Signifyin’ Threads: Black Fashion and Art, 1965-1980
Tawana Annette Hobson
Thesis DT 3.5 2001 H637
viii, 109 leaves: ill.; 29 cm.
When one thinks of Black Arts or Black Power, literary images from the 1960s and 70s usually come to mind. Some of the most immediate are likely to be outstanding works by Larry Neal, Sonia Sanchez, and Amiri Baraka. What is often overlooked in these discourses is the visual impact that these movements had, not only for the African American community, but the world at large. Afros and black leather jackets may be mentioned in related writings, but there has been no thorough attempt to analyze the visual aspect of the movement, as it relates to fashion, art, or social dress. This project is an attempt to correct or bring a different perspective to existing literature concerning this topic.
This is not to suggest that the present available works concerning 60s and 70s social dress, fashion are inadequate or do not serve a valuable purpose. Evidence of this is readily seen by the immense number of available sources, but the works are frequently influenced by a hegemonic European standard. When the African American presence is acknowledged, the contributions are relegated to the margins of fashion history. In actuality, the previously mentioned decades were known to be unique and intense periods of creative expression within African American culture and beyond. There also exists the tendency within the academy, to view the 60s' cultural productions as wholly social/political conduits. When attention is given to the visual aesthetic, the emphasis is often placed upon the more traditionally known art forms, such as painting and sculpture, as opposed to fiber or textile art.
In contrast to claims of writers such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who has declared the Black Arts Movement as the "shortest and least successful" movement in African American cultural history ("Black Creativity: On the Cutting Edge." Time (Oct. 10, 1994): 74-75), a tremendous creative potential and the production of cultural materials was borne out of this movement that still stand as some of the most critically acclaimed works ever. Further, the manifestations that emerged from this period served as precursors to contemporary creative forms, such as hip-hop culture. This thesis examines that process. It begins with a discussion of the origins and development of the Black Arts/Aesthetic Movement. Other topics to be included are bodily representation through clothing, factors that facilitated changes in attitudes toward clothing, worldwide reaction and influence, the relationship between dress and treatise on Black social dress that reveals it as a viable entity within the field of fashion history.