The #BlackApparelArts challenge invites artists to reimagine fashion iconography

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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We’re now fully in Edwardian Fashion in the #BlackApparelArts challenge today, in February 1914 to be precise. The plate is modelled on the one from that month in the magazine ‘De Gracieuse’. Theoretically 1914 is 4 years after the Edwardian Era ended but stylistically it is considered to have stayed around until WW1. The fabrics are drapy and flowing, the silhouette and particularly the skirt narrow and column-like 💐 I’m working on some late Regency drawings, and also crinoline-style Victorian plates to close the gap of the 1850s and 60s in this little series 💛 • If you would like to print the illustrations, click on the link in my bio (epochs-of-fashion.com on the homepage) and scroll down to download the pdf (it’s free of course!)

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My latest contribution to @dandywellington’s #blackapparelarts challenge is a bit different from my last one (and so much more difficult, graphically!). I decided to create a Hollywood Pattern featuring jazz musician and entertainer, Hazel Scott. I love collecting Hollywood Patterns  because they feature an actress or studio player on each of their envelopes and the illustrations on the cover loosely look like the celebrity. As with other sewing patterns of the time, there are no Black women on any of these envelopes — either as the performer or as the models. I chose to use and research a Black performer that I did not already know: Hazel Scott. This woman was a piano-playing Juilliard-attending prodigy who became incredibly famous for her swinging version of the classics. She was accomplished, wealthy, incredibly famous and, as you can see from the photos, gorgeous. When she performed, her contracts stated that she wouldn’t perform in front of segregated audiences. And when she starting acting in movies, she refused to play a maid, mammy or prostitute. In fact, she would only play herself and had final say about her wardrobe and her music. She was a powerhouse. In the 1943 film “The Heat’s On,” she went on a three day strike after learning that the other Black women in one scene were to wear dirty aprons as they sent their men off to war. She got the costumes changed but as a result, the President of Columbia Pictures said she would never set foot on a studio stage again. And she didn’t. She later hosted her own television show —  a first — and her and her congressman husband became the Black power couple and Civil Rights activists. Her career came to an end when she was blacklisted as a communist and appeared in front of the HUAC. Not only did she deny ever being a communist, but she also challenged the morality of McCarthyism and those on the committee.  She moved to Paris, continued her musical career and activism. In 1981 she died of cancer at 61. For her cover, I have her wearing two head wraps from other 1940s patterns as a bit of a re-appropriation of the style. #hazelscott #1940sfashion #1940style #blackisbeautiful #vintagestyle #vintagesewing

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Hello there, friends! After taking the week off to listen and reflect, I’m glad to say that our vintage celebration now resumes, but even bigger and better! . Before last week, I have already noticed a lack of people of colour in my work, which is interesting considering I’m a PoC myself. I guess my explanation is my interests, and the stories and art that I gravitate to just happen to not have a lot of people of colour represented. This means that by not going out of my way to seek out to experience work by black artists and creators, I unknowingly deprived myself of the opportunity to be inspired and informed by them. It seems obvious to me then. You don’t have to think about “politics”, or even care about the plight of anyone else to realise that by depriving your mind of variety in your information diet, you are actually doing yourself a disservice. . So when @dandywellington initiated the #blackapparelarts challenge, I could not be more excited! I decided to start by drawing the man himself. The words included in this illustrations are from Dandy’s recent post about the three jobs black people have to hold down on a daily basis - an enlightening and highly recommended read. . There are not many black faces you will find when strolling through the fabulous world of vintage fashion illustration. As artists, we literally hold the power to change that in our hands. Let’s look at more black people and listen to more black people so we can draw more black people and therefore have others see more black people! Let’s expose ourselves, even if only for purely selfish reasons! . And okay, fine, yes, I was also excited to join in because I’m the kind of person who will shamelessly use any excuse to channel my inner Leyendecker, and also because I’ve been dying to draw this pose our good sir Dandy is striking since seeing the original photo by @ninagalicheva.nyc . The flow! The dynamism! Honestly, the stuff figurative draughtspeople have wet dreams about 👌 . #art #illustration #graphic #graphicart #fashionillustration #vintagefashion

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English below⬇️ @dandywellington 氏が始めた#blackapparelarts というタグが最高なので、私も参加してみます💪 . 高畠華宵のイラストを元に、フランスで戦前に女優・歌手として活躍し、反ナチスのレジスタンス活動が戦後フランス軍に表彰されたアメリカ出身の黒人女性、ジョセフィン・ベイカーの昭和モダンな着物姿を描いてみました。 . 黒人差別や非白人の外国系の人への人種差別は日本でもリアルに起きてる問題です。BLM は他人事じゃない。まずは現実を知るところから。レトロなファッションが好きでも、価値観までレトロである必要はない。 #vintagestyleNOTvintagevalues ✊🏿✊🏾✊🏽✊🏼 . I loved the #blackapparelarts challenge proposed by the amazing @dandywellington (go check out the tag and his page if you haven’t done so already!), so I decided to draw Josephine Baker in a #vintage #kimono 👘 🖤 My drawing is based on an illustration by Kashō Takabatake, a prominent Japanese illustrator of the Jazz Age. Takabatake‘s distinctive style continues to influence many mangaka & illustrators today. . I don’t know if Josephine Baker ever wore a kimono, but I’m pretty sure she would have rocked it if she did. Because she was also an anti-fascist WWII war hero, I’ve drawn her wearing a kimono with WWII era American fighter planes flying all over it (yes, such vintage kimonos exist! Though probably not with American planes ✈️ ). . Japanese fashion advertisements still seldom feature any non-Japanese models of color today, especially Black models. This is likely due to a combination of colorism, racism, and sheer ignorance (or denial) of how diverse Japan is starting to become. Although many Japanese people still believe that Japan is a mono-ethnic country, in fact many people of non-Japanese descent already live here, and are often blatantly discriminated against in terms of housing and jobs and policing, as well as being subjected to racism and bigotry on a regular basis. . Too many ethnically Japanese people in Japan are unaware of these problems. During the past week, I’ve heard so many Japanese people criticizing #blm marches in Japan, saying that anti-Black discrimination is a uniquely American problem or that racism doesn’t exist in Japan. But racism definitely exists in Japan, and it’s our problem too. It’s about time we owned up to our own racism and began dismantling it. #vintagekimono #takabatakekashou #takabatakekasho #高畠華宵 #大正浪漫 #昭和モダン #レトロ着物 #blacklivesmatterjapan #asiansforblacklivesmatter

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


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