I have been always struck by how men of my father’s generation were so well dressed in those iconic black-and-white documentary photographs depicting their arrival after a three-week transatlantic journey by sea. They wore neatly pressed suits with a white breast pocket handkerchief, polished brogue shoes, white starched shirt with throat-strangling tie, and a trilby hat cocked at an angle. In Eastern Caribbean vernacular they were saga bwoys, or sweet bwoys, masculine personas who, in my rite of passage from a short-pants “colored” boy to a black British young man, I saw as exemplars of good grooming in their sartorial attention to detail as words for the ladies danced off their tongues like Lord Kitchener’s calypso. These “lonely Londoners” would later become Jamaican rude bwoys, swaggering as if to a ska or reggae beat in their two-tone mohair suits, with the attitude and creole chat of the best-dressed chicken on the street. Saga bwoys and rude bwoys are constituents of the contemporary ragamuffin geneology of subcultural black masculine practices that have been self-fashioned in the rhizoid network of racial, transcultural, and diaspora exchange and transfer.
Yet limited focus has been given to how and what postwar Caribbean migrant men contributed to a diasporic understanding of black dandyism through the material culture and performativity of the saga bwoys and rude bwoys. Using Carol Tulloch’s “style-fashion-dress,” among other conceptual frameworks, this essay begins to explore the ontology and materiality of a process that saw the aesthetic embodiment and reconstruction of diasporic Caribbeanness in a British context of the dressed black male body—a body that would come to reconfigure the streets of urban Britain with fresh, dynamic masculinities in motion.