Studio 08: Fashioning the African Diaspora

Elli Michaela Young

For decades fashion has been recognised as a way to communicate within a culture, functioning as a signifying system. Fashion is not something to simply appreciate or study whether you realise it or not. Everyday fashion plays a vital role in most people’s lives and their clothing choices are influenced not only by what they like, but why they like it. Fashioning the body and the practice of getting dressed has been particularly important in the Caribbean because of the region’s history of enslaved and colonisation. However, mainstream fashion histories often continue to marginalise or overlook the importance of the region. In this studio, we will consider Black Style and fashioning the African Diaspora, showing some of the ways the African diaspora in the Caribbean have used fashion in the construction of their identities in order to think through the ways you can research and write under-represented histories.

We will consider the different ways that archives can be used to elicit discussions about how knowledge is constructed and how you can use archival research to provide a more complete picture of history. Although the focus of this studio is the African Diaspora you will be introduced to concepts and methods that can be applied to most research subjects. The studio is designed for students who are interested in reading archives ‘against the grain’ and will be conducted via lectures, seminars/workshops, online talks and archive visits to help you to respond critically to some of the debates around fashion, design and the African diaspora. (306)

Background reading

  • Anne Berry, Kareem Collie, Penina Acayo Laker, Lesley-Ann Noel, Jennifer Rittner, Kelly Walters, The Black Experience in Design. Identity, Expression and Reflection. (New York, Allworth Press, 2022)
  • Christine Checinska, (Re-)fashioning African Diasporic Masculinities, (ed) Elke Gaugele and Monica Titton, Fashion and Postcolonial Critique, (Vienna: Sternberg Press, 2019) 74- 89
  • Elizabeth Castaldo Lundén,‘Exploring Fashion as Communication. The search for a new fashion history against the grain’, Popular Communication, 18:4, 249-258,
  • Marisa J Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives. Enslaved Women, Violence and the Archive, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016)
  • Stuart Hall, Culture, Resistance, and Struggle, Selected Writings on Race and Difference, (ed) Paul Gilroy and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Duke University Press, 2021. p180-206
  • Jason Jules, Remake, Remodel, Remix, An Essay by, Return of the Rudeboy, Dean Chalkey and Harris Elliot, Return of the Rudeboy Publishing, 2015
  • Julie D. Shayne, Denise Hattwig, Dave Ellenwood and Taylor Hiner, ‘Creating Counter Archives: The University of Washington Bothell's Feminist Community Archive of Washington Project’, Feminist Teacher, Vol. 27, No. 1 (2016), pp. 47-65
  • Elizabeth, Way Black Designers in American Fashion, ed Elizabeth Way, (London, New York, Oxford, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2021)
  • Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun, Fashion History, A Global View (London, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018)
  • Raymond Williams on Culture and Society: Essential Writings Culture is Ordinary (ed) Jim McGuigan (London SAGE Publications Ltd, 2014)

Studio Image: Unknown man, Kingston Jamaica, circa 1950. Barrington Young Family Archive. Banner image: Hans Op de Beeck, Staging Silence (3), video still (detail), 2019

Unknown man with cigarette, white shirt, in front of a poster, Kingston Jamaica, circa 1950


Tutor Elli Michaela Young

Dissertation Studios 2022–23