Black Popular Culture - Hip-Hop & Fashion

Michael Dawkins
Black Popular Culture
Critical Review Essay


                        Hip Hop culture and fashion are synonymous, influenced by each other. Many Black youth (and even some Black middle aged and elders) consume the Hip Hop fashion style which is a form of expression. Hip Hop fashion or what can be called urban youth clothing, has faced some harsh criticism lately from Bill Cosby and the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Using “What’s in a name (brand)?” by Michael Eric Dyson and “Altered” by Sonya Magett, I will examine this issue and discuss my views on the topic.
                        “Are you not paying attention, people with the hat on backwards, pants down around the crack. Isn’t that a sign of sometin’ or you waitin’ for Jesus to pull his pants up? (Dyson pg2)”, from reading that quotation, it is clear to that Bill Cosby has a problem with the way Black youth dress. The Atlanta city council also has a problem with the Black males dress therefore they are considering an amendment to ban baggy pants. “Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin said he's tired of seeing kids and young black men wearing their pants down around their knees. His ordinance would make exposed underwear no different than sex in public. (ABC News)”, meaning that violators of this law would have to pay a fine for the way they wear their pants. The current crusade against Hip Hop fashion is more deeply rooted than baggy pants; one has to look back at the history of the U.S. to further understand the conflict.
                           After slavery was abolished, Blacks (in cities) took to the streets in their best outfit and strutted down the block. “At first, whites laughed at ex-slaves as they strolled along the streets of Southern cities in the late nineteenth century. (Dyson pg3)”, which whites probably didn’t realize that these Blacks were expressing themselves; they wanted show that they were human beings who did have substance and style. The streets seemed to be the only place for Black expression because everywhere else was Jim Crowed and didn’t allow Blacks any form of output. The streets became the stage and Blacks were the actors and directors in a sense. By the early 1900s, whites had stopped laughing at these former slaves, “Blacks still had to be careful, however, because looking too good offended whites. They didn’t want to believe that the same colored folk who had scraped the bottom of the barrel could now rise higher than whites had either hoped or expected. (Dyson pg4)”. Well dressed Blacks were a threat to the status quo of society at that time; whites even called the police on Blacks, “…when they were outraged at seeing in public, well-adorned Blacks strolling in style…(Dyson pg3), Blacks were expected to stay in a subservient position. 
                        “Ever since we have been free, Black folk’s style of dress in urban centers has been a concern to white society and bourgeois Negroes. (Dyson pg3)”, aristocratic Blacks began to look down on the extravagantly dressed lower class Blacks.  The aristocratic Blacks viewed themselves as the upper echelon of society that made them equal to their white counterparts. According to views of the Black elite, lower class Blacks fulfilled stereotypes of being loud, distasteful, and uneducated which threatened the status of the few elite Blacks.
                        After reviewing the history of where this issue, lets fast forward about a hundred years later where this issue hasn’t changed at all. Uppity Blacks look at Hip Hop fashion with utter disgust; they dislike the clothing with large logos and baggy/sagging pants on males and tight clothes on females. There is always a generation gap in every culture however in terms of Black youth culture; elders such as Cosby seem to be less forgiving and extremely critical. Although many people, white and Black, look at Hip Hop fashion negatively, clothing designers have embraced in Hip Hop culture in their designs and marketing. “Every major player in Europe from Yves Saint Laurent to Jean-Paul Gaultier showed its [Hip Hop] influences on their collections (Magett pg3)”, designers such as DKNY and Ralph Lauren incorporated an urban look in their designs which spread worldwide. Clothing labels realized that Hip Hop influenced designs were very profitable and rappers and singers often mentioned fashion labels in their songs like Kanye West calls himself the Louis Vuitton don. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown are seen wearing the latest, expensive European designers at events. Jay Z made the whole button up shirt and jeans look fashionable and afterwards every designer makes urban looking button up shirts. Hip Hop influence on the fashion world as a whole is undenilble.
                        Dyson always seems to be on point when he writes an article and “What’s in a name (brand) is very informative. Dyson goes as far as to mention the fact that several peoples in countries in Africa, do pierce or tattoo their bodies, in counteracting Cosby’s statement. Dyson explains how fashion is a form of an expression for the oppressed Black people who usually don’t have another stage to express themselves. Dyson’s argument is well written and he supports his views using a historical context and the reading was intended for Blacks especially those uppity ones.
                        The Honey magazine article, “Altered’ by Magett was insightful and revealed the huge influence Hip Hop has over fashion. There are several pictures, showing models in Hip Hop fashion and rappers and youth in several urban influenced clothing. Magett’s article also exposed the ignorance of some people such as Tommy Hilfiger’s comment, “Is true that hip-hop kids are really wearing my stuff? (Magett pg3)”. I personally stop wearing and buying Tommy Hilfiger due to that statement because I don’t understand how he could say something like that about people who supported his clothing line. Overall, Magett’s article is clear to understand and her intended audience is widespread (meant for any culture).
                        I do find some truth in Cosby’s statement but I disagree with how he said and who he is targeting. Maybe he should take a look in to the communities where the youth (that he is referring to) live, and examine the lack of resources, jobs, and education then maybe he can understand why Blacks would not want to conform to a society that has ostracized them. I think that Atlanta should not be allowed to target and fine Black males who wear there pants below waist, sure it doesn’t look good but that means they have the right to fine people who they don’t want to hire for jobs. It’s clear to see that people judge others by the way they are dressed however no one has the right to judge others in the first place. I feel that someone should be valued based on their character not their appearance because appearances are only skin deep
          


Bibliography: ABC News- http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnlyinAmerica/story?id=3519569      

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