Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul

Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul

Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul

Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul

Synopsis

From the civil rights and Black Power era of the 1960s through antiapartheid activism in the 1980s and beyond, black women have used their clothing, hair, and style not simply as a fashion statement but as a powerful tool of resistance. Whether using stiletto heels as weapons to protect against police attacks or incorporating African-themed designs into everyday wear, these fashion-forward women celebrated their identities and pushed for equality.In this thought-provoking book, Tanisha C. Ford explores how and why black women in places as far-flung as New York City, Atlanta, London, and Johannesburg incorporated style and beauty culture into their activism. Focusing on the emergence of the "soul style" movement--represented in clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, and more--Liberated Threads shows that black women's fashion choices became galvanizing symbols of gender and political liberation. Drawing from an eclectic archive, Ford offers a new way of studying how black style and Soul Power moved beyond national boundaries, sparking a global fashion phenomenon. Following celebrities, models, college students, and everyday women as they moved through fashion boutiques, beauty salons, and record stores, Ford narrates the fascinating intertwining histories of Black Freedom and fashion.

Excerpt

In 1969, the FBI placed scholar-activist Angela Davis on its “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list after guns registered in her name were used in the kidnapping and murder of a Marin County, California, judge. As Davis zigzagged across the country eluding the FBI, which was notorious for assassinating Black Power activists, the agency blasted images of Davis across TV screens and print media that instantaneously become iconic. Davis’s “halo” Afro, which loomed large in the photographs, has attracted the attention of many scholars who read it as a symbol of her resistance to the cultural and political status quo. A close look at her clothing as well as her hair reveals that both were significant in the construction of her radical image. In the first picture on the FBI poster, Davis sports her Afro above a dark-colored, conservative blouse. In the second picture, taken just a few months later, her Afro is complemented by a dashiki—a popular version of an African men’s shirt—and fashionable round “granny glasses.” Examined together, the two pictures the FBI selected to represent Angela Davis’s turn from black middle-class respectability to radical activism reveal the deep significance of the visual markers of a mode of dress that was known in the 1970s as “soul style” and point to a vital yet virtually unknown story of the body politics of the civil rights– Black Power era. During these years, black women struggled to redefine themselves over and against layers upon layers of stereotypes about the black female body that circulated in both mainstream and activist culture. In the everyday choices that black women made as they dressed themselves and styled their hair lay a revolutionary politics of style.

Davis, her Afro, and her radical mode of dress . . .

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