The influence black culture has had on inspiring trends in the mainstream fashion industry is hugely extensive. However, the industry has a history of repeatedly appropriating black culture problematically. Big, hooped earrings, nameplate necklaces and monogram prints are staples of everyone’s wardrobes but are descended from a history of black design. ‘Influence’ and ‘inspiration’ are phrases that become loaded when the pendulum swings from cultural appreciation to appropriation.
Many modern fashion staples adorned by white bodies have their roots in black culture without widespread recognition. As a white woman I am aware I hold no authority on what is labelled cultural appropriation or appreciation, but this article aims to bring attention to the history of black design and culture behind widespread, white-washed fashion trends.
To start with accessories, most of us own and adore hooped earrings and many of my white friends own nameplate necklaces. These items are unavoidable in the fashion world but many aren’t aware that these trends have a rich cultural history bound by POC identity and selfhood that has been whitewashed. Hooped earrings have their origin in African royalty and have been worn in black and Latin minority communities for decades as a sign of reliance, strength, and identity. Much like nameplate necklaces that were originally worn to emphasise and reinforce how important names are in signifying identity. Flashforward to 1998 and ‘Sex and the City’ debuts with its white main character – fashion obsessed Carrie Bradshaw – sporting a ‘Carrie’ necklace giving her an appropriated ‘cool’ and supposedly ‘unique’ aesthetic. This not only made the nameplate necklace synonymous with Carrie and the show, but also propelled the item into white fashion markets. Thus, sadly contributing to an ongoing narrative of commercialising items rooted in POC personal identity and separating them from this in the mainstream media.
We see this continued with clothes when examining the history of monogram print, or logomania, and the story of Dapper Dan, a man whose ‘knock off’ creations influenced large fashion houses. Dapper Dan opened his legendary Harlem couturier in 1982 selling illegal screen-printed designs of the logos of high fashion brands to big celebrities like Floyd Mayweather, LL Cool J and Salt N Pepper among many more. He reinvented how these logos and monograms could be used and created a definitive look that defined black culture in the 80s and 90s. Sadly, of course, in 1989 the police closed his boutique allowing for big fashion brands to swoop in and fill the gap he left in the mainstream market. Appropriating and profiting on his designs without due credit. Thankfully, his story ends positively as a 2017 Gucci jacket caused uproar due to it being a blatant copy of a 1989 Dapper Dan jacket made for Olympian Diane Dixon. Gucci extended the hand of collaboration, resulting in a 2018 Dapper Dan X Gucci collection that acted as a homage to the boutique that started it all.
So, can the popularisation of these trends be seen as a positive, framed as widespread cultural appreciation? Is it not a good thing to have these trends used and famous? Yes, representation and black trends being popular is extremely positive and necessary. But not in this way. The roots of these trends need credit, understanding and appreciation. The issue doesn’t particularly lie with white people wearing hoops, nameplates, and monogram tracksuits. But undoubtedly the dangerous legacy of systemic whitewashing of markings of black identity and culture within the fashion industry is a massive issue.