[Blackstudies-l] The Black Dandy and Street Style by Shantrelle P. Lewis

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sun Jun 4 09:19:50 EDT 2017

Democrat and Chronicle
06/04/2017 - Page C09

Author: Respectability of Frederick Douglass important to movement



PHILADELPHIA - Seven years ago, Shantrelle P. Lewis was consumed by the
negative images of young, black men being depicted in media as aggressive
and dangerous.

Most looked nothing like the black men she knew: in her family, her social
circle, from her college days at Howard University, or from living in New
Orleans, New York or Philadelphia. In response, the curator launched "The
Dandy Lion Project," a touring photography and film exhibit focused on
black men in cities around the world with an aesthetic that incorporates
European and African influences.

The project is now a book, Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style
(Aperture Foundation) celebrating the bold prints, bright colors and
tailored style challenging society to reimagine what it means to be a black
man. Lewis discussed the project and the significance of "Black Dandyism"
in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Associated Press: How did "The Dandy Lion Project" come about?

Lewis: I was consumed with the negative stereotyping of black men,
particularly in visual culture. As a curator, I wanted to respond, and my
work definitely has a social justice component to it.

I decided on a photography exhibition about how particular black men! were
choosing to use their bodies as a form of resistance and! oppositional
fashion. I wanted people to be confronted with the same people they
approach on the street every day, that they’re in the elevator with, that
they’re encountering every single day in these global, urban environments.
The exhibition really speaks to the fact that blackness is not monolithic,
that there’s these diverse narratives of black people. We have this
subculture of style happening, from the heart of the Congo, to New Orleans,
to Brixton in London, and also in Brooklyn.

AP: What is a "Black Dandy?" Where does that term come from?

Lewis: A "Black Dandy" is an individual who appropriates western European
menswear and fashion, and introduces an African aesthetic to create
something new, to express contemporary style. It comes from a European term
to describe a specific clas! s of what was called a "fop," an individual
who was obsessed with clothing and imitating, while also making a mockery
of the mannerisms of aristocracy. These individuals were men of leisure and
of various pastimes who were really obsessed with dress, and who also have
very political views of society at large. Think Oscar Wilde or Beau

AP: What are some of the essential components of "Black Dandyism"?

Lewis: The suit is just basic. Very modern. The way they’re cut it’s a
European cut, it’s very tailored. That’s a nod to Edwardian fashion that’s
at the heart of dandyism. It’s not baggy, it’s not excess. There are also a
variety of different accoutrements: vests, pocket squares, pocket watches,
custom hats.

But with young black dandies, there’s also a hip-hop element. So! they
might pair a vintage vest with an un-collared Dutch wax jacket and some
Chucks or some Air Force 1s. There’s a transnational influence also present
that is not necessarily present in traditional dandyism. For the Black
Dandy, he’s pulling on all of these different aspects of his identity and
experiences as a black person.

AP: How does the "Black Dandy" reject the stereotype of the thug?

Lewis: I think it’s historical. I think its roots are in respectability.
Frederick Douglass was one of the most photographed men of his day. Here is
a formerly enslaved man having people document him … That was a tool he was
using to argue for the humanity of black people. (W.E.B.) DuBois did the
same thing with his 1900 Paris Exposition, showing black, middle-class,
free people who are educated, w! ho are prosperous.

In a contemporary context, it’s really about younger black men who are
rejecting this image that the corporate hip-hop machine has come to dictate
of what it means to be black and masculine. At one point in time, hip-hop
was very oppositional. It was protest music, it was coming out of urban
youth culture. Then it got co-opted. Now, there’s this "hyper-thug" image
that gets played out in reality television and music videos. It’s a dress
code connected to violence and hyper aggression. It’s an image of the black
man as predatory that is now embedded in the minds of police officers.

AP: So does "Black Dandyism" work to counteract that?

Lewis: I don’t believe that dressing ! up in a suit is bulletproof. But I
still think that it’s disruptive b! ecause they’re dressing outside of
what’s typically appropriate for someone who’s young and black. That’s very
disruptive, even in the black community. A huge part of it is also the
pleasure aspect that’s involved in it. It’s a sense of pride. When we look
at the images of our forefathers and mothers … like in the Civil Rights
Movement, you’ll see black people on the front lines dressed to the nines.
That’s coming from a long history of black people dressing up. In African
culture, the ritual of dress is central to dignity, culture, pride … I
think when contemporary dandies are dressing up, they’re pulling from this
nostalgic moment where you had revolutionaries. Malcolm X’s suit was sharp,
James Baldwin, Dr. King. The way these guys presented … they were dressed
extremely well. So this is about what it means to get dressed up, to put a
lot of time and thought and energy into selecting ones clothes and
presenting one’s self in public.!

Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style, by Shantrelle P. Lewis


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