Are Colored Girls Included In the Rainbow of Fashion?

by Charlotte Smith

Are Colored Girls Included  Fashion?

I have been grappling with writing this essay for some time. I recently attended a fashion event in which I was the only person of colour. Nothing new as this occurs quite often. However, the moment that sparked me to finally pen this story was when someone at the event’s panel discussion stated that if you do not look at the POC £ your business will suffer in the future.

Now first, let’s look back at the 2013 article that Suzy Menkes wrote called  The Circus of Fashion for The New York Times.  The piece was written way before it’s time and is still relevant today.

Today, the people outside fashion shows are more like than peacocks than crows. It’s dizzying enough to make even the most seasoned critic call a timeout.

Street Style To Instagram

“We were once described as “black crows” — us fashion folk gathered outside an abandoned, crumbling downtown building in a uniform of Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto. “Whose funeral is it?” passers-by would whisper with a mix of hushed caring and ghoulish inquiry, as we lined up for the hip, underground presentations back in the 1990s.

Today, the people outside fashion shows are more like peacocks than crows. They pose and preen, in their multi-patterned dresses, spidery legs balanced on club-sandwich platform shoes, or in thigh-high boots under sculptured coats blooming with flat flowers.”

Are Colored Girls Included In the Rainbow of Fashion? No Sesso Street style

Coloured Girls In the Rainbow of Fashion

But as someone who has been attending fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris since the noughties, I had to question—Is everyone really being represented in the street style images that editors are choosing? Or is it the same few who have made or can afford to buy designer clothes, whether begging for and borrowing them? These day’s I really miss Bill Cunningham, the master of street style. He was more interested in the composition than who you were and what labels you wore.

Race

It’s quite frustrating that we’re still discussing a topic that should be considered antiquated by now.  But recent news demonstrates that designers and houses need to be educated on what is considered appropriate and what is just outright distasteful. Leading social media from major brands should now have a team of cultural studies advisors on the creative team. Even though most ad campaigns for this season and next have a rainbow cast.  Which leads us to the next topic class.  The burning point to this article.

Class

What does class have to do with fashion for a person of colour? In fashion, some still believe it is for the elite. Even many POC’s believe this. Only the streets know what is hip and cool.

Some POC’s still believe it’s not where you are from, it’s where you are at.  It was shocking for me to realize that I had something in common with Michelle Obama. Growing up I was always called a white girl. Recently, someone who I once admired in fashion pulled this race card on me.

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna - Rihanna Makeup Line Perfect for all Shades

“Charlotte acts like a white girl.” Statements like this one have followed me since my teenage years and now into my adult life as a woman working in fashion.  Why is a POC who is educated and not from the ghetto accused of acting like a white girl? This is a classic case of #educatedpocproblems based on class.

Why do POC’s have to be ostracized for the class they came from or upbringing they were given?   This now leads to the third point education. Style Cartel is here to educate you on adequate and race relations in fashion.

Black Looks: Race and Representation Bell Hooks

Black Looks: Race and Representation Bell Hooks

Education

Education seems to be the key theme for fashion these days.  Most POC’s that work in the field come from a highly educated group and we are proud of it.  To work in today’s highly competitive industry, you have to have talent and be educated in both book and street smarts. What is wrong with that?

The book by one of my favourite cultural studies authors bell hooks in her  twelve essays, bell hooks digs ever deeper into the personal and political consequences of contemporary representations of race and ethnicity within a white supremacist culture. The book needs a second edition now.

We also should educate one another on the fact that there is room enough for all of us.  Look at our talents and encourage them. As well as bring each other up when we can. Which leads to another point of being the only POC in the room. Am I only here because I am bougie or light-skinned?

Skintone

I for one am tired of often being the only POC in the room.  I’ve had this discussion with people from other countries who believe that me having a lighter complexion has made my journey easier. No apologies for my skin tone, but life is not easier being a lighter skinned woman in fashion.  We also feel left out, not invited and not included.

For this reason, we have to thank Rihanna for including us in her makeup range.  My skin tone has not given me any advantage in the game.  We light-skinned mixed-race sisters will always face the issues of not finding that right makeup and not fitting the description for filling the other quota. Mixed race is mixed race, we are never considered full blood to any of our bloodlines. We are always not enough of one or the other.

Fashion

How do all these elements play out in fashion?  We are still the last ones to be chosen and the first ones to be forgotten.  Now here is where fashion and social media became lovers. With the rise of Instagram, we have prevailed to show how the colors of the rainbow live, dress and spend our free time.  We use social media as our passports to succeed in fashion and build our own tribes of like-minded peers.

