Celebrating Black History through Fashion

Happy Black History Month! *Note from Morgan – Alex is a friend of DCFunemployment who is going to take on us a journey this black history month through fashion!! She will be popping in a few times this month to share with us.  Enjoy!!*

While I am always proud of my heritage, I believe this month is especially important for shining some light on black excellence and achievement that otherwise may not receive the recognition it deserves.

To celebrate, I’ve decided to share some of my knowledge throughout the month on black fashion history and influential black designers! If you saw my last post then you know this is something I am extremely passionate about, and I hope to provide some inspiration for other young designers of color so that they know that they do, in fact, have a place in this industry. Let’s get to learnin’!

First, let’s talk about some history. Have you ever heard of the term “Sunday Best”?

While the history of African Americans in this country began through slavery (starting in 1619 when the first African slaves were forcefully brought to the Virginia colony), fashion was still very important.

During the week, slaves wore old simple “work clothes,” often hand-me-downs or clothing that they made from the fabric scraps of slave owners. But on Sundays, they were generally permitted to attend church with other slaves. The role of religion and church and their influence on black fashion began during slavery, but this tradition has continued even into today!

The term “Sunday Best” came from these times. With protestantism spreading in the new colonies, the concept of “saving negroes from their heathen religions” became popular. This was also incredibly controversial at the time, as some believed that once slaves converted to Christianity, they had to be given their freedom. Eventually, slave owners found a way to have legislation passed that negated that idea, allowing them to keep their slaves even after they converted.

In order for slave owners to be considered “good Christians,” their slaves had to have at least one good outfit for church on Sundays. Slave women who were able to sew would often use scrap materials to fashion their own pieces for themselves and their families for church. This became an opportunity for black women to differentiate themselves using clothing during church, which was the only time they were permitted to be social. This tradition of “Sunday Best” can still be seen today through beautifully-made formal outfits for women, often accompanied by ornate hats in church.

While this is most common in black Baptist churches in the south, black women from all over the country put on their “Sunday Best” every week, showcasing their gorgeous styles with the pew aisles as runways. Some of my fondest memories growing up are of my late grandmother bringing my sister and I to church with her, and pretending to pay attention when I was really just mesmerized by the beauty around me. How could you not be?!

*Note from Morgan, I grew up with this fabulous hat lady!!

Thanks for reading along and learning with me! I can’t wait to share my next article for Black History Month where I’ll be writing about Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (1818-1907), a slave-turned-designer who bought her own freedom and became the personal dressmaker and stylist for Mary Todd Lincoln. Stay tuned, and stay woke!

-Alexandra

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