By Thaddeus Williams
To celebrate World Afro Hair day The Psychology of Fashion Blog™ takes a look back at the history of the illustrious hairstyle, its symbolism and significance in the present day.
A firm affirmation to explain my admiration for World Afro Day is “I rock rough and tough with my Afro puffs!”, by the great lyricist Lady of Rage. Afro is derived from the term African-American. The hairstyle is widely know for hair being in it’s purest form of existence. Linda Frost, author of Never One Nation: Freaks, Savages, and Whiteness in U.S. Popular culture 1850-1877, found a similar style worn by Circassians. In the early 1860’s, wearing an Afro was common to black women in North America, Egypt and throughout cultures in Africa.
As time progressed, the Afro’s popularity shifted during slavery as Africans were stripped of their culture and forced to assimilate, styling their mane into a suitable look for their masters. Chemically altered hair and braids arose which led to Madame CJ Walker’s invention of the hot comb in the late 1890’s.
Unruly and nappy were two common words used to describe black hair during and post slavery. The Afro made a resurgence in the late 1960’s due to the exhaustion of subjecting European beauty standards that did not fit the mold of African Americans. Black folks reclaimed their natural hair back and the newfound self acceptance started the Black Is Beautiful Movement, which sprang the Black Power Movement.
The Black Power movement was filled with dynamic activists such as Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale who fought oppression styling their Afro to symbolize black beauty, liberation and pride! The black activists did not agree with the injustice of racial inequality that was supported through Jim Crow laws, and went against the grain of Martin Luther King’s nonviolent philosophy. As the Black Power Movement rose into The Black Panther Movement, the Afro was the main staple to the full ensemble.
All members of the Black Panther Party wore colossal afros with an all black costume to show their unity and willingness to go down as one if adversity presented itself. Beyoncé used this same strategy in her widely acclaimed “Formation” music video as well as her Super Bowl 50 performance where she decked her dancers in afros, all black body suits and berets.
Now as great as that event was for the black culture, it doesn't show and tell the appropriation that having an Afro has endured over the years. Like most fashion trends that are notoriously started by black women, the Afro trend was culturally appropriated in negative lights as well.
In 2015, Allure Magazine created a hair tutorial titled “You, (Yes, You) Can Have an Afro*” The asterisk reads: “even if you have straight hair.” The tutorial featured white actress Marissa Neitling in a beauty feature named “Back to Cool” by Danielle Pergament. The article aimed toward white women which caused furious commotion throughout the black community. Considering the importance of the Afro to the African American identity, Allure’s failure to reference adoration is presumably the worst part.
Now in this millennial generation, the Afro embodies all facets from the past culture good and bad in today's society. It has become more normalized from the ranks of corporate employment, television, film, and performing art entertainment. Don't get it twisted, there are still situations where black women and even black kids are shamed for their natural hair. Nonetheless, wearing an Afro or any kind of natural hairstyle requires daily maintenance and commitment for the best look.
Thanks to social media evolving over time, women from all over the world can share hair tips and formulas to enhance their hair care regimen. The afro’s cultural trajectory went from being a political statement to a fashion staple in high fashion and underground streetwear. All of this credit is deserving to 1970’s Blaxploitation films, including Coffy, Shaft and Foxy Brown. Not only film but The Jackson 5, and Diana Ross had their influence in music culture donning the afros which portrayed the hairstyle as less militant.
There are many celebrities still wearing the Afro, but the most controversial person wearing it is Colin Kaepernick who is being blackballed by the National Football League because of his stance on the National Anthem and the views of the current president. Kaepernick has continued to be an activist for Black Lives Matter and donating his $700K of his $1 Million dollar pledge to 24 different organizations. The grind does not stop and until justice is served the work will be put in.
The media can seek to whitewash the Afro like their seasonless chicken recipes but it will always be black as hell! For the culture. By the culture.