BLACK EXCELLENCE: FASHION ACTIVIST BETHANN HARDISON

One of my heroes Bethann Hardison has been fighting the good fight in the industry for all of us coloured girls in fashion. The Brooklyn native was bound and determined to make herself known in whatever space she entered.

In an interview with the New York Times, she said “I did not look like anyone else in our industry…I was bohemian and militant in some way”, her short, natural hair and dark skin fit into the Civil Rights Era ethos of “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and Afrocentrism, but not into the ideology of the industry she was in. However, she made her way and became one of the first black models to walk a European runway.

 Battle of Versailles in 1973. Set at the Palace of Versailles in Paris,

Battle of Versailles in 1973. Set at the Palace of Versailles in Paris,

The show that made history was the Battle of Versailles in 1973. Set at the Palace of Versailles in Paris, the show was put on to raise money for the restoration of the Palace, and promoted as a ‘battle’ between French and American designers.  Yet, it  became legendary for the show’s use of a groundbreaking number of Black models.

Hardison was one of eleven models of colour representing the American designers. The other iconic models included Pat Cleveland, Billie Blair, Jennifer Brice, Alva Chinn, Norma Jean Darden, Charlene Dash, Barbara Jackson, China Machado, Ramona Saunders, and Amina Warsuma. Now a movie.

 Battle of Versailles in 1973. Set at the Palace of Versailles in Paris,

Many of us will always be too light, too educated, too bougie and too white to others. Whatever that means. Yet, if brands, businesses and our peers do not accept us they too will be left behind and archaic thinking. Vogue Arabia seems to be one of the only print and online publications that highlight all  the shades of the rainbow.

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There's a new crop of inimitable game-changing women breaking the modeling mold, and they're doing it with their hijabs on. From Ugbad Abdi (@iamugbad) to Feriel Moulaï (@realferiel), visit Vogue.me to discover the veiled models that are taking the Fall 2019 runways by storm. #hijab #VogueArabia #Fall2019 ثمة شريحة جديدة من النساء الرائدات يفرضن أنفسهن على عالم عروض الأزياء، إذ أخذن يغيّرن القواعد المتعارف عليها ويحطمن القوالب النمطية السائدة، كل ذلك وهنّ يرتدين الحجاب! من أوغباد عبدي إلى فريال مولاي، تفضلوا بزيارة موقع ڤوغ العربية للتعرف أكثر إلى العارضات المحجبات اللواتي يهيّمنَّ على منصات عروض خريف 2019. #حجاب #ڤوغ_العربية #خريف_2019

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My alma mater Parson’s The New School for Design hosted an exhibition last year to also discuss race in fashion. Parsons’ s exhibition explores how fashion could be less racist.   The subject reminded me of my own classes on race, class and gender. Where one of the South African ‘ Becky’s cried and asked the black women in the class to explain how it felt t be a black woman.  We asked her the same how does it feel to have ‘ white privilege?

When Kimberly Jenkins debuted her course “Fashion and Race” at Parsons two years ago, many thought spending a semester unpacking topics like cultural appropriation and representation seemed too “niche.” She proved those people wrong. Today, the course amasses a waitlist each time it’s offered and her POC students remark on the life-changing experience of having a black female professor (a first for many).

The Rainbow of Fashion

“We wring our hands over topics like ‘How do you integrate diversity into brands?’ or ‘What on Earth were they thinking when they made this editorial?’” Jenkins says, speaking on the intense class discussions. “And a lot of the students who benefit from white privilege are there because they want to learn how they can help.”

On the syllabus? Texts include Representation by Stuart Hall and Slaves to Fashion by Monica L. Miller. If Jenkins could have her way, she says, the discussions in her class — centred on inclusion and diversity — would serve as a blueprint for the entire fashion system. “I always wish the real powerbrokers in the fashion industry were in the room listening.”
michelle obama wearing balenciaga boots

michelle obama wearing balenciaga boots

Like Michelle Obama, I would rather be young, gifted and black wearing sparkly Balenciaga Boots. I’m happier being able to speak four languages and hold 2 passports than be young, rich and famous with no talent. Now, back to peacocking my way through fashion like my ancestors raised me to. With a little Native American pride, Irish and Algerian fight, and Caribbean spice dancing my way to a fashion show and typing away my prose.

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