Analysis of African American Fashion
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History repeats itself in many different forms — African American culture has been reinforced after being suppressed by America for so long, although various forms have been altered and transformed — change is inevitable. African American fashion was heavily influenced by political movements such as the harlem renaissance and the civil rights era, music including funk and hip-hop throughout the 70s, as well as blaxploitation films that represented the black experience.
The Harlem Renaissance was an extremely significant moment when African Americans decidedly promoted themselves as equals and relevant to the American culture. This era marked the historical movement when white America started recognising the intellectual contributions of blacks, while African Americans asserted their identity intellectually and linked their struggle to that of blacks around the world — planting the seeds for what would later become the Civil Rights movement; providing positive, peaceful images of African Americans for the first time. Artists of the Harlem renaissance, including Zora Neale Hurston, were perhaps the greatest historical force in American history. Hurston, an American anthropologist, folklorist and novelist was said to be one of the most influential contributors to the Harlem Renaissance era. Hurston “was not only an inspiration to those surrounding her, but she affected aspiring creators all across the country.” Many recognize her for the production of the magazine Fire!, which promoted and advertised many artists from the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston “inspired and encouraged other novelists to be courageous and embark on a personal journey to reveal individual identity” through production of this magazine. As a result, this time period allowed African Americans to embrace their ancestors culture via fashion, and proudly.
Powerful leaders in the entertainment business have used their platform to spread messages expressing the significance of black pride, empowerment, integration and community development. The civil rights movement was greatly influenced by funk. James brown and Sly & the Family Stone became some of the most significant black artists in the late 1960s, impacting African Americans through their music and paving a revolution. As the next decade rolls in and political voice continues to emerge, funk expands in fashion and music across the globe. After combining funk with psychedelic rock and establishing ‘Funkadelic’, George Clinton merged ‘Parliament’ and ‘Funkadelic’, creating ‘P-Funk’ — a spiritual and tribal experience aspiring theatre and unity. P-Funk inspired many African Americans to believe in themselves and assured them the possibility of achieving the unachievable during the difficult late 1970s in America. The concept of freedom began spreading through music like wildfire. Freedom is expressed through creativity and is not constricted to just one thing; freedom of time and freedom of expansion in concerts allowed influential artists to exercise their message to the world.
As the combo “P-Funk” became more popular, it made its way into the middle of mainstream America and partially helped black America move out of the “hood” into more sophisticated areas, attracting a larger and diverse audience. In the mid 70s, Earth Wind and Fire contributed to the success by putting on a show; adding costumes, props, dancing and magic tricks to their music. P-Funk became an international sensation, influencing the emergence of ‘Disco’. Disco is a prime example of one of the many transformations of African American culture, stealing the true genre of funk and the style that came with it. African Americans sense of fashion was intertwined with, yet lost in the new world of commercialized and transformed funk — disco. Ultimately, mediocrity, popularity and money were the primary factors behind the decline of funk in the 70s. Funk had to adapt to survive as bands faced the harsh reality of “get down to the disco beat or stay true to funk and lose your record.” Funk has become an international language and still thrives today, with its DNA in almost every piece of music we listen to. Although funk has been transformed and borrowed from many different cultures, as long as oppression, discrimination and racial tension exists it will never die. Funk continued to expand in fashion, political voice and music internationally, representing the black experience and paving the way for a revolution. Blaxploitation films growing from the 1970s culture not only gave African American leaders the opportunity to star in films but also portrayed an “unapologetic black swagger”.
In a generation that priorities high quality fabrics and commercialized streetwear, today many adolescents are attempting to restore style as a root of nobility, a theme that has passed down through generations of African American style.
What one wears, how one wears it and when one wears it constitutes expressions of degrees of social freedoms and influences. In the article ‘Pushing the Boundaries of Black Style’, Caramanica states “Its not just the clothes. Its the body thats wearing the clothing and the deposition of the body, how the body inhibits the clothes.” Many discussions of the Black Arts movement posit it as the ‘aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” The Black Aesthetic refers to ideologies and perspectives of art that center on Black culture and life. This Black Aesthetic encouraged the idea of Black separatism, and in trying to facilitate this, hoped to further strengthen black ideals, solidarity, and creativity.”
The use of fashion and style by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements of the 1960’s was a powerful visual in altering the viewpoints, consciousness, and pride within the African-American community. Today: fashion and style is illustrating a series of very public and political commentary, thoughts, and movements. In the age of social media, visual imagery further propels hashtag politics. Hashtag politics is a powerful tool for driving attention, discussion, and meaning around a particular or chosen subject. The hashtag is also a way for people to “follow the conversation” that’s happening on a large scale. Social media has become the place that the youth, especially Black youth, gather to disseminate, discuss, and organize. There has been a shift in the Civil Rights model in how Blacks respond to social inequalities and crisis. This shift has largely taken place through social media.