When I was a small boy, I was always fascinated with style and elegance that Sidney Poitier portrayed. In every film he was always well dressed and very stylish. This was something that my mother taught all of us children at a very early age. In the beginning, like everything else in our household, it felt like a task that must be completed and approved by the Chief in Charge, yep, my mother. I can still remember skipping over crawling on the floor like most babies at 7 months old and learning to walk. After taking a few steps and working harder to start running, I received my first pair of Stride Rite high top shoes. My big sister use to say when I walked around the house in them, “Couldn’t hit in butt with a red apple,” and everyone would laugh. It’s an old saying that means someone is very happy or content about something. Of course, the best little toddler outfits followed as well as nice items for my siblings too.
Like most children, even today, we wanted everything, new clothes, new shoes, new hats and of course new toys. The answer was always no, not today. Being young, we didn’t understand why we couldn’t have everything we wanted. Initially, I thought I would just write a letter to Santa, and he will bring me everything I wanted. However, always at Christmas my mother would explain to me how mischievous and misbehaved I was every day of the year until December 24th. She was correct, I am sure I was a horror, but I still disagreed with her decision which always landed me in trouble.
There would be days when our mom would come home with bags of clothing for us and even a few toys. They were probably not new, but they were new clothes for us that brought about excitement. We would dance around for hours trying on all the new items. My big brother would dress me in his clothes so I could struggle to walk around, and he would call me the little Frankenstein. Then I would growl, and we would all laugh.
My mom taught us many important lessons in life, but I am reminded of a few every day of my life. It was very important that we always dressed as well as possible and to never leave the house dressed poorly or wearing dirty clothes. She often preached to us the importance of fashion and style to show others how proud we were of ourselves. Every place we went, we had to dress to the nines, as the old folks use to say. As our inspection officer of the house, mom made sure that we appeared as if we had stepped out of a magazine. I would always ask, why do I have to wear my nice clothes to visit Aunt Tine (short for Ernestine), or Aunt Emily? The look she would give me was a warning to close my mouth and to get dressed. Our shoes were well polished, clothes were perfect, our socks match and little ties made the outfit come alive. My sister’s hair was braided to perfection with bows and ribbons that matched her outfit. I often thought, it will be dark before we get out of the house. Going to the local grocery store always made me laugh because it was the exact same process — put on a nice outfit and don’t forget to comb your nappy hair. We obeyed and at a point, it started to be fun to look elegant and proud.
As children we watched great films with Black actors that were always dressed to the max. We also watched old movies on the television where the actors were always dressed beautifully in every scene. Just off the top of my head, some of the films that impressed me with their style were Black Panther, Coming to America, Dream Girls, The Color Purple, Bessie, Harlem Nights, and Waiting to Exhale to name a few. All of the old films are still great to watch and see such beautiful outfits such as All About Eve, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Now Voyager, Double Indemnity, The Devil Wears Prada, Phantom Thread, Sex and the City, The Great Gatsby, Rear Window, and so many more. What are your favourite films with great fashion in them?
Once I moved away from home to attend college, I kept hearing my mother’s voice whispering in my ear, helping me to choose the best outfits for the occasion. It’s one of the reasons I love shoes, socks, ties, and suits so very much. Even as a young boy she would dress me in shirts with colourful cuff links that grabbed the attention of many. When I flew off to university in Rome, Italy, the style, and fashion all became crystal clear to me. I would hear my mother giggling in my ear as I shopped around. It’s so interesting how many things we hide deep inside of us until someone comes along, almost like an angel, and presents us with something wonderful to remind us of and peak our curiosity enjoy something that we once looked forward to years ago. Every day I am grateful for friends that may unconsciously motivate you.
Last month, this memory came chasing back to me when I was visiting friends in the neighbourhood. One the guest who is magnificently dressed every day because of his love of fashion, shared a wonderful new book that had been recently released. The moment I saw the cover of the beautiful book I waited with bated breath to have a look at it. While glancing through the book, an overview was shared about it, and the love of style and elegance. I couldn’t wait to get home to search for this incredible book of true stories and beautiful black and white photographs of Black and African Americans and how their style made such an impact on the world.
The title of the book is Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style by Jason Jules and Graham Marsh. It shares a period in American history when Black men across the country adopted clothing seen by many as the preserve of a privileged elite and made it their own. it’s a story about clothes, but it’s also a story about freedom — both individual and collective. It tells the story of a generation of people challenging the status quo, struggling for racial equality and civil rights. From the avant-garde jazz musicians, visual artists, and poets to the most influential architects, philosophers, political leaders, and writers, is what Black Ivy explores. It’s the book that I wished I would have grown up with in my home and in my schools, instead most of us were taught untrue historical information that is still being taught today. This incredible book highlight some famous, infamous, and not-so famous figures in Black culture such as Amiri Baraka, Charles White, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Sidney Poitier. Black Ivy looks at how a generation of men took the Ivy Look and made it subversive, edgy, cool and unpredictable in ways that continue to impact modern menswear to this day.
Discovering this great book, Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style was my incentive to write this blog post and to wake up and look forward to dressing well for myself. Nothing is more important than getting dressed and taking a long look in the mirror and smiling with satisfaction.