8 Fashion Trends & Movements with Roots in Black Culture
When's the last time you looked at a trend and wondered, What's the story behind that? You don't have to be a fashion historian to know that some of the most popular styles of today have a rich history and often have roots in Black culture. Take streetwear, for example. What began as a style of dress adopted by minorities and hip-hop artists was eventually accepted and co-opted by the world's top luxury brands, including Gucci and Louis Vuitton. But streetwear isn't the only revolutionary trend brought to us by the Black community, nor was it the most memorable. From Jackie Kennedy's legendary wedding gown to the iconic "Carrie" necklace on Sex and the City, here are eight fashion moments that we can thank people of color for.
1. Jackie Kennedy's Wedding Dress
While much praise is given to the Jackie Kennedy's sartorial choices, little credit has been paid to Ann Lowe, the Black designer behind her iconic wedding dress. A prominent couturier of her time, Lowe was not only responsible for creating the future First Lady’s white gown, but she also whipped up dresses for the entire bridal party. Lowe's creation remains one of the most memorable wedding dresses to date. However, she never lived to see recognition for her masterpiece.
Today's modern luxury brands have built their businesses on conspicuous consumption—and very loud logos—all thanks to the works of Daniel Day, better known as Dapper Dan. In the ‘80s, the Harlem-based designer began dressing hip-hop's top artists by using fabric splashed with knock-off designer insignias and that he'd use to customize virtually anything. Whether you coveted a coat with the Gucci logo or dreamt of a car interior decked out in Versace, Dapper Dan could make it happen. Though he was eventually pushed out of business in the early ‘90s due to legal pressure, Dapper Dan has seen a major resurgence, thanks to an ongoing partnership with Gucci that started in 2018.
3. Lettuce Hem
If you knew that the detailing on the above T-shirt was referred to as a "lettuce hem," you're definitely not a style novice. A favorite among the fashion set in the 1970s, designer Stephen Burrows, created the rippled hem after he misunderstood a request from Diana Vreeland, then the Editor-in-Chief at Vogue, who'd wanted a dress made in "lettuce green." At the time, it might've been a misunderstanding, but it's a style that has stood the test of time.
4. Hoop earrings
Even though hoop earrings date as far back as Sumer (aka the first civilization), they're more recently recognized as one of the most popular fashion items attributed to Black and Latinx culture. “In the 1960s and 1970s the hoop earring became associated with African beauty, when Nina Simone and Angela Davis started wearing the hoops,” André Leon Talley told The New York Times. Despite the negative stigma regarding women preferring hoop earrings (we all know the saying), the style has remained a favorite among some of the most influential pop-culture figures in history, including Diana Ross and Janet Jackson. Now, the once-forbidden style has evolved into an essential fashion accessory.
5. Oversized trend
Ah, the oversized fit. Our go-to for everything from denim jackets to distressed boyfriend jeans. Often referred to as "baggy," oversized clothing gained notoriety during the ‘80s hip-hop era. The lack of proper sizing was usually attributed to the fact that clothes were often handed down from other family members in hopes of saving money. At the time, hip-hop artists would perform in "regular street clothes" in an effort to resonate with their fans. Eventually, the oversized trend reached other parts of Hollywood and was soon welcomed by mainstream fashion.
6. Sneaker Culture
Although sneakers have been around since the invention of rubber, the shoe didn't gain widespread societal acceptance until the ‘70s, which yeah, was when Nike was founded. But even then, athletic kicks were reserved for sports and rarely had anything to do with fashion. Until the ‘80s, that is, when the decade's most influential rap artists, like Run-DMC and Grandmaster Flash, established sneakers as a wardrobe must-have. In a time when music and beat-boxing were shaping the culture, sneakers became a symbol of identity, status, and belonging within Black communities—and the same continues to be true today.
7. Bucket Hats
You’ve seen it atop the heads of celebrities, influencers, and...err...fisherman? That’s right. Like many trends, the bucket hat was invented purely for function. At its inception, the design was intended to protect the necks of fishermen from rain; but by the 1940’s, the style had been fully adopted by war troops. Though the transition from a functional style to a fashionable one officially occurred in the ‘60s, it wasn’t until the ‘80s that the bucket hat would be established as an iconic accessory. While LL Cool J wasn’t the first rapper to sport a fisherman hat—that would be Big Bank Hank of Sugar Hill Gang—the influential rapper did make his Kangol a style statement, turning it into a piece that dominated beat-box culture. Ever since, the bucket hat has fought to maintain its sartorial relevance. Though Rihanna's double snakeskin Atelier Versace ensemble makes a great case for this accessory.
8. Scripted necklaces
Shoes aside, one of Carrie Bradshaw’s most notable accoutrements was her gold necklace, which spelled out her name in cursive letters and hung from a dainty chain. And, while it was notable enough for a storyline on Sex and the City, the bauble didn't originate there. Like gold hoops, scripted name necklaces have been an integral part of Black and Latinx culture since the ‘80s because the nameplate was never just a fashion accessory. For some, it was a bold display of dignity that proclaimed their "hard to pronounce" name. For others, it served as a rite of passage, indicating that they were finally responsible enough to own customized gold. So, how in the world did the necklace end up on Bradshaw's neck? Patricia Field, the series' costume designer, said that "a lot of the kids in NYC neighborhoods wore them."