In the most recent issue of Nka entitled “Black fashion: Art. Pleasure. Politics.,” special issue editor Noliwe Rooks argues that black fashion is a key, though underexplored, facet of black history, culture, and identity in the African diaspora. Contributors to the issue include academics, artists, journalists and writers, and a filmmaker. From the introduction: “While it is not an encyclopedic compilation of thinking about race, art, politics, or fashion, each contribution functions as an individual lens, so to speak, capturing crucial snapshots of particular moments, figures, and events that are central to understanding the whole. Taken together, the texts in this volume explore various definitions and meanings of black fashion as a launching point for thinking about race, gender, politics, power, and class.”
Included in this issue are articles on topics such as Josephine Baker and skin fashion, a conversation with Anthony Barboza and Bill Gaskins, Janelle Monáe and fashion as art, fashion and black masculinity, the “afro look,” and #TeamNatural, examining the relationship between black hair and community in digital media. Read the introduction, made freely available, and browse the table-of-contents to learn more about this special issue of Nka.
If you are looking for further reading that explores the intersection of fashion with race, politics, and class, consider Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures by Reina Lewis. In the shops of London’s Oxford Street, girls wear patterned scarves over their hair as they cluster around makeup counters. Alongside them, hip twenty-somethings style their head-wraps in high black topknots to match their black boot-cut trousers. Participating in the world of popular mainstream fashion—often thought to be the domain of the West—these young Muslim women are part of an emergent cross-faith transnational youth subculture of modest fashion. In treating hijab and other forms of modest clothing as fashion, Reina Lewis counters the overuse of images of veiled women as “evidence” in the prevalent suggestion that Muslims and Islam are incompatible with Western modernity. Muslim Fashion contextualizes modest wardrobe styling within Islamic and global consumer cultures, interviewing key players including designers, bloggers, shoppers, store clerks, and shop owners. Focusing on Britain, North America, and Turkey, Lewis provides insights into the ways young Muslim women use multiple fashion systems to negotiate religion, identity, and ethnicity.
In Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging the first ever book devoted to a critical investigation of the personal style blogosphere, Minh-Ha T. Pham examines the phenomenal rise of elite Asian bloggers who have made a career of posting photographs of themselves wearing clothes on the Internet. Pham understands their online activities as “taste work” practices that generate myriad forms of capital for superbloggers and the brands they feature. A multifaceted and detailed analysis, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet addresses questions concerning the status and meaning of “Asian taste” in the early twenty-first century, the kinds of cultural and economic work Asian tastes do, and the fashion public and industry’s appetite for certain kinds of racialized eliteness. Situating blogging within the historical context of gendered and racialized fashion work while being attentive to the broader cultural, technological, and economic shifts in global consumer capitalism, Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet has profound implications for understanding the changing and enduring dynamics of race, gender, and class in shaping some of the most popular work practices and spaces of the digital fashion media economy.
Monica L. Miller’s Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity is a pioneering cultural history of the black dandy, from his emergence in Enlightenment England to his contemporary incarnations in the cosmopolitan art worlds of London and New York. It is populated by sartorial impresarios such as Julius Soubise, a freed slave who sometimes wore diamond-buckled, red-heeled shoes as he circulated through the social scene of eighteenth-century London, and Yinka Shonibare, a prominent Afro-British artist who not only styles himself as a fop but also creates ironic commentaries on black dandyism in his work. Interpreting performances and representations of black dandyism in particular cultural settings and literary and visual texts, Monica L. Miller emphasizes the importance of sartorial style to black identity formation in the Atlantic diaspora.
Continuing in this historical vein, Credit, Fashion, Sex: Economies of Regard in Old Regime France by Clare Haru Crowston examines the concept of credit and fashion in Old Regime France. At that time in France, credit was both a central part of economic exchange and a crucial concept for explaining dynamics of influence and power in all spheres of life. Contemporaries used the term credit to describe reputation and the currency it provided in court politics, literary production, religion, and commerce. Moving beyond Pierre Bourdieu’s theorization of capital, this book establishes credit as a key matrix through which French men and women perceived their world. As Crowston demonstrates, credit unveils the personal character of market transactions, the unequal yet reciprocal ties binding society, and the hidden mechanisms of political power.