“Stylin’ out.” That’s how Monica L. Miller, an associate professor of English at Barnard College, describes the way black people have used dress to expand definitions of blackness, gender, and sexuality. Men in particular have “styled their way from slaves to dignified human beings,” she writes in Slaves to Fashion (Duke University Press, 2009).
The first book-length study of black dandyism, Miller’s work is part of a growing scholarly interest in how clothes fashion our lives. It also signals the blossoming of black dandyism—fedoras, silk ascots, flashy socks—on the streets of major cities. Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Outkast’s Andre 3000 have made it cool to rap in Polo shirts, bow ties, nerd glasses, and boat shoes. The NBA’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant pull off dandyish without being pretentious.
And now black dandyism is trending in the halls of academe. Scroll down to meet three academic dandies.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries Associate professor of history, Ohio State UniversityPhotographs by David Bernstein for The Chronicle
“My base clothes are simple and standard. My shirts are usually white or blue with a French cuff, medium starch please.”
“A black dandy ... conveys a professional swagger in the face of racial stereotypes about place and profession.”
“Students and colleagues have been wonderfully complimentary about my dress. I was even reprimanded by a class for failing to wear [braces] one time. The students said that I messed up the class mojo.”
Sharon P. Holland Associate professor of African and African-American studies, Duke UniversityPhotographs by Lissa Gotwals for The Chronicle
“A black dandy unsettles, but always playfully. You might say to yourself, ‘Is it a man or a woman?’”
“But truthfully, when I’m done dressing and have tried all manner of combinations, it is all about being OK with feeling sexy in a piece of fine cloth. Dressing up is art and love, pure and simple.”
“Right now I am into cameos and have been lucky enough to find a gentleman in Wilmington who is as mad about them as I. He knows what they are and how to buy them.”
Ernest L. Gibson Assistant professor of English, Rhodes CollegePhotographs by Lance Murphey for The Chronicle
“I am a bow-tie man. There is something about that classic conversation piece and its place in the history of fashion that speaks to me.”
“As a person of color, I feel that I must be 10 times more invested in how I present myself aesthetically to my students and colleagues.”
“My students love my sense of style. They are not used to men my age being so invested in the classic look. The fact that I am a young black man compounds their reactions.”