What the heck is a Black Dandy? It’s a long history of elegant gentleman of the African diaspora. According to reports, Black Dandyism has become an increasingly documented global phenomenon from New York City to London’s Saville Row to Brazzaville in the Congo.
The term “dandy” is in reference to White men of the Victorian era who wore clothes that were typically worn by women, like petticoats and ruffled blouses. In the early 17th century, Beau Brummel created the dandy movement and pretty much started the bespoke trend, allowing men to where more festive clothing and have it fit properly.
This fashion movement may now be an expression of personal style and pride, but it wasn’t always a respected practice. In 18th century England, Black servants were forced to dress up like their owners for sport. What fun!
The Black men who have adopted the “dandy” moniker are turning it on its head. They’re not adopting “feminine” clothes, instead they are creating a dapper image that’s a reminder of yesteryear. Think Langston Hughes, Cab Calloway and Nat Cole.
These fashionable gentlemen gained mainstream attention in 2011 when The New York Times christened Travis Gumbs and Joshua Kissi of the style blog Street Etiquette as the new age Black dandy. These innovators mix and match classic European fashion with African diasporan aesthetics, and that my friends, is how you do the Black Dandy.
This fashionable movement has also made its way into music. Janelle Monae’s latest artist, Jidenna perfectly displays the swag needed to be a Black Dandy. In fact, his single, “Classic Man” is a musical ode to being dapper.
“All across this world, especially within the African diaspora, we feel like there is a constant devaluing of our culture and our livelihood,” Jidenna told Daily Beast. “That devaluing makes certain men around the world say, ‘You know what, I am valuable and I feel valuable and I’m going to dress valuable. I’m going to make sartorial choices that show the value I feel about myself.’”
“We’re constantly being bombarded with the same image of Black people, over and over again—the same tropes played out again and again in media and in movies and in journalism and popular culture. So to see something that is contrary to the dominant narrative is so refreshing,” says Shantrelle P. Lewis, the curator of “Dandy Lion: (Re)Articulating Black Masculine Identity,” a photo exhibition at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography. Shebegan documenting the Black Dandy in 2010. “When [Black men] walk inside this exhibition, they see themselves reflected on the wall, and it’s a very powerful thing.”
And it is! To be able to dress yourself up in such a flamboyant and precise way and still celebrate your manhood, that’s special. Black Dandy movement members are changing the way Black manhood is viewed and perceived.
This is an important movement as we’re in a time when a Black man’s clothing can get him killed. Trayvon Martin chose to wear a grey hoodie the day he died. There’s no proof that changing his clothes could have changed his fate, but perhaps he could have been judged less harshly. “The thing is, a suit is not going to stop a black man from being racially profiled. It’s not going to save his life. But it is a form of armor,” Lewis said.
And it’s no secret that protection for Black bodies is necessary.
Black Dandies To Follow:
Nigerian menswear blogger Steven Onoja
Wondaland artist Jidenna
Wondaland artist Roman Gianarthur
Street Etiquette blogger Travis Gumbs
Street Etiquette blogger Joshua Kissi