In 2008, writer Vicki Woods posed a bold and unsettling question in Vogue magazine’s July issue: “Is Fashion Racist?” It meant something, for one of fashion’s most prestigious publications to acknowledge, or at least beg the question, of racism in the aspirational industry that is fashion. This question evokes a topic worthy of further study, as new conversations in fashion criticism have emerged in recent years to further complicate existing discourses as it pertains to the social construct of race and ethnicity, challenging accepted standards of beauty and shifting the power dynamic within the fashion system. Through selected readings and links to resources in the media, this syllabus will investigate the ways in which fashioned identities emerge within a racialized context in an effort to gain access, visibility and power.
While reading, please note that this list is by no means exhaustive, though we are optimistic that our syllabus will expand as the discourse regarding fashion and race broadens its authorship and becomes concretized within the academic discipline of Fashion Studies. Building upon the interdisciplinary nature of fashion, this living document revisits classic texts and celebrates new research within neighboring fields such as Cultural Studies, Women’s Studies, Africana Studies, Gender Studies, Sociology and Anthropology, ultimately developing a framework that decentralizes and complicates our understanding of fashion history.
As an open academic project, we encourage the use of our Fashion and Race Syllabus for planning lessons in higher education and as a working bibliography for independent researchers, writers, designers and professionals in the fashion industry. We will update the syllabus as we discover new resources, and feel free to write to us with any suggestions you may have.
The Fashion and Race Syllabus was launched in 2016 by Rikki Byrd and Kimberly Jenkins. It is now under the direction of Rikki Byrd.
Photo credit: Alen MacWeeney, photo project, “New York Subways” (1977)