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Arielle Hixson

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Do Clothes Define Your Ethnicity?

Posted: 08/24/11 11:27 AM ET

Are clothes associated with a particular race? This controversial question may fuel a debate. Certain aspects of fashion tend to connect to particular ethnic groups in the United States. For example, back in the 90s, the baggy pants, long chains and Sean Jean clothing were automatically associated with hip hop music, which was mostly marketed to Black individuals. As evidenced, music tends to easily fuel the social construct of fashion as well, depending on the style of the artist and whom the artist is trying to connect to. Although, just because several Black people listen to hip hop music doesn't necessarily mean that they dress in the associated clothing. The same goes for rock music, which is primarily marketed to whites. Just because a white individual may enjoy listening to punk rock doesn't necessarily mean that he will frequent Hot Topic for his choice clothes.

The most interesting impact of clothing on the association of race is observed when an individual who isn't "expected" to dress a certain way defies the odds. I don't know how many times I've seen people stare at a Black individual who decides to die her hair pink and gage her ears, or a white girl who throws on Baby Phat shoes and hoop earrings. Although it is risky to say, people actually expect a person to dress or not dress a certain way due to the color of his skin. Clothes, to some degree, have an implicit yet powerful influence of sociologically defining race.

In these past few years I have noticed, especially since the election of President Barack Obama, there has been a new definition of the construct of race. Race relations may not have dramatically changed, but fashion to some degree is more socially accepted to be universal. Polo shirts no longer have an association with single-sided preppy behavior, but being "fresh" in new clothes. Hoop earrings can be sported with day and evening clothes without having the appearance of going clubbing. One of the most universal styles I have witnessed is this new (well at this point probably old) association with becoming a "hipster." Living at Wesleyan University for four years I was introduced to the skinny jeans, Ray Band sunglasses and expensive tees my freshman year. It was edgy, yet clean. Preppy, yet punk. And almost everyone, no matter what race, had some sort of association with it.

After graduating and living in New York I have observed that this style connects to a variety of individuals. It is not only a unisex type of wear, yet it is also worn by a variety of races. Famous artists ranging from Lupe Fiasco to the band Vampire Weekend have adapted the hipster style, associating it with a range of music, which, as said earlier, also further defines the way the clothes are worn. So what does this mean? If fashion in some way defines us, does this hint that we, as people, are becoming more socially accepting as the years go on? That could be a serious debate. All I do know is that I look forward to what I see next and how it will affect the fashion world.

 

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