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Black History Month - Influence of Black America on Fashion

Times are changing - people of color are now being recognized. Inclusivity in fashion is a concept highly supported in this modern era. But it wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, the contributions of black designers were continuously erased despite being monumental. Now people are taking part in visible and invisible movements that demand racism come to an end. 

If you rewind time to a decade back, you’d notice how renowned black designers were conveniently excluded from the fashion scene. Fortunately, the internet and the voice of the masses have changed circumstances now. Considering February is a month dedicated to black history, let’s take a deep dive into how African American designers have influenced style and fashion and how they simply cannot be forgotten.  

Applauding Black Fashion This Black History Month 

Afro-American history month lasts the whole of February in an attempt to look back at the memorable events and notable names from the black community. The appreciation directed toward African Americans in the second month of the year started when Carter G. Woodson declared the second week of Feb as the Negro History Week.

How Did February Become Black History Month?

The month was February was selected because it had the birthdays of two notable personalities who played a major role in shaping black history - Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass. In terms of fashion, the 23rd of the month is celebrated as Willi Smith Day, in memory of the black fashion designer who made it big. 

Evolution of Black Fashion

It can be easily said that black fashion has come a long way. 

In the 1900’s, jeans started becoming popular among black women. In the 1930’s, zoot suits become famous among African Americans. These included high-waisted wide-legged pants, long coats, and chain watches. Then came 1950’s in which black people started accessorizing more by adding belts and glasses to their style. 

In the 1980’s, black fashion included even more accessories - fanny packs, and scrunchies came into style with puffy jackets and slogan tees. These were the years the Afro hairstyle was considered voguish. Forward to the 2000’s, black fashion incorporated even more accessories.

Today African American designers continue to draw inspiration from their culture. Designer Shanel Campbell, founder of Shanel says, “I’m inspired by anything black.” All the black designers today are setting a foundation of role models for the future black community. London-based black designer Carly Cushnie says that she didn’t have any role models growing up, wanting to be fashion designer. 

She believes her shoulders have a responsibility of changing that. Cushnie mentions that she’s among the few women who has had the opportunity “to be an example, as a woman of color.” Other black designers like Maxwell Osborne and Stella Jean are also dedicated to promoting black fashion. 

When questioned about not having any black members in the crew, Virgil Abloh was quick to send out clarification. His statement said, “Virgil Abloh takes pride in being African and American. His design team is diverse, and his practice has been built on making the art and design industry an inclusive community.” Off White’s founder continued, “Off-White (TM) is a black founded and owned business.”

Once Forgotten, Now Memorized

Virgil Abloh - that’s the first name to pop up in anyone’s mind when talking about black fashion designers. Apart from leading Off White, the 39-year-old also lends his artistic vision to Louis Vuitton. Another famous African American designer today to come to the fore? Kanye West. Ye started off with Nike and Adidas and then gave birth to Yeezy.

Interestingly though, Kanye’s wife is often criticized for appropriating black style and culture. From copying their body to pleating her hair into cornrows, Kim Kardashian West often lands in trouble for imitating a culture that’s not originally hers. 

People don’t delay in pointing out how unfair it is that the Kar-Jenners are often lauded for selecting certain features black women are known for and injecting those into their body. To reach a place that is recognized worldwide today in terms of fashion and style, African Americans have struggled disproportionately. 

Moving Forward

The first black fashion designer, Ann Lowe was almost rejected a place in a couture course, way before she earned her name. Why? Solely because her skin color wasn’t appreciated. She had learned sewing from her mother and grandmother and became the businessowner of her dress shop at the age of 16. Lowe had many accomplishments under her belt, but she is best known for the wedding gown she designed for Jackie Kennedy. 

Known for his color styles, Willi Donnell Smith is another name to remember. This black designer who passed away tragically was one of fashion industry's biggest names. Unfortunately, though, while African American designers have now gained prominence, a lot of their contribution to fashion was once nearly buried and forgotten. Looking ahead though, the future seems bright for the black community interested in following a career in the fashion scene. 

Published On: February 04, 2020

Evelyn Johnson

Evelyn Johnson is a blogger who mostly writes about fashion, culture and money saving. She keeps up with the ever-changing trends in the apparel industry and gives her two cents on things. When she’s not smashing a keyboard, Evelyn consumes a copious amount of reality television.