"Dandy is defined as "A man who affects extreme elegance in clothes and manners", recently Dandy/Dandyism culture has been in the news and exhibitions. I have to also admit that it has been the style of choice for the men in my works of art. Although my work tackles topics of historic narratives to contemporary issues, a well dressed man is how I choose to tell the stories of American History from my African Americans perspective." - Najee Dorsey
For many, style is much deeper than articles of clothing; it's a statement of identity. Black men have a unique relationship with fashion, one that can be traced all the way back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Professor Monica L. Miller, author of Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity, talked with Tell Me More's Michel Martin about the past, present and future of black men's fashion.
She explained that African American men have used style as a way to challenge stereotypes about who they are. "Sometimes the well-dressed black man coming down the street is asking you to look and think."
Victor Holliday, Associate Producer of On-Air Fundraising at NPR and one of the resident kings of style, tells Michel Martin that he learned about the importance of fashion at an early age. "When I was five years old, I knew exactly how I was going to look," he says. "And that was the year I got my first trench coat and my top hat."
Holliday's style icon is his father, who taught him that the main object of dressing up was winning respect. "Because as you present yourself seriously, people tend to take you seriously."
Holliday is one of the men featured in Tell Me More's "Kings of Style" slideshow.
These well-dressed men are proud and considered to serve as an inspiration to others. Frequently, on Saturday nights they meet up to compete in a fashion show of sorts. The Swenkas are judged both on what they are wearing (typically, expensive designer suits with well known European names on their labels) and their choreographed movements (their 'swank'). There is an entrance fee to compete in these swank-offs and the winner of the night goes home with a portion of the money collected from the competitors. The men follow certain set values of swanking, such as physical cleanliness, sobriety and above all self-respect. In 2004, Danish filmmaker Jeppe Rønde created The Swenkas, a documentary about the group.
The clock strikes twelve and the curtain closes on an evening of Jazz and Burlesque at Macao Trading Company. Crowds of well dressed revelers thin and disappear into the night leaving a few late night stragglers to nurse their cocktails or savor that final bite of cake. A bandleader and burlesque beauty seek solitude amidst the dimming lights and fading footsteps. Their figures illuminated by the votives, a photographer captures them in repose. – Dandy Wellington. @dandywellington
Slaves to Fashion is a pioneering cultural history of the black dandy, from his emergence in Enlightenment England to his contemporary incarnations in the cosmopolitan art worlds of London and New York. It is populated by sartorial impresarios such as Julius Soubise, a freed slave who sometimes wore diamond-buckled, red-heeled shoes as he circulated through the social scene of eighteenth-century London, and Yinka Shonibare, a prominent Afro-British artist who not only styles himself as a fop but also creates ironic commentaries on black dandyism in his work. Interpreting performances and representations of black dandyism in particular cultural settings and literary and visual texts, Monica L. Miller emphasizes the importance of sartorial style to black identity formation in the Atlantic diaspora.
Dandyism was initially imposed on black men in eighteenth-century England, as the Atlantic slave trade and an emerging culture of conspicuous consumption generated a vogue in dandified black servants. “Luxury slaves” tweaked and reworked their uniforms, and were soon known for their sartorial novelty and sometimes flamboyant personalities. Tracing the history of the black dandy forward to contemporary celebrity incarnations such as Andre 3000 and Sean Combs, Miller explains how black people became arbiters of style and how they have historically used the dandy’s signature tools—clothing, gesture, and wit—to break down limiting identity markers and propose new ways of fashioning political and social possibility in the black Atlantic world. With an aplomb worthy of her iconographic subject, she considers the black dandy in relation to nineteenth-century American literature and drama, W. E. B. Du Bois’s reflections on black masculinity and cultural nationalism, the modernist aesthetics of the Harlem Renaissance, and representations of black cosmopolitanism in contemporary visual art.
Posted at 12:27 PM ET, 02/02/2012
Black Men: Dandyism, masculinity and homophobia
By Fahima Haque
Gone are the days where young black men are bound to a uniform of sorts: baggy jeans, white t-shirts and fitted baseball caps. Or that’s the hope of Shantrelle P. Lewis, curator for the exhibit ‘Dandy Lion: Articulating a Re(de)fined Black Masculine Identity.’
The exhibition debuted at Society HAE in Harlem a year and a half ago and has traveled to Amsterdam, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art in Brooklyn and to Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art in Newark. It opened in Baltimore on January 29 at the Reginald F. Lewis museum. It runs through May 13.
It is made up primarily of photos and features 20 different photographers and filmmakers.
View Photo Gallery: ‘Dandy Lion’ is a an exhibition exploring young black men redefining their style through dandyism and contemporary hip-hop flair at the Reginald F. Lewis museum in Baltimore. The exhibit opened on January 29 and runs through May 13.
The exhibit centers around young black men combining urban style with dandyism, a distinct style that developed during the 18th century in London centered around lace ruffles, embroidery, top hats and decorated footwear. More and more fashion blogs like Street Etiquettehave brought a sartorial style exclusively for young, black men to the forefront. Lewis spoke with The RootDC about the importance of this exhibit.
Q: What is a dandy lion?
A: A dandy lion is a contemporary expression of black dandyism. It’s a new statement on black masculinity within a contemporary context. He is a man of elegance, an individual who remixes a Victorian era fashion and aesthetic with traditional African sensibilities and swagger.
Q:Why is this important to bring to people’s attention?
A: Especially for young people, we are bombarded with this one sided, monolithic image of what it means to be black and male, primarily around the United States and actually even around the globe. The image is a negative one, images of black men are not reaffirming and not positive. There are institutions who are committed and invested in perpetuated that negative image. This is especially true for a young man who may not have access to a variety of expressions of black masculinity.
You don’t have to be thug or an athlete or dress like everyone else with the sagging pants, exposed boxers and oversized white tees to be a man. Express creativity and individuality. That’s what dandy lions seek to express, especially to a young generation that’s also paying tribute to the older generation. Respectability was a way of life.
Q: Why curate this exhibit now?
A: If you look at the trajectory over the past few years, the recognition of black dandyism seems overnight, but there’s been a lot of interest in dandyism since the 18th century. It’s not anything new. But there has been an increasingly popular trend as more people wear more vintage clothes, dress really well and want to spend less money because of the economy. Younger men who are opting out of the traditional form of hip-hop fashion are creating a new expression of hip-hop aesthetic. For example, wearing shell toe adidas with a bowtie.
Q: What has been the reactions to creating this exhibition?
A:Young photographers were, at first, somewhat challenged on the idea of focusing on dandies. The African-American community at times can be very homophobic, many people attribute dandyism with sexuality and homosexuality. Just because someone dresses well doesn’t mean they are gay, and just because someone is gay doesn’t mean they dress well.
The exhibition seeks to confront that homophobia. All it takes sometimes is exposure to an idea to be picked up and embraced by young people.
Since the exhibition was inititally installed, there have been more conversations in the press and in films to a subculture that’s existed. It’s started to get more attention.