It is no secret that the Black community has too often been underrepresented and uncredited in fashion. Not only does the industry offer little visibility to the community and has for a long time favored white models and designers, cultural appropriation has also been a recurring issue in the fashion world. Though adopting trends from a community is not necessarily wrong and is actually inevitable in our globalized world, credit has to be given where needed. Therefore, the tremendous influence of black culture on fashion must be acknowledged. With Black History Month now upon us, we at the LSESU Fashion Society wanted to highlight some trends originating from Black communities.
1.Hoop earrings :
A staple in most women’s closets, gold hoop earrings are actually deeply rooted in Black History and Culture. Indeed, the latter can be traced back to 2500 BC when they appeared in Nubia (present day Sudan) and were actually available in bronze, silver and gold.
Fast-forward to the 20th century and the roaring 20s, gold hoops became all the rage in countries such as the US. In fact, Josephine Baker, one of the most famous singers and actresses of the time, regularly sported hoop earrings as part of her decadent looks. Her style actually heavily inspired Prada 2011 Spring collection where models could be seen wearing similar earrings and her signature slicked hairstyle.
Far from disappearing, the hoop earring just became even more mainstream in the 60s and 70s. Once again, famous singers like Diana Ross came to be associated with this piece of jewelry. Non-POC figures like Cher also adopted the emblematic « statement hoop » and contributed to it becoming a widespread trend.
Today, not only have hoop earrings been adopted and re-interpreted by plenty of designers, they have become an essential item for many women. Every major retailer carries hoops in all possible variation and it just seems that the hoop is not going anywhere.
2. Nail art
Though it is believed that nail painting originated in India about 5000 BC, nail art as we know it now is deeply-rooted in Black history. Though, it wasn’t necessarily coined « nail art », members of Black communities across the World have actually been wearing long acrylic nails and rhinestones way before the Kardashian sisters or any other white influencer. As these trends become more mainstream and embraced by popular culture, it however appears important to give Black women the credit they deserve.
During the disco period, Black singers Donna Summer and Diana Ross could often be spotted with bedazzled acrylic nails. Back in the 1980s, American runner Florence Griffith Joyner’s « Flo Jo » bold nails became as prone to attention as her athletic performances. Though at the time such eye-catching details were deemed « tacky », the looks we see today on Instagram models are actually oddly similar.
Similarly, R&B and hip hop stars of the90s such as Missy Elliott and Lil Kim with her famous « dollar-bill » manicure would often show fairly exuberant nail designs. Once again, at the time the latter were regarded as « unprofessional » and « tacky». 30 years later, nail art has become a much wider practice and Instagram has hugely contributed to its development as a popular trend.
3. Sneaker culture
Sneakers can actually be traced back all the way to the late 18th century but they remained predominantly used for athletic activities until the late 20th century. In 1984, the collaboration between Nike and Basketball star Michael Jordan saw the creation of the « Air Jordan » which transformed the way sneakers are worn. Not only did this design inspire many of the trainers trends to come, it also remains popular almost 40 years after its creation. In 2020 the « Air Jordan » even gained a renewal of interest thanks to instagram with sales rising once again.
Influenced by hip hop culture, sneakers became a form of cultural expression and differentiation for the black community in the 70s but their success rapidly expanded to popular culture. This trend only accelerated in the 1980s with the rise of hip-hop culture.
Today, sneakers have been adopted by all, from the average consumer to the high end fashion sphere. The item has been re-imagined and re-worked by designers such as Balenciaga and Off-White who offer intricate designs inspired by technology.
4. Bucket hats
5 years ago, who would have thought the infamous « bucket hat » would become all the rage again ? Spotted on some of the most popular influencers, re-worked by designers like Prada, the bucket hat is now everywhere. However, many ignore this accessory is deeply-rooted in Black History.
Initially designed for fishermen and farmers in the early 1900s, the bucket hat was not intended as a fashion statement. Indeed, it was only a functional item conceived to protect Irish farmers and fishermen from the rain. Similarly, it was also used to protect the necks of soldiers in the 1940s and throughout the Vietnam War.
However, it wasn’t until the 1980s and the rise of hip-hop culture that bucket hats were embraced as a fashion statement. Many Black rappers and singers embraced this item on their album covers and music videos. The bucket hat therefore transitioned from an utilitarian item to a fashion statement.