Dear Fellow Fashionologists,
I first became intrigued with telling the #StyleStory of the Bronx after watching the show “The Get Down” on Netflix. Even though I live mere miles away, the show inspired me to reconsider a borough I had vastly underestimated. Furthermore, though the show focused on the inception of hip hop, it was the fashion and styling that especially drew me in. I became enamored by a group of young orphans running around abandoned buildings wearing leather, motorcycle vests, and bandanas. While the main characters wore the typical 1970’s uniform of medium striped tees and bell bottoms, it was these young hooligans dressed like a motorcycle gang that was the real fashion story for me.
What I learned is that in the late 1960s/early 1970s, the communities in the South Bronx were grappling with many debilitating conditions. Their educational system was failing. The predominately middle-class, a Jewish community that had lived in these neighborhoods for years was moving north, fleeing from the predominately black and Latino working-class families forced to move to the Bronx because their previous neighborhoods were becoming gentrified. Landlords frustrated by this new low-income demographic started burning down their buildings, to avoid making their investment properties Section 8. The Bronx began to feel like the Wild Wild West.
In reaction to the conditions of poor education, decrepit housing, and economic stability, unsurprisingly, young people in the Bronx began to form gangs. Looking for inspiration on how to create these informal “families,” Bronx youth looked outside of their community. The most iconic organized “gang” at the time was the Hells Angels, who had a strong presence in New York City. While those in the Bronx would have loved to have been in the Hells Angels, the fact of the matter is that they were not allowed because they were not white.
Even though they could not formally join the Hell’s Angels, they sure could at least dress like one. To identify and separate themselves from other local gangs, they started using leather motorcycle vests with insignias that represented their crew allegiances. They had adopted the uniform of an outlaw. This sartorial inspiration evolved to become denim vests with graffiti on the back with the inception of hip hop culture. So this connection between an all-white motorcycle gang and the very beginnings of streetwear captivated me so much that I had to tell that story. There was not a better medium more appropriate to articulate this urban story from the ’80s than a comic, which is why I created the comic, The BoogieDown Brigade. This comic chronicles is the story of fashion outlaws to today’s fashion pioneers in the Bronx.
What is more, that’s what the Bronx continues to be. A space for outlaws and outliers against the manufactured artificial elitism of Manhattan. The Bronx is New York’s most unappreciated and overlooked borough, but after spending time there and studying it anthropologically, I realized it is, in reality, a community of people who break the rules in all the best ways. In response to the streamline, sophisticated whiteness of Manhattan, the BX is a motley crew of different nationalities ranging from Dominican, Puerto Rican, Black American, and the Caribbean. If NYC prizes itself for hosting leaders of industry, those in the Bronx have a more haphazard hustle but the same work ethic. It’s easy to ignore the Bronx, but be careful, because you might miss when it revolutionizes culture as it did in the ’80s with hip hop. Plus like then, fashion will be at the forefront of its impact.
Now please go check out our comic where we lay out the history of fashion in the Bronx, as well as the present pioneers like Jerome Lamarr who are revolutionizing the fashion scene in New York. They are the future of putting the Bronx back on the map.
Mikaila Brown, PhD.