Ade Hassan MBE., founder of Nubian Skin discusses fashion trends, colourism and entrepreneurship with The Psychology of Fashion Blog™
Shakaila: Many have referred to Nubian skin as ‘The New Nude’ do you think you’ve successfully reclaimed the word nude
Ade: I think in the industry there’s a long way to go. Traditionally if you go into a shop and you ask for something nude it will still be a certain type of nude. Even though we’re a small company, the campaign and the company has had an outsized impact on the industry because after we launched, about 6-12 months after, people starting doing different shades of nudes. They were adding mocha or maybe caramel to their collections or other companies were sprouting up, getting on that nude bandwagon. So, I definitely think we’ve had a huge impact on what ‘nude’ is seen as but I think there’s still a long way to go.
Shakaila: In numerous cultures, colourism can differentially effect a woman’s experience in education, jobs and in marriage markets, what do you think are some of the societal and psychological advantages of inclusive brands like Nubian Skin?
Ade: Well, I think it shows that no matter what colour you are its good to accept your colour as opposed to trying to fit into one mould. We know that colourism is alive and has a huge negative impact on people and that’s not just among black women, that’s Asian women – there are so many different cultures where that effects women and I think saying ‘actually, you’re perfect the way you are, you should embrace that and people should cater to your colour no matter what it is’ is a really powerful thing.
"....if somebody looks up and they see somebody who looks like them, or their mother on a billboard that’s a huge thing psychologically."
The global market for skin lightening is projected to reach $23 billion by 2020. How do you think the fashion industry can encourage people to embrace the skin that they’re in?
Ade: With skin lighteners, a lot of that is driven by trying to be a certain ideal. In a lot of countries, whether you’re in Africa or Asia, or even Latin America, you see on the billboards what the standard is right? A lot of times that is fairer skin maybe blonde hair, blue eyes, just pale and then of course when you’re seeing that as the image of beauty that effects some people psychologically as so they’re like ‘well I want to fit that standard of beauty’. If you have campaigns which are more diverse, if somebody looks up and they see somebody who looks like them, or their mother on a billboard that’s a huge thing psychologically. Even if people don’t necessarily feel like they’re inviting it, it can be subconscious.
The fashion industry and the industry at large in general just need to be a little bit more thoughtful and inclusive. Especially in markets where you have a bog-standard marketing campaign and you’re putting it in a different market. So, let’s say you’re taking this from the US and placing it in an African country maybe you think about tailoring it to them so people who see it could related to it more.
Shakaila: Have you had any personal experience with colourism?
Ade: Probably the one that comes to mind is when I was in high school in America and I remember there was a girl in my class and she, for whatever reason, always wanted to be like ‘oh you’re dark’. I was like well, I am what I am - it didn’t really bother me. I remember once there was a family picture and my friends were looking at it and she was like ‘oh you and your mum are the lightest in your family. But she said it in a way that was negative because she was always saying ‘you’re dark’. It was really bizarre and insidious. She was trying to be like ‘you’re this, you’re still dark overall’ and I was just like – you’re very strange. I had been raised not to think that way.
For me, it was really interesting to see someone try to make me feel bad because of the tone of my skin. She didn’t succeed but at the time I must have been around 15, 16 and understanding that for some people that is something that they use as a psychological weapon was a bit of an eye-opener.
"I remember in a trade show last year they were talking about trends and one of the trends were Different Skin Tones. I remember thinking that’s not a trend we don’t turn brown for the season and then turn back."
Shakaila: A Nubian Skin Campaign featuring a range of black models went viral and catapulted your brand into success. Reports suggest that in the Spring 2017 campaign there were still only a few instances of diversity. Why do you still think that is the case?
Ade: I think the campaign went really well because it was from the heart and it was saying to women of colour ‘this is for you, we’re thinking about you’. I think sometimes as is the case especially in fashion, people look at things as ‘trends’.
I remember in a trade show last year they were talking about trends and one of the trends were Different Skin Tones. I remember thinking that’s not a trend we don’t turn brown for the season and then turn back. Sometimes in fashion people are like ‘oh what’s hot right now and they think brilliant, let’s bring a bunch of black models in’ or maybe they’re like ‘oh its really cool to do an East Asian theme’. Fashion generally is very trend driven and people don’t quite grasp the difference between trend and something that’s just who people are.
