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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?

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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?

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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

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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, News

5 Black Designers Who Could Next Lead Christian Dior or Lanvin

October 30, 2015
(clockwise, top left: Olivier Rousteing, Tracy Reese, Carly Cushnie, Stella Jean, B Michael)

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

Yesterday, I shared a commentary in which I argued that Black designers are not appearing on lists of designers who would be potential replacements as creative directors at historic ready-to-wear and haute couture houses, and specifically Dior and Lanvin after the sudden exits of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz, respectively. In a social media economy in which name recognition and visibility matters, and given the continued shifts among creative directors at the top houses, it is imperative to provide some direction for a future leader of Dior, Lanvin and the historic fashion houses to come who may be looking for leadership, and are invested in considering many of the very talented Black designers for such a position. Certainly this list risks becoming yet another among the long and ever growing wish lists of potential creative directors to be considered, but as this list centers the qualifications, contributions, aesthetics, and promise of Black designers exclusively and deliberately so, and as argued in a previous commentary Black designers rare (if ever) appear on such lists, this is a much needed addition to the usual list of those being considered. Also, I was to stress that these are my personal five favorites for the job, and stress that there are many, many other Black designers who have everything it takes to get the job done:

Stella Jean

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A rising star in fashion, the Milan based Jean is a favorite of fashion critics including Franca Sozzani editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia, and fashion critic Suzy Menkes. Jean’s feminine, pretty aesthetic is very much so in line with that of Dior and Lanvin’s own design codes. She also has a European fashion sensibility in her clothes that would be appreciated by haute couture die hards.

B Michael

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With nearly two decades of experience of making glamorous gowns to order, B Michael would bring the skill set a historic house of haute couture would be looking for to fulfill this responsibility of the position. He also has an already impressive roster of clientele who come to him for custom made garments including Halle Berry and the Williams Sisters, and this would be a built in client roster Dior and Lanvin would be used to and continue to court.

Carly Cushnie

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Cushnie, one half of design duo Cushnie Et Ochs, is known for women’s wear designs with the hallmarks of strength, passion, sexuality as central themes of her work. Trained at Parsons School of Design, and a former assistant in the design studios of American designers Proenza Schouler, Donna Karan, and Oscar de la Renta, the London born Cushnie’s designs for Cushnie Et Ochs have been wor on many red carpets by celebrity clientele, including Rihanna the current face of Christian Dior.

Tracy Reese

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A favorite of FLOTUS Michelle Obama (above), Reese has almost twenty years of experience heading her own fashion label. Reese’s designs are known for their traditionally feminine flourishes, and bold use of color and print, both of which would be a good match for the visual vocabulary of  Christian Dior or Lanvin.

Olivier Rousteing

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The reigning fashion king of social media, Rousteing has managed to make Balmain a “must see” show during Paris Fashion Week, not only for his sexy, modern, and edgy designs, but also for a runway show front row of attendees who are also friends such as Kanye West, Kim Kardashian – West, and Rihanna, while supermodels Jourdan Dunn, Joan Smalls and Kendall Jenner all stomp the Balmain runway each season. Just this week, Rousteing launched “Balmain x H&M” a one off collaborative collection bringing the luxury retailers aesthetic to the department store H&M and its more affordable price point. His current successes would give Dior or Lanvin attention from a generation of luxury brand consumers who would grow with the label.

Who would be on your list of potential replacements as creative director at Dior or Lanvin?

