Let’s face it, men of the former years had exceptional taste. Heading out for a stroll down Madison Avenue called for a double-breasted jacket, titled derby and the cleanest pair of wingtips your closet housed. Refined style came with the territory of being a man—it was in your biological makeup—fashion DNA. And in our humble opinion, the colored brothers back then added a little something extra to their retro looks.
Who could forget Billy D’s dictator mustache? Or Sammy Davis, Jr.’s impeccable suits. Bump the rappers and entertainers of today, it’s the unsung style pioneers of yesteryear who wrote the handbook for how a respectable man is supposed to dress.
Dapper dons were made in the 20s and 30s, groomed in the 40s and 50s, paraded their swag throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, and at the brink of the 21st century, cooled down and let the younger fellas live. Join us in celebrating the iconic style of 8 distinguished gentlemen who were made in the past.
Billy Dee Williams
The $ex appeal of pretty boy Billy, shined through whatever he put on. Mr. Colt 45 was such a ladies man!
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Rat Pack member and full-out entertainer, Sammy Davis, Jr. had impeccable taste. From the popped fur collar (above) to the vintage Gucci tote (below) , the slender Harlemite was clean.
Bonus: Sammy was the first African-American to grace the cover of GQ (September 1967)
Smooth melodies were just a fraction of what this Motown visionary had to offer. Super Fly. Need we say more?
Yes—we know—he burned green and wore a head-full-of-dreads, but it’s the late Bob Marley’s simplistic style that we’re celebrating right about now. From khaki military shirts to red, gold and green tams, Bob’s disheveled rock ‘n’ roll fashion was just as comfy as it was cool.
What’s one of the first accessories that come to mind when you think ‘Malcolm X Style?’ It better be browline glasses! His headwear, neckwear, outerwear, and scruffy goatee spoke volumes, however, the ever-so-popular Ray-Ban esque frames he put on the map circa 1960s, are a modern-day style staple.
Calypso singer, civil rights activist, but first and foremost, Caribbean man to the core. Undone dress shirts were signature Harry Belafonte style and when he covered up, a suede overcoat and houndstooth pants were a probable option.
Teddy’s gusty baritone defined 1970s R&B seduction. His sharp style and passionate performances made ladies want to “Turn Off The Lights.” Honestly, what other man can pull off white cowboy boots? Classic.
Gordon Parks lived to age 93, but his effortless style will live on forever. Parks was a master in front of and behind the lens.
Bonus: Parks was the first African-American to work as a staff photographer for Life magazine.
StyleBlazers, who are some of your favorite black style pioneers?
–Metanoya Z. Webb