Shakaila: What are some of the most challenging things about being a Black female entrepreneur?
Ade: To be 100% honest, I think it’s probably the same as any entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur with a small business means it’s all on you. It’s a lot of pressure. And the loneliness of it, you know the ins and the outs and people are like ‘wow this is great’ but you’re up to goodness-knows-what time, paying bills, trying to do these accounts. I think with being an entrepreneur because it’s like your baby you just take it to heart so much. You need to find a balance or some sort of coping mechanism to make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well as your baby.
Shakaila: Describe the journey from hosiery and lingerie to Nubian Skins first footwear line.
Ade: The end of last year we thought it would be really cool to do shoes. It was something I had been thinking of for a long time but I had no idea where to start. I actually met a fellow entrepreneur and someone who was a shoe consultant and everything just slid into place. I knew exactly what shoe I wanted, we have classic heels, classic ballet flats. We had the colours already so it was just a matter of looking at a lot of leather swatches and several months later we launched the collection. It’s been really fun. We got super lucky with how everything turned out. It’s been a fun experiment, probably something that we’ll do on a limited-edition basis every year.
Shakaila: Will we see a Nubian Skin clothing collection in the future?
Ade: There is a lot of stuff that we’re working on, one of them being expanding our size range. There’s so many things that I’d love to do. It’s important for me to look at it from a strategic perspective and get the basics done first and grow at a healthy pace so – watch this space.
Shakaila: What tips would give to people entering the fashion industry without a stereotypical fashion background?
Visit Nubian Skin to see the collection in full.
“Ageist social practices in popular fashion magazines and the reluctance of the fashion industry to recognise the sartorial needs of female baby boomer cohorts feed into an internalisation of naturally ageing women's bodies as socially undesirable.”
The fashion industry has a complex and clearly documented obsession with youth. As increasingly younger models are being depicted in adult situations in the name of high-fashion, concerns rise as to how deeply ingrained the Lolita effect is entrenched within our modern society. On the other side, with many models being forced into retirement at the tender age of 24, entire generations of people are failing to see aspirational representations of themselves within fashion media contributing to a rise in body image issues, particularly in older women.
The Fashion Spot reports that 50 plus models made up 0.29 percent of all castings for the Fall 2017 shows. A victory - yes but the war against ageism rages on.
The Psychology of Fashion spoke to Caryn Franklin MBE.; Fashion Activist, co-founder of All Walks Beyond The Catwalk and Professor of Diversity, who’s no-holds barred and psychologically grounded approach to tackling fashion’s age problem is aspirational to say the least.
"What we have is lazy and what we need is a new more adventurous perspective"
POF: During London's Fall 2017 shows, women including writer Jane Felstead and model Brucella Newman led the 'Grow Up London Fashion Week' protest. Do you think protesting is an effective tool to combat ageism in the industry?
FRANKLIN: It’s a pivotal way with which we can make our thoughts known - using a platform like London Fashion Week to put out counter cultural thinking. Fashion week has created the normative fashion body which is young thin and Caucasian and anything outside of that is seen to be novelty. What we want is a situation where diversity, women in all their diverse forms are seen as aspirational and are given a role within the portrayal of fashion.
POF: As a Professor of Diversity and a Fashion Psychology MSc. Graduate, what are some of the new and inventive ways that people are utilising to challenge ageism.
FRANKLIN: Research into the effect of a lack of diversity in role models on our self esteem is making a huge difference. Applying an intellectual rigour to this issue to help retailers understand the situation has some efficacy. Dr. Ben Barry who delivered a huge cross cultural study with over 3,000 women, created a marker for retailers to recognise that when women see models who share similar characteristics they show increased intention to purchase by 300%. Now, because we're in a dynamic that is really about profit, fashion doesn’t operate to prioritise women's self-esteem. There are a load of rich industrialists who are looking to make money. We have to talk to them in a way that helps them to understand that they will be able to investigate new avenues of profit and certainly representation to an age group that has more money to spend would seem to be pertinent and prudent.
