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A Discussion of Black Representation in Fashion

One OSU student's own experience.

By: Atira Feliciano

There is a growing number of representative style icons, but that’s not to say there isn’t a ways to go. For Black History Month, we want to highlight the strides the fashion industry has made while acknowledging the progress yet to come.

Elle magazine cites the first time a designer uses a model in the mid-1800s, but the first major black model wasn’t until Donyale Luna, who was the first black woman on the cover of Vogue in 1966. Just this year, there have already been instances of African-Americans getting in trouble at work or school for their hairstyles.

Despite the lack of representation of black designers and models throughout fashion history, black culture has been a major influence in many trends in fashion, music and art in general.

Consumers are now demanding that brands be more inclusive, from makeup shades to ballet shoes. Just last year the first ballet shoes were designed to match darker skin tones.

We interviewed a stylish member of our MODMuze family, Khavory Lee, about his firsthand experience with representation and style.

What are your favorite stores to shop at?

“The stores I tend to shop at depend on the season. My favorite stores to shop, at the moment since it is winter, are Zara, Banana Republic and American Apparel. But usually during the spring and summer I get most of my apparel from Urban Outfitters and local thrift stores.”

Who do you consider to be your style icon?

“My favorite style icon is a new emerging model who began his career on Instagram. His name is Deon (@okdeon). He is from northwest Arkansas and has such great range in style. He is able to take mainstream fashion and add a slight twist with every outfit.”

Social media is a great way for people to find representation in the industry. It gives everyday people the opportunity to share their style, pictures, products, etc.

What are some of your favorite trends or pieces?

“Right now I am loving how turtlenecks are coming back in a way they have never been seen before. Recently, turtlenecks have been worn underneath button-ups and t-shirts, adding an extra element and layer to an outfit. Last summer I was so obsessed with the bandana/ascot look. Now I am trying to get more pant pieces with patterns and originality for my wardrobe, like pants with stripes and creative color blocking.”

Who or what do you feel has helped influence or shape your style?

“Honestly, my friends really help shape my style. We are always bouncing ideas off each other for outfits, trying to get new ideas on how to push the limits of fashion, while still looking effortless. I get a lot of my inspiration from magazines like FGUK, Wonderland, Risk and GQ Style magazine.”

Do you feel accurately represented in fashion?

“No. African-Americans across the nation have a disconnect with the fashion industry because it's being influenced by white culture so much, especially in the South. It is hard to even push the limits of fashion due to social norms.”

What do you think the fashion industry could do better?

“I believe the fashion industry should show more diversity. Not only in race, gender and body shapes, but also in the way fashion is presented through media. The fashion industry has had this problem for a long time but recently has been doing a lot better. There is always this clean-cut, beautiful, simplistic look to fashion editorials. However, I really want media and the fashion industry to start presenting themselves in a way that reflects their consumers and audience."

How do you feel about cultural appropriation?

“Cultural appropriation is a topic that really hits hard with me. There is a huge difference between cultural appropriation and cultural celebration. Cultural appropriation is something I can’t tolerate. To me, it is a mock on the history of any person's cultural past. It is a mockery of someone’s ancestors who were beaten, held captive, overworked as slaves, socially slandered, inhumanely killed. On the other hand, fashion has the opportunity to do the very opposite and celebrate one’s culture. Celebrate the hardships overcame by their ancestors. Celebrate the beauty of their colors, food and traditions. Celebrate what it means to be human just like any other race, gender, sexuality, etc. At the end of the day, that’s the reason I love fashion. Not only can it be a mirror of society, but also a beautiful expression of self.

Who do you think is the biggest influencer for the community and yourself?

“Honestly, the way that social media has grown has substantially impacted the way fashion is viewed, especially when it comes to influencers on Instagram. There are so many influencers that really impact the fashion community. However, with the algorithms used by so many social media platforms, it makes it hard for many talented creatives and fashion enthusiasts who have so much talent and potential to be seen. I believe one of the biggest influencers in fashion and for myself at the moment is Justin Livingston (@justinliv). He has a style that is high fashion but is also easy to take inspiration from and make your own. I have a love for simplistic fashion that takes calm tones and clean lines into complex yet cohesive outfits, and he executes that so well.”

As the fashion industry continues to grow, we hope to see better minority representation. You can help by supporting inclusive artists and brands, and taking the time to learn more about different cultures.

Photographers: Devyn Willey and Nate Cheatham


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