Today marks the commemoration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We celebrate by paying homage to the times and fashion that reflected African and African American style.
The culture of the Civil Rights movement meant having to be bold, to be extravagant all the while protecting yourself from harm and racism. The timeframe between 1955 to the late 1970s found two worlds, the mainstream and the “minority,” colliding in a clash that would reverberate around the globe.
Individuals such as John Lewis, Rosa Parks, James Meredith, and even collectives like The Little Rock Nine and The Black Panther Party all had a part to play in helping the disenfranchised earn their inalienable rights from a country only willing to champion segregationist policies.
As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we pay special attention and homage to the evolution of epic Black style. From its movements within the streets to the pop charts, these fashionable touchstones came courtesy of men and women who exemplified boldness and extravagance to which the fashion industry continues to drawn inspiration from today.
Here, we begin our memorable fashion moment with a salute to those trippy 1960s…
While Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis were walking to fight for African and African American’s civil rights, the brothers and sister around the country were getting rid of the conk, in favor of the Afro.
As integration made working relations easier, African American women began to embrace their heritage and present it in plain view at the 9-to-5.
Meanwhile, the brothers threw away the Zoot Suits in favor of fighting on the front-lines in dashikis. They continued to preach awareness of self and knowledge of African history.
The deaths of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the soulful Sixties provided the soundtrack to stars who appealed to mainstream audiences while crooning about the culture. This shifted us all forward.
Those same assassinations forced a line to be drawn in the sand, as The Black Panther Party donned black on black outfits that intimidated suburban America, the local and national authorities, and President Nixon.
The next generation of stars merged the colorfulness of African dashikis with the style of the developing disco era. It resulted in not only creating a brand new wave of superstars, but made everyone say, “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” very loud.
The changing culture of the streets made things rough in the inner cities. As drugs flooded the area, a new voice emerged as in the form of Hip-Hop and proved that talent was empowering these communities.
Greats such as Slick Rick, Run-DMC, LL Cool J were pioneers in taking little known brands and making them into national trends. From gold chains and doorknocker earrings to Gumby hairstyles and unlaced sneakers, the ’80s and Hip-Hop community meant a new style to be witnessed.
NBC’s The Cosby Show redefined what it meant to be Black in America, as Bill Cosby introduced Americans to the wonders of Gordon Gartrell, Coogi Sweaters, and flattop haircuts.
With the ’90s came the advent of mainstream fashion America co-opting African American superstardom. Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and the like all adopted the popularity of a new wave of artists and marketed them to Madison and Fifth Avenue.
Meanwhile, the Native Tongue movement encouraged Hip-Hop fans to embrace their African roots. The streets abandoned gold ropes for knitted medallions and natural clothing. The music reflected the growth in consciousness and awareness.
Will Smith brought it all and mashed it up on the small screen, as he infused Hip-Hop into the sitcom realm. As the Michael Jordan of television, Smith mirrored the streets by rocking vibrant colors and Jordan sneakers, which became a must for everyone regardless of social status.
Y2K presented an opportunity for Africans and African Americans to merge different styles. Tattoos, streetwear, and Hypebeasts became the norm within growing popular culture. Their creativity allowed others to adopt their trends for mass consumption.
With the death of mass consumerism, the Internets allowed for many fashionistas and divos to create their own individual style. Free to dress however they want, the lack of an imagination served as the only limit one faced.
Today’s gentleman is a mixture of the old and new. Full of the styles of the diaspora to the inner cities around the world. In the end, it makes up the crux of epic Black style, and the developing style cannot ignored.
What do you think of today’s 21st Century Black style? Speak your piece below!