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Learn the story behind Harlem’s Style.

Defining Context

Dear Fellow Fashionologist,

Our first featured location is Harlem, NYC. Harlem has always had a distinctive fashion sense, made popular in the 1920’s, with the genesis of the Harlem Renaissance. Blacks moving into the predominately Jewish and Italian enclaves of Harlem quickly established themselves as style mavericks with their zoot suits, fedoras, fringe, feathers and pearls. Known as “Black Dandies”, their well-dressedness spoke sartorial volumes on how they saw themselves and how they wished to be viewed by those in their new community.  For many ambitious blacks in Harlem at this time, fashion served as the only way they could establish a more recognizable position within a society that denied them status. These individuals disavowed playing small or inferior by dressing flamboyantly. Their clothes acted as a cloak that demanded recognition and respect. The complement of both elegance and boldness within their dress exemplified a determined attitude to maintain their dignity.

Fast forward to today, Harlem continues to be a space of fashion as a means of reasserting self worth. Similar to the 1920’s, a cultural hodgepodge created by gentrification and strong national racial tensions have contributed to an environment where self pride still needs to be asserted through fashion. This first chapter of The Common Thread Project explores the resurgence of Dandyism within current fashion trends made most evident by the returning popularity of fitted suits, wide brim hats and oxfords. Harlem continues to be a space where fashion is used as a rejection of inferiority, as well as a means of asserting value.

Enjoy!

Mikaila Brown, PhD.