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Image / Editorial

The #BlackApparelArts challenge invites artists to reimagine fashion iconography


By Lucy White
19th Jun 2020
The #BlackApparelArts challenge invites artists to reimagine fashion iconography

Collage by BeFunky.com

Fashion illustrations of yore, from magazine adverts to clothing patterns, depicted only white women. So Dandy Wellington asked illustrators to reinvent the past, and in turn “inspire a cosplayer to see their style potential” – the results of which are divine…


Vintage fashion and historical cosplay is a largely white preoccupation. Said Nora Thoeng, in The Guardian, last year, “in my experience, it’s rare to see people of colour in the vintage scene. I think it might be because we’re already minorities, so we don’t want to draw more attention to ourselves by virtue of the clothes we’re wearing.”

But there are exceptions, and one such vintage scenester is the impeccably attired Dandy Wellington, a Harlem born and bred bandleader, entertainer and event producer, whose illustrious client list includes Bergdorf Goodman, the National Museum of African Art and The Rainbow Room, where he regularly performs with his jazz band.

His latest makeover rides the wave of the #BlackLivesMatter movement: #BlackApparelArts challenge on Instagram, which invites artists to retrospectively represent men and women of colour in fashion illustrations – advertising and textile patterns, and also fine art, that exclusively depicted white models. 

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The results of which are a dazzlingly diverse range of fashions through the ages worn here not by white blue bloods and WASP housewives, but by BAME trendsetters, including a few famous faces, such as dancer Josephine Baker, electric guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe and 18th century mixed-race aristocrat Dido Elizabeth Belle.

It’s not just that the artworks are beautiful in their own right, with many captions revealing tantalising backstories, for instance, @barbarydoll’s entry featuring the criminally unsung American piano-playing prodigy and activist Hazel Scott, who refused to perform to segregated venues – or play mammies, maids or prostitutes in movies – and was the first black woman to host her own musical TV show.

Wellington’s #BlackApparelArts challenge is an uplifting and informative rabbit hole in which to fall down and, as no flapper-fancying 21st century woman actually yearns to relinquish the right to work, lose her citizenship if marrying an immigrant and all the other restrictions of the period, Wellington’s emphasis here is firmly on #VintageStyleNOTVintageValues.

Here’s a selection of highlights so far…

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Header image: collage created by BeFunky with artworks by @solbergtoddi, @ashtonsillustrations and @caitlinrain_art


Read more: ‘The past few weeks have dredged up difficult memories’ – growing up as Irish-Nigerian in Ireland

Read more: 10 great resources on social media to educate about race, privilege and Black Lives Matter

Read more: Irish artists taking to the streets: Meet Holly Pereira and Jess Tobin