  helpful in illustrating in my lecture was the ways in which denim was/is often described as a textile gendered masculine, when in reality it was featured in women’s clothing in the 19th century just as it was with men’s clothing. Also, that the denim look here was specifically used as a jacket worn for work also points to the evidence of women working in the 19th century, and in the case of this outfit work that was performed outdoors. This too corrects another point of historical information which are histories that do not acknowledge that women did work at this time, inside and outside of the home. And, as the exhibit pointed out, the women’s look is in an hourglass shape which was in fashion at the time, and so the denim look was functional but also on trend even then. Thus denim was, even in the 19th century, being employed as a textile that was stylish.

Photo Mar 24, 5 09 20 PM

The focus on function and fashion is also evident in the look above, which was a women’s “walking suit” made in striped off white denim from about 1916. It too followed many of the trends of the day, including the skirt length and high-waist on the jacket.This is not the depiction of denim we see in everyday parlance for many decades now.

The idea of denim in people’s minds are those produced by Levi Strauss & Co. (Levi’s) – patented in 1873. This is style that has held reign on the market ever since including many years of cultural references as a symbol of Americana, leisure, and “wild, wild West” Cowboy-masculinities:

vintage-denim-cowboy-coffee-jeep2

Denim was also associated with clothing housewives for convenience of daily work, such as the iconic 1942 “Popover” dress from designer Claire McCardell:

fit-denim-frontier02

And, as all fashion is political, denim’s politicized story is in histories that show it as being worn by off-duty officers in WWII and the symbolic “Rosie the Riveter” which became symbolic for American women’s empowerment in the war years, ymbolic of work, independence, grit, and feminist sensibilities intersecting labor and dress:

rosie-riveter-1

A cultural symbol, however complex, that has lasted. Just ask Beyonce:

bey-rosie

It are these critical moments in our a world visual archive that has helped denim to endure with positive connotations, as has advertising that are now seared in our minds like this ad from the late 1960s:

Levi's Jeans advertisement from late 1960s

Denim became more controversial when, in the 1950s, it was considered disrespectable largely through its association with the teenage spirit of rebellion such as in films like James Dean’s “Rebel Without a Cause.”

James-Dean-Style-Rebel-Without-a-Cause

Since this period denim “has been dominated by countercultural and street-style associations.” For example, the 1960s hippies

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or the genius and always chic Jimmie Hendrix himself:

Photos of Life at Woodstock 1969 (1)

 

In the 1970s, Denim goes high fashion, appearing on runways of top designers like Yves Saint Laurent and others who “treated it as a luxury fabric.” And by the 1980s: variations on denim “finishing” techniques like acid-washing (which is back on trend), fading (which never seemed to go away, actually). Also return to roots of how denim was employed as Americana symbol, such as Ralph Lauren’s 1981 “Prairie” collection. Brooke Shields’ Calvin Klein adds were the most visible of the time.

Brief-History-of-Jeans-MainPhoto

And by late 1990s it is a luxury item, that we now see being capitalized on everywhere by so-called “premium denim” lines like 7 for All Mankind, Lucky Brand, and fast fashion companies like H&M.

In my course, my students read an article by Dr. Tanisha Ford, a historian and assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The article titled “SNCC Women, Denim, and the Politics of Dress,” is a portion of Dr. Ford’s recent book Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul.

We focused on this history about the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) women and denim as one moment in the history of the Black Freedom Movement wherein Black women civil rights activists wore denim and engaged in other choices around their fashion and beauty that challenged expectations of respectability and propriety circulating within Black communities, including among other activists, at that time. Part of what this enabled them to do is to employ fashion as a tactic of building community with the working class Black people they were organizing in the South. Another was that it demonstrated the intersections of fashion and power as the women acted as agents of adornment toward the ends of social change in their times.

Two of the SNCC women the article discusses were sisters Dorie and Joyce Ladner, pictured here wearing their denim at the March on Washington in 1963:

Sisters Dorie and Joyce Ladner at the March on Washington

The choice to wear denim overalls, Ford shows, was an important aesthetic departure from the “Sunday’s Best” style encouraged by many Black civil rights leaders who were mindful of how Black people and their allies would be (mis)represented in their struggle for civil rights, and denim overalls was not among the sartorial acts that would be seen as acting respectably. Thus, the Ladner sister’s wearing denim to the March on Washington was a radical choice in the midst of an already massive moment for social change.

The prevalence of denim is evident in this iconic photo of writer James Baldwin, Joan Baez, and activist James Forman wearing denim at the voting rights March in Selma in 1965:

James Forman marching with writer James Baldwin and Folk singer Joan Baez

And the ways denim narrativizes some of the oppositional arrangement of fashion choices in the civil rights movements was mirrored back in the recent Ava DuVernay film, Selma as seen in the photo of Tessa Thompson and Common in the film here:

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Overall, Denim: Fashion’s Frontier, historical studies like Ford’s and other works on the history of the textile  correct the historical record that centered radicalized and gendered interpretations that obscure “the variety and breadth of denim’s history” (FIT Museum).  Such interventions demonstrate,  as anthropologists Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward argue in their study about the role of jeans in everyday use quoted in the FIT exhibit description, “Jeans seem to have taken on the role of expressing something about changing the world that no other clothing could achieve.”

I highly recommend checking out the FIT exhibit. Below are additional photos from the FIT exhibit of some of my favorites on display:

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Denim looks from Sacai, Chloe, and Dries van Noten.

 

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An elegant denim dress by Edun.

 

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A Fendi denim “Spy Bag.”

 

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Jean Paul Gaultier, of course.

 

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Sara Shelburne multi-colored striped denim and silk, 1970 in France.

 

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A high fashion trio of denim: looks from Donna Karan, Vivienne Westwood, and Moschino Jeans.

 

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Two piece denim look by Kenzo.