POF: Data from the 2014 Bureau of Labour Statistics' annual Consumer Expenditure Survey found that women most likely to spend the most on clothing between the ages of 55 and 64. Given this data why do you think the fashion industry is not embracing this market?
FRANKLIN: I think there are a lot of stereotypical thinking around what the industry feels is representative of their brand. If we're talking about lack of diversity in front of the lens we also must think about lack of diversity behind the lens - who’s in charge? Quite often the people in positions of power have taken on a male perspective. There aren’t enough women in positions of power to change things, so we have an acculturated view of how femininity should be presented which is mostly upheld by white men. When women get into positions of power within the industry they find that they're have to acquiesce to the template – the stereotypical way of thinking and challenging it is quite hard because the brain likes to rely on heuristics. It's the way we've always done things and there's a lot of fear in changing things and doing it differently.
Stills from Style Does Not Retire. A Fashion Film Directed by Caryn Franklin in Collaboration with The Age of No Retirement
POF: Last year you developed the fashion film ‘Style does not retire’. What do you hope to achieve with the film? Will you be taking the project any further?
FRANKLIN: The point of the film was to be able to show that fashion is an amazing tool to involve any body at any age and how clothes do help us read someone. We've featured all designs from emerging design talent, some very avant garde clothes. You automatically read someone very differently when they're wearing clothes that speak to modernity, dynamism, attention seeking etc. It creates a whole narrative that adds to the person that's wearing them. It was about promoting the idea that young designers can investigate older models to showcase their designs and that older models are just as effective, which I think our film proves. As the organization 'Age of no retirement' say, age is the one commonality we all share regardless of gender, racial heritage - whatever. We all with luck are going to get old so we should unite in resetting attitudes towards ageing.
POF: In ‘Style does not retire’ you featured the mature male model Anthony. Do you think mature male models experience similar or different struggles within their fashion careers compared to mature female models?
FRANKLIN: Right now, in modelling we are seeing more older women than we are older men. That being said, in our mass media industry if we look at the news, if we look at newspapers, if we look on the television, we see many more representations of masculinity not conforming to youthful depictions of their gender than we do women. We rarely see women who haven't had some form of appearance surgery. However, what's great is that we are starting to see the Angela Merkel’s the Christine Lagarde’s our own prime minister. I just this morning heard about the appointment of the new police chief, a woman named Cressida Dick, so there is progress being made but many of us would say, not quickly enough.
Stills from Style Does Not Retire. A Fashion Film Directed by Caryn Franklin in Collaboration with The Age of No Retirement
POF: We recently reported that Naomi Campbell scrapped the age limit for models on the competition show Americas Next Top model. Which brands and/or institutions do you think are successfully representing mature models?
FRANKLIN: Ed Watson at Brown has for a long time worked with representation and images older women because that's his key market. When at Debenhams, he employed my company to involve older women. We did one campaign which featured older models whose ages were 42, 52 and 69 years old. However, we were unable to continue with the campaign - even though it received a great response because I was sitting at a table full of men, some of whom revealed that they didn't find these older models attractive. Sometimes these male executives don't realize that they are engaging in their own sexual preference when they are making decisions about representation in womenswear. And that will take a shed load of psychology to help them understand that because as human beings we don’t like to let go of things that serve our belief systems, we don’t find challenge easy we like to process from a perspective of familiarity. Familiarity makes us feel safe and comfortable.
POF: This year we saw the first ever fifty plus fashion week, who are some of your favourite 50 plus models?
FRANKLIN: I’ve worked a lot with Valerie Pain so I like her very much, she’s an unusual model in that she can do quite Avant Garde looks. Of course, I like Daphne Self and Yasmin Le Bon. Maxine Smith is a model of colour that I've worked with on the Debenhams campaign who has a great look - very versatile, I'd love to see more of her. I'd love to see more of Naomi Campbell, I'd love to see more of Iman – these are women who are revered the world over for their aspirational beauty.
Corrections: Previous editions of this interview stated that Ed Watson employed charity initiative All Walks Beyond the Catwalk. This is incorrect and the interview has been updated to reflect this.