This essay examines the rise in popularity of “Afro look” fashions in the 1970s. The name Afro look was given by fashion industry insiders on both sides of the Atlantic to describe clothing that featured African and African-inspired prints, textiles, and embroidery techniques. Usually these prints were applied to popular silhouettes such as the miniskirt, bellbottoms, hot pants, and maxidresses. The growing popularity of Afro-look designs stirred a flurry of debate within the fashion world about the origins of these popular designs. I argue that origins mattered. Laying claim to a fashion innovation allowed a nation or region of the world to position itself as the model of modernity and cultural sophistication. Many newly independent African nations were eager to reposition themselves on the world stage, and fashion became one way to do so. In apartheid-era South Africa, such politics were particularly important as black South Africans fought for basic human rights. Drum magazine—South Africa’s leading fashion black lifestyle magazine—chronicled the burgeoning Black Consciousness movement along side its coverage of black fashion models and fashion designers. Fashion was political. One’s attire was an important extension of one’s personal and collective politics. Using Drum as a primary source, I demonstrate that many within the continent’s fashion industry were invested in telling an African-centered fashion history. They used fashion to make claims of modernity, attempting to depict the realities of African life and culture, which looked far different from the images of bare-breasted women and men in loincloths that filled the pages of National Geographic. Afro-look fashions, and the models and other socialites who sported them, became a symbol for African opulence, style, and glamour in a time of immense social and political upheaval.
Research Article|November 01 2015
The “Afro Look” and Global Black Consciousness
Tanisha Ford is an assistant professor in the Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul (UNC Press, 2015).
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Nka (2015) 2015 (37): 28-37.
Tanisha Ford; The “Afro Look” and Global Black Consciousness. Nka 1 November 2015; 2015 (37): 28–37. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-3339838
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