Barely one month after a Dutch fashion magazine’s editor-in-chief resigned from her work after using an uncivilized racial smear to define Rihanna‘s style, a writer for French Elle has triggered another controversy with a blog post positing that for Black people, dressing well is a brand new idea.
In a recent blog post entitled Black Fashion Power, Nathalie Dolivo proposes that the single motivation Black people have stopped putting on unattractive street wear is because now there’s a cogent model for them (or in this blogger’s case, us) to do otherwise. Dolivo, who as far as we can tell is white as snow, says Barack and Michelle Obama‘s presence in the White House brands looking elegant possible (or at least plausible) for a set of people who formerly had no genuine purpose to get dressed up. She got the wrong impression about Jon Caramanica‘s insightful article on Black style in The New York Times last year, saying that dressing up and dressing well is an approach to bring back self-esteem to the Black community. Because, you know, Black people didn’t have any of that before.
Dolivo actually went the extra mile, though, when she says that today, the “black-geosie” have “integrated all the white codes” of dressing, purifying them through their Blackness and adding their own Black interpretations and accessories. Like puka shells. Dolivo writes:
In this America led for the first time a black president, the chic has become a plausible option for a community so far pegged to its codes [of] streetwear … But if in 2012 the “black-geoisie” has integrated all the white codes, it does not [do so] literally. [There] is always a classic twist, with a bourgeois ethnic reference (a batik-printed turban/robe, a shell necklace, a ‘créole de rappeur’) that recalls the roots.
In addition, while you don’t have to look very far to find a stylish Black woman in a turban (June Ambrose, anybody?) or a line of clothes that use ethnic prints (we refer here to designer Duro Olowu and others like him), Dolivo is completely incorrect to make a sweeping statement about the way Black people dress as a new phenomenon established on an interpretation of the way white people dress. Black people wear clothes, too, and have been doing so for as long as anyone else — not because white people told them to, but because it’s just a human thing to do — and Dolivo’s article seems to have forgotten that very basic idea.
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As you would expect, this has generated some outrage. Dolivo’s original article was posted on Jan. 13 and had 755 mostly angry comments as of our post and with good reason. Until the fashion industry recognises that people who aren’t white buy and wear fashion — and look good in it — it’s going to keep isolating them. Hooray to every person who has pointed out how erroneous and destructive this article is thus far. We will let you know if or when French Elle issues a speech about this article — as angry as people have been about it, it cannot be that far off.