Being a long-term consumer of fashion media, I have always been acutely aware that my body is not always welcome in the fashion world.
Thumbing through the pages of glossies, watching models stomp the runway, and scrolling through fashion blogs, I’ve found Black bodies to be overwhelmingly underrepresented. When they are represented, they are often a prop or presented as hyper-sexual, exotic, or primitive.
In my adult life, I have been afforded the opportunity to produce fashion media, specifically queer fashion media. Unless I am producing original visual content, I find that it is often incredibly challenging to achieve the diversity I wish to represent in my pieces because empowering images of Black bodies in fashion media are few and far between, and the few that do exist do not get the coverage they deserve. For example, I recently authored a piece on curvy androgyny and finding images of curvy Black androgyny in a world where androgyny is not just equated with thinness, but also whiteness, was near impossible. If I want to identify Black fashion innovators, particularly with respect to queer style, who are challenging society’s restrictive beauty norms, I sometimes have to spend hour after hour digging really, really deep through a fashion industry that values whiteness. Our stories and our bodies are hidden in unseen corners of Google, Pinterest, and Tumblr, whereas whiteness is usually found in abundance on page 1.
So, in celebration of Black History Month, I have put together a list of 13 Black style influencers who are queering the fashion world in various ways and who deserve space in the media to be recognized and honored. (This list is not ranked and is not in any particular order.)
1. Janet Mock
One of the many reasons for the lack of diversity represented in fashion media is that the majority of those producing the content are themselves white, cis individuals. It is a major accomplishment to secure a coveted position at a mainstream fashion media outlet when you are both transgender and Black. But, that’s just what prominent writer, speaker, style icon, and transgender rights activist Janet Mock has done. In 2014, Janet accepted an offer to become a contributing editor at Marie Claire. Whether she is power clashing, rocking a 70s inspired jumpsuit, or channeling Greek goddess chic, Janet's versatile wardrobe inspires endless possibilities and exemplifies the effortless fashion-forward style I one day hope to achieve.
2. Ari Fitz
Former MTV Real World reality star Ari Fitz has leveraged her television fame to curate a space for queer style. Ari is the producer and director of TOMBOYISH, a style series that celebrates a diverse range of tomboys who are not limited by society’s gender rules. With over 47,000 YouTube subscribers in less than one year, TOMBOYISH is gaining international recognition and mainstream media praise.
3. A$AP Rocky
From GQ to Vogue, the fashion world is raving about hip-hip artist A$AP Rocky’s style, which often incorporates elements of both femininity and masculinity. The young, straight-identified rapper shows that there is nothing subservient about wearing a dress! Additionally, members of his creative collective, the A$AP Mob, are big fans of Sir New York, an athletic street Goth brand owned and operated by transgender designer Auston Bjorkman.
4. Sheila Rashid
Sheila Amera Rashid is a 26 year old self-taught fashion designer based out of Chicago and founder of a unisex clothing brand that caters to comfort, edge, and creative style of geometric symmetric perception. Her signature drop crotch pant can be styled feminine, masculine, and everything in between and outside of.
5. Agape Mdumulla
Agape Mdumulla is one half of the British creative design team Agi & Sam, a brand that is challenging normative expectations about “menswear” with their bold designs. The Imagist said of Agi & Sam’s Fall/Winter 2014 collection, “To see this kind of courage being built around ideas of masculinity/femininity, as well as around race and identity, exploding this early in the season restores your faith in the idea that the best fashion remains sensitive to, and predictive of, the larger shifts in contemporary culture.”
6. E. Jaguar Beckford
E. Jaguar Beckford, JD is the CEO, designer and stylist at Jag & Co., a clothier that designs masculine attire for all genders. Recently, Jag & Co. was featured on the runway of dapperQ’s (un)Heeled event at world-renowned Brooklyn Museum. (un)Heeled is considered to be one of the world’s largest celebrations of style for masculine presenting women, genderqueers, and trans-identified individuals to date.
7. Amber Rose
Bisexual hip-hop model, hip-hop artist, and fashion designer, Amber Rose, does not care about your respectability politics or your gender binaries. One minute you might find her wearing a fierce feminine body-baring chain dress and heels, and the next a bold suit with a masculine silhouette. She makes her own rules, and the fashion industry takes note.
8. Janelle Monae
Hailed as “The Dapper Queen,” soul and R&B singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer, Janelle Monae fearlessly queers style with her signature tuxedos and dashing pompadour updos. When asked about how her style has challenged and redefined concepts of gender in fashion, Monae stated, “… it's so important to embrace the things that make you unique, even if it makes other people uncomfortable. You'll never know whom you'll free by just being yourself — flaws and all.” In 2012, Janelle became a CoverGirl Cosmetics spokesperson.
9. Karen Roberts
Karen Roberts is the founder, owner, and creative mastermind behind HauteButch, a clothing, footwear and lifestyle destination for butch women, studs, bois and transmen who prefer “menswear” inspired finishes. Robert’s unique designs were recently showcased on the runway at the prestigious California Academy of Sciences during a special 2014 Pride fashion show produced by Natalie Coblentz of dapperQ.
10. Martine Rose
British designer Martine Rose distinguishes herself as being part of a new wave of female designers who are creating “menswear” that challenges gender norms. Although considered a “menswear” designer, Opening Ceremony hand-picked Martine Rose’s spring 2014 collection and marketed it as “unisex.” Opening Ceremony stated, “Inspired by singer Rick James, Martine threw out the status quo of masculine vs. feminine clothing, inviting us to just wear what we like.”
11. Ryley Rubin Pogensky
Writer, model, and Trans Blacktivist, Ryley Rubin Pogensky, made fashion history when he was cast as one of 17 trans-identified models featured in the groundbreaking Barneys New York “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters” ad campaign. Shot by iconic photographer Bruce Weber, the campaign included a film, which was screened at the Guggenheim Museum. “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters” received worldwide acclaim from major fashion media outlets, including The New York Times, Vogue, and Vanity Fair, to name a few.
12. Fabio Costa
Brazilian-born designer Fabio Costa is one half of the creative duo behind the gender nonconforming brand NotEqual. When I asked Fabio about the origins of NotEqual, he stated, “I was always in search for harmony in fashion, so I established NotEqual. I looked in nature for sources of inspiration. I landed on the Golden Ratio, which served as a base of a new numeric system that is intended to find the mean between male and female, creating garments free of size and gender." Fabio was the second-place winner of Project Runway Season 10 and was invited back for Project Runway All Stars Season 4. Fans and judges were impressed with his designs, as well as with his amazing androgynous personal style and how it challenged concepts of gender.
13. Laverne Cox
In 2014, Laverne Cox made history by becoming the first openly trans woman to be nominated for an acting Emmy. Once you rise to this level of stardom, the fashion world starts to take interest in your style. Laverne has quickly captured the fashion industry’s attention, landing a position on InStyle magazine’s 2014 “Style 100.” Laverne was also named one of Elle magazine’s best dressed celebrities at the 2014 Creative Arts Emmys.