Fashion, News

Black Fashion Designers Must Be Considered to Lead Historic Haute Couture Houses

October 29, 2015

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

Reports that designers Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz will exit their positions as creative directors of legendary fashion houses Christian Dior and Lanvin respectively, has been the talk of the fashion world. Fashion has played this steady game of musical chairs among the top fashion houses, as one house or another finds itself searching for a new artistic leader after another resigns about as often as a socialite is in search of her next couture gown. As fashion critic Robin Givhan notes, gone are the days when a designer takes over a fashion house for the duration of their career. The minute news of these resignations was reported much of fashion turned immediately to this question: who will be the next creative director of Christian Dior and Lanvin? While responses regarding Lanvin are just beginning to emerge, with Dior there has been a constant stream of names emerging as potential replacements for Simons, some more frequently than others, including American designer Joseph Altuzzarra, Phoebe Philo of Celine, and couturier Bouchra Jarrar. Each of these designers would be extremely exciting for everyone in fashion, and each of them offer the opportunity for Dior to take an important step by appointing a person of color or a woman as its leader for the very first time in its history. However, with the exception of Olivier Rousteing of Balmain (which no longer has a haute couture designation) it also remains true that the role of creative director at Dior, Lanvin or any of their peer haute couture or other historic fashion houses has never been held by a person of African descent, and given the frequent critiques of industry racism and the lack of diversity in fashion, this highlights yet another barrier that must be broken.

Perhaps more concerning is that among lists of potential new creative directors at Dior and other houses that have had vacancies in recent memory, Black designers are rarely (if ever) named on what are sometimes exhaustive lists of potential replacements. Google search ‘Black fashion designers’ and you will be directed to posts like “25 Greatest Black Fashion Designers” or “15 Black Fashion Designers You Should Know.” However, those same designers are never discussed as potential leads of historic fashion houses. The frequency of such lists show that Black designers appear in the historical and social imaginary of the fashion industry as being in a perpetual state of either people who did great work but who fashion history forgets, or contemporary designers who are doing great work but who are being overlooked as we speak. It is incumbent upon fashion to do better to make sure that Black designers are at least a part of the conversation when legendary fashion houses are looking for new creative leadership.

One counterargument to the lack of Black designers on the list of potential players for the top job at Dior or other historic haute couture houses is that whoever is selected will be required to design haute couture. Haute couture, or “high fashion,” is an original garment made custom by hand from beginning to end by a designer. In France, where the most historic haute couture houses were born, the label haute couturier is a heavily policed title, and is bestowed only by invitation of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Unless Chambre approved, a garment is not considered haute couture. With so few designers of any race or ethnicity holding haute couture recognition, one might argue that this is the reason why Black designers are not on the list. But this argument only highlights the need for fashion to make an even greater effort to invest in the careers of Black designers in order to be solvent around the lack of diversity at the leadership at historic houses of haute couture. In 1988 designer Patrick Kelly from Vicksburg, Mississippi was admitted into the Chambre making Kelly the first person of color, first Black person, and first American so admitted. Since that time the number of haute couture houses led by Black designers has remained extraordinarily rare. In 2011, as previously mentioned, designer Olivier Rousteing was appointed creative director of the historic fashion house Pierre Balmain. However, though Balmain is historically recognized as a former haute couture house, it has not produced a haute couture show in at least twenty years. Thus, Rousteing is the sole Black designer working at a legendary fashion house among the many that exist, but is doing so without a haute couture designation.

As many have stated, fashion is about art and commerce. Making a historic statement of selecting a person of African descent makes good sense on both counts. As many designers of African descent come from a lived experience wherein Black cultural aesthetics are part of their background, a sense of what the Dior archive or the archive of any historic haute couture house would look like through such a dimension could prove rewarding in more immediate and lasting ways than much of the fashion industry may imagine.

 

On the Carpet

Grammy Awards Red Carpet Wrap-Up: “Glamourtunists of the Night”

February 21, 2015

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The Grammys “Glamourtunists of the Night” best dressed are three women who shut the carpet all the way down to the ground. The legendary Jane Fonda in green and gold Balmain jumpsuit. Mother Jane is serving us hair, body, hollywood glamour and all we need in life. She’s about to have me track down some old Jane Fonda workout videos because I need to look this damn #Fierce in my 70s too. Werk !!! Gwen Stefani wins the whole evening for me in this black Atelier Versace jumpsuit. The bodice is so special and ornate, and the make-up and hair is so minimal and clean. She looked flawless head to toe. Best of the night. And finally, Zendaya was stunning on the red carpet with her new pixie cut and a multicolor striped Vivienne Westwood gown with a high, high slit. I literally screamed in delight when I caught a glimpse of her on the television.