Written by Della Spencer 2015

3000 WORD LIMIT  – I COULD HAVE WRITTEN SO MUCH MORE BUT HERES A STARTING POINT !!  (sorry i was unable to load the pictures with it too ) 

Black Music and Fashion


This essay will explore the connections between Black music and Fashion starting with the island of Jamaica and their music of Reggae and Dancehall. It will explore these sub genres of music and their global fashion contributions. It will highlight how this has benefitted the shoe brand Clarks. It will then explore the influence and impact that Hip Hop has created. It will finally summarise with areas interest for further research and debate and suggest what may be needed in the future of fashion to overcome some of its future hurdles.
Clothing is like applying paint to a blank canvas, it is one of the easiest ways to express yourself. The way we dress can be often used as a social message to our peers, and society. Jane Ironside believes that

“fashion is one of the great living arts of civilization and self decoration one of the fundemental (sic) human urges.” (Rronside)

Clothing is still one of the oldest and easiest ways to express ones identity. It is the visual manifestation of how you feel or what you are thinking, the social groups you identify with or what ideology you support.


For the Rasta community the colours of red yellow (gold) green in Jamaica have deep spiritual significance and a musical connection that is now globally associated with black culture. People seem attracted to these colours and all that they represent

“When we see certain colors, (sic) they produce chemical reactions in our brains that can make us feel certain emotions.” (Palana, 2012)

Alicia Roache said,

“The significance of Rastafarianism to fashion and a ‘Jamaican