THE BLOG

Black Style in a Box

03/02/2012 05:53 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2012

As of late it's been a trend of sorts for some publications and blogs to write about black style as if it's a new trend to be satirically sketched and critiqued. As an African-American fashion writer -- I'm over it.

I think what my biggest problem has been the synthetic way that it's talked about. The fact is, things that some are just now discovering and styling, writing, and publicizing, are things that I and others grew up with. So when reading something in print about black style, it all just seems kind of redundant.

My greatest fashion inspiration has always been my grandmother and her sisters. These were black women who dressed up for every occasion -- but outside of my grandmother, the sisters didn't read the fashion glossies that I hold dear. Instead, they looked to leaders in their community -- people in the arts -- for inspiration. My mother and her sisters did the same -- their period was the 60s.

Images from the Black Power Movement covered their walls in their rooms. In the 70s when Soul Train came along, they were given a weekly fashion review. Such was the sentiment of the people in their community. Something was always happening and the leaders that encouraged change in society -- they were their fashion icons.

Without taking the original intent of the movement out of context, people like Angela Davis, Huey Newton, and Kathleen Cleaver were beautiful people. And they could dress. In some cases, people had no choice but to pay attention to the issues because they were going on all around them. And the people that were speaking up about those issues, looked like them -- that made them relatable. That's why the afro became a statement and fashion trend. It was clear that the Black Power Movement infiltrated fashion when perms and relaxers stopped being the norm in black neighborhoods. That's not to say that blackness was measured by how natural one's hair was. Still, when leaders began saying that black is beautiful, the community began embracing the natural and that meant sporting a moisturized, prim and proper afro -- the bigger the better. People not only believed in what revolutionaries like Stokely Carmichael and Elaine Brown believed in, but they wanted to dress like them too -- and with good reason.

Trends from the movement included overly-embellished jewelry -- big earrings, cuff (bracelets), mod-dresses, and lots of leather -- especially black leather. For the men, it was shades for days, along with jackets, denim, boots -- and we can't forget the beret.

Those same trends are repeated today and mixed with other trends to create something new. During a time when the Black Power Movement was hitting its stride, some publications didn't present its figures -- especially members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in a positive light. Co-founder Huey P. Newton had movie star looks with piercing eyes that could probably rival any common-day Chestnut (Morris), Moore (Shemar), or Washington (Denzel). But that's not how he was seen. It was other publications such as LIFE magazine where the Panthers were photographed and seen in a new light.

Hip hop, in its purest original form, is certainly an element of black power and just like this culture impacts fashion, the Black Power Movement did the same. People wanted to dress like those they admired -- isn't that always the case? Eventually, we were given a category, and everything was lumped into one big ball of confusion -- that category was urban wear.

Black influence in fashion has always been there whether credited or not. But I do think that progress is made through the advancements that blacks have been able to make. But that doesn't mean that some mainstream media is going to stop putting put black fashion into a box.