Studio 03: Fashioning the African Diaspora

Elli Michaela Young

‘...while stepping into European finery, the Jamaican people were doing so with their own distinctive and colourful aesthetic style and panache. This was no blind aping of English dress forms and behaviour. Jamaicans may have adopted English dress style and fashions but creolized them not only by the flair with which they wore their clothing but also by the bright colours they chose.’ Brian Moore and Michelle Johnson (2011)

Whether we realise it or not, everyday fashion plays a vital role in most people’s lives and your clothing choices are influenced not only by what you like, but why you like it. Studying fashion can help us to better understand ourselves and how we use clothing to communicate our social and political identities. Fashion in its broadest sense also includes dress, appearance and style and it can be seen as both material culture and as a symbolic system. In this Studio we will be focusing on the fashioning of the African diaspora to think through how fashion and dress is used to grapple with ideas of self, with a particular focus on the Caribbean Island of Jamaica.

We will consider why fashion has been essential for the African diaspora in defining their identities in the different political, social and cultural contexts they found themselves. You will engage with a range of images, objects and texts, to explore how fashion relates to social, political and cultural identities and meanings. You will be asked to think about African diaspora fashion and the differing contexts that have shaped it. Engaging with the deeper meanings carried by dress and textiles and the global context within which they are worn and created. We will be exploring a number of themes that have shaped Jamaican style-fashion-dress practices including enslavement, colonisation, resistance, and accommodation, practices of representation, production and consumption.

Seminar Outline

  1. Fashioning the African Diaspora
  2. Locating the Caribbean and Creolising thinking
  3. Fashioning Colonial Jamaica (1950s)
  4. Windrush: British style-fashion-dress to Britain (visit to museum of London Docklands)
  5. Fashioning Jamaican identities through Dancehall
  6. Grime: A very British Identity

Background Reading

  • Steeve O. Buckridge, ‘“Black Skin, White Mask?” Race, Class and the Politics of Dress in Victorian Jamaican Society, 1837-1901,‘, in: Tim Barringer and Wayne Modest eds., Victorian Jamaica, Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2018, pp.577- 601
  • Christine, Checinksa, ‘“Stylin”: The Great Masculine Enunciation and the (Re)Fashioning of African Diasporic identities,’ in: Critical Arts, 31:3, (2017)

Studio Image: Unknown lady, on steps outside a home in Kingston Jamaica. Banner image: Hans Op de Beeck, Staging Silence (3), video still (detail), 2019

 Unknown lady, on steps outside a home in Kingston Jamaica


Tutor Elli Michaela Young

Dissertation Studios 2021–22