Black people have never needed a runway to flaunt our style (though we’ll serve like Naomi when necessary). More than expressing our individuality, we’ve incorporated style into collective protest movements and political statements, from rocking afros to counter Eurocentric beauty standards to sporting dashikis to show pride in our African ancestry.
To celebrate ESSENCE Fashion House and New York Fashion Week, we’re going back in time for style moments that made a statement.
Black Panther Party leader Kathleen Cleaver rocking shades with chic leather in 1968, defying the more conservative style of the Civil Rights Movement
…and her husband Eldridge Cleaver (and former Black Panther Party Minister of Information) sporting a dashiki when he was exiled in Africa and urged the Panthers to take on international issues
Malcolm X looking sharp while talking to press in 1965. Though Malcolm was no longer in the Nation of Islam, its members had a dress code combatting stereotypical images of Black people.
Lawyer, actor, and socialist activist Paul Robeson was a stylish Renaissance man. Black men were often portrayed as brutes in entertainment, but Robeson made sure to look dapper.
Protestors at the March on Washington in 1963. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, demonstrators would wear their Sunday Best to represent the movement with dignity.
Marcus Garvey, who founded the largest Black organization- the UNIA, was known for his military attire
Civil Rights activist Dorothy Height (L) did not play about her hats. They were such a signature look that they earned their own exhibition, “Dorothy Height’s Hats” in Florida in 2017.