We know of the music, literature, and athletic exploits of black Americans, but most historians of Afro-American influence on American culture never emphasize the modes of expression, vernacular, color schemes, and hairstyles that everyone picks up on. That's where Australian professors Shane and Graham White come in, with a long-overdue look at how black fashions were absorbed into U.S. and world culture from the arrival of the first slaves up to the 1940s. Using photos, illustrations, recordings, advertisements, and other sources, they catalog a number of influential black cultural phenomena, from the antebellum clothes of 18th-century South Carolina slaves to the famed "zoot suit" explosion of the 1940s. --Eugene Holley Jr.
From Publishers Weekly
As this brisk, illuminating survey amply documents, African American culture?from the 19th-century dandy mocked by whites to today's baggy hip-hop clothing?has helped make black survival possible in America, both as link to the homeland and as voice of resistance. Using material as varied as runaway slave advertisements, autobiographies, beauty-contest fliers and sociological surveys, these Australian scholar brothers bring to vivid life "the way in which, over more than two centuries, ordinary black men and women developed a style that did indeed affirm their lives." At times, such affirmation worked through parody (uneasily sensed by whites, if only subconsciously); at others it expressed itself directly in pride in fine dress or beauty contests. Slavery's totalitarian domination might be mitigated through the brightly colored patchwork clothing one former slave suggests this in her desire "to look pretty sniptious"); in the North, free black men and women fought for the dignity that intolerant whites strained to deny them by claiming a right to street life. During Reconstruction, in contrast, former slaves paraded through white sections of town to signal communal pride in Emancipation or, later, put on their finery and promenaded in the Saturday-night "Stroll." By the time the book reaches 1940s zoot-suiters, its claims for the vital role played by African American expressive culture seem entirely undeniable; this well-researched and engaging history pulls together a mostly untold story with as much verve as the swinging dandies it depicts. 19 drawings; 37 b&w photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.