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  • Writer's pictureVariant Magazine

The Double Standard For The Black Community in Fashion

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Model: Zoie Lambert / Photographer: Logan Lambert

By Zoie Lambert, Blogger

In the midst of the current racial crisis of 2020, parents and children across the country are sitting down to have “the talk:” a discussion about racial inequality and its effect on them. Originally reserved for minority families, this talk seems necessary for everybody now. Though these conversations may vary with different backgrounds, they are essential to limit the effects of racism.

Photo from The National Post

This conversation branches into categories and subcategories with fashion being one of the most important talking points. Fashion is the first aspect a person notices and is the first form of (nonverbal) communication between people. Therefore, it is imperative that this conversation is had immediately, especially when society cares more about the type of person wearing it rather than what they’re actually wearing.

The Hoodie

Many Black people, especially men, have unwritten rules in the fashion community, the Golden Rule being to not wear a hoodie outside of the house. Many people wrongfully associate Black men in a hoodie with thugs, drug dealers and hoodlums up to no good. But, this was not always the case.

Hoodies became available in 1930 by sportswear brand Champion, but reached prominence in the ’80s “by B-boys, graffiti artists and breakdancers,” according to The New York Times. As hip-hop culture formed, streetwear was adopted and transformed by the fashion industry, but the emergence of the urban community into American culture was halted by racism.

The timeline is muddy surrounding when Black men began being stigmatized for wearing a hoodie, but racism minds no timeline. Soon, the media rendered the image of a Black man in a hoodie as a criminal. Though, some would like to propose that the Unabomber or the root word “hood” are reasons why the hoodie is notorious aside from race.

That being said, these points pale in comparison when people like Mark Zuckerburg wear hoodies without penalization. Trayvon Martin did not look suspicious because of his hoodie, it was simply because he was a Black person. Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, said in 911 call “These a**holes always get away,” before pulling the trigger. These words, specifically “These a**holes,” emphasize that he profiled Martin based solely off his skin color.

Photo from 80s Casual Classic

Hoodies have always served a purpose of comfort, but also a purpose to conceal — bad haircuts, a face scar, tears, extra weight, etc. Now, its most prominent selling point has been taken hostage by racism.

Additionally, many fear that Black men may soon also be harassed for wearing masks. When interviewed by The New York Times, Brooklyn, New York, local Allen Hargrove expressed that he’s hesitant to wear masks because it makes him “more aware of how [he’s] being perceived.” Hargrove and other Black men should not have to fear this sort of racial profiling in the first place, but they especially should not fear it when masks are being mandated by local governments during a global pandemic.

Locs, Fro, Braids Galore

Whether straight, curly, wig, gelled or bald, all hair has a purpose. Though, many will frame hair and beauty as subjective, it is still an outward expression of an individual. For African Americans, hair is a connection to their roots.

Photo from Refinery29

Western culture has tried to suppress this connection through the use of chemicals, flat-irons and weaves. Locs had to reclaim its identity after being labeled as “dreadlocks,” the name given by slave owners who believed locs were “unkempt and dreadful.”

Though many Blacks succeeded in wearing their hair how they chose, societal regulations were eventually put in place to restrict them from getting jobs and other opportunities. In 2013, human resources at Catastrophe Management Solutions denied Chastity Jones a job because her locs “tended to get messy.” In her lawsuit against the company, Jones faced defeat and the Eleventh Circuit claimed that the company did not discriminate against race — something a person can not change — but rather hair, which can be altered.

This is one of many situations that illustrate how systematic racism continually white-washes Black history and power. Many millennials now refer to their black hair as “The Crown,” in reference to what society has unsuccessfully attempted to dethrone.

Cultural Appropriation

Recent events have illustrated that humanity will need more than “I take responsibility” videos before people can have a true cultural exchange. Cultural appropriation is the taking of another culture’s ideas and customs, without regard to the history.

Photo from Glamour

This concept is prominent in the fashion industry. Many stars, such as Kim Kardashian and Selena Gomez, have been guilty of cultural appropriation. Kardashian was seen wearing “Bo Derek” braids and Gomez wore a bindi in her “Come & Get It” music video.

The majority may see this as a blend of cultures, but to the minority who battle to be recognized every day, it can be a spit in the face. Makeup mogul Kylie Jenner received praise for wearing cornrows, but actress Zendaya was criticized for wearing locs to the Oscars. This is just one of the reasons why the cultural appropriation debate needs to be settled.

Even the most educated people who have the highest regard for a culture should realize that until systems of discrimination are abolished, any attempts of cultural appropriation are fatal to minorities. In the meantime, individuals can learn more and consider, “Are these only braids?”

After the Talk

Disgusted, scared and embarrassed are some of the many different emotions people feel after “the talk,” but one commonality everyone shares after is hope for the better. Thus, the conversation on racism within fashion needs to happen soon. Change is on the horizon, but change is dependent on everyone, especially the new generation as they will be the world’s future leaders. It is important for them to continue the conversation on race and correctly answer questions like, “It’s Just a Hoodie, right?” when someone asks in regards to Black men. Hopefully, they’ll know the right answer: yes.

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