Friday, February 12, 2010

In Honor of Black History Month

February can't go by without me giving homage to Black fashion designers.  Each ethnic group, culture, and race has distinctive styles in food, music, beliefs and clothing styles.  African Americans have contributed a lot towards fashion, whether it be in expressing themselves as individuals or collectively, and also as fashion designers.   We've always had a unique sense of style which others have emulated.

An example of the unique sense of style is the zoot suit.  Popularized in the Harlem jazz culture (in the mid 1930's), this suit was extravagant.  The jacket length ended below the hips, the collar was wide, the shoulders were over padded.  The pants were very wide and baggy with a very narrow hem.  There's a story that the very first zoot suit was purchased by a Black bus worker who, wanting to dress like Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind", had it made in a tailor shop in Gainsville, Georgia.  This isn't confirmed to be true, but it's a bit comical.

One of the first successful African American fashion designers was Arthur McGee.  He was born in 1930 in Detroit, Michigan.  His mother was a great sewer, and this influenced him to make clothes as well.  In 1951, at the age of 18, he entered a design contest at the Traphagen School of Design and won a scholarship to attend the same school.  Arthur later studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, worked in the industry and was the first of African American descent to oversee Bobby Brooks (an established Seventh Avenue clothing company).

 Patrick Kelly, a designer from my teen years, was born in 1954 in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  At the age of 6 he showed an interest in fashion.  Patrick taught himself to sew and made dresses for the girls in the neighborhood.  While in high school, he decorated department store windows.  Dropping out of university after two years of studying art history, he moved to Atlanta and worked for the Yves Saint Laurent boutique.  Patrick later ended up in New York, studied at Parson's School of Design, moved to Paris, sold his designs on the street, and his clothing became popular.  A Paris boutique hired him, and one year later, Patrick started his own clothing company.  Sadly, he died in 1990 from AIDS.
The list of African American fashion designers is a long one.  Shaka King, Tracey Reese, B. Michael, Stephen Burrows, Roger Gary, Douglas Says, Sixxfoota, Jeffrey Banks, are just a few of the names.  When you have time, google them to see their particular design esthetic.

Till next blog!
green zoot suit -
Arthur McGee -
Patrick Kelly with models -
lady in dress -


  1. This is a very well written blog, Sharon. Please tell me how you put those pictures up.

  2. I have e-mailed the long answer.