Just a month after a Dutch fashion magazine’s editor-in-chief quit after using an uncouth racial slur to describe Rihanna‘s style, a writer for French Elle has caused controversy with a blog post positing that for Black people, dressing well is a brand new concept.
In a recent blog post entitled Black Fashion Power, Nathalie Dolivo suggests that the only reason Black people have stopped wearing unflattering street wear is because now there’s a cogent example for them (or in this blogger’s case, us) to do otherwise. Dolivo, who as far as we can tell is white as snow, says Barack and Michelle Obama‘s presence in the White House makes looking chic possible (or at least plausible) for a group of people who previously had no real reason to get dressed up. She misinterprets Jon Caramanica‘s insightful article on Black style in The New York Times last year, saying that dressing up and dressing well is a way to restore dignity to the Black community. Because, you know, Black people didn’t have any of that before.
Dolivo really goes the extra mile, though, when she says that today, the “black-geosie” have “integrated all the white codes” of dressing, filtering them through their Blackness and adding their own Black interpretations and accessories. Like puka shells. Dolivo writes:
In this America led for the first time a black president, the chic has become a plausible option for a community so far pegged to its codes [of] streetwear … But if in 2012 the “black-geoisie” has integrated all the white codes, it does not [do so] literally. [There] is always a classic twist, with a bourgeois ethnic reference (a batik-printed turban/robe, a shell necklace, a ‘créole de rappeur’) that recalls the roots.
And while you don’t have to look very far to find a stylish Black woman in a turban (June Ambrose, anybody?) or a line of clothes that use ethnic prints (we refer here to designer Doro Olowu and others like him), Dolivo is absolutely wrong to generalize the way Black people dress as a new phenomenon predicated on an interpretation of the way white people dress. Black people wear clothes, too, and have been doing so for as long as anyone else — not because white people told them to, but because it’s just a human thing to do — and Dolivo’s article seems to have forgotten that very basic idea.
Naturally, this has sparked some outrage. Dolivo’s original article was posted on Jan. 13 and had 755 mostly angry comments as of our post. And with good reason. Until the fashion industry realizes that people who aren’t white buy and wear fashion — and look good in it — it’s going to keep alienating them. Bravo to everyone who’s pointed out how blunderous and damaging this article is so far. We’ll let you know if or when French Elle releases a statement about this piece — as angry as people have been about it, it can’t be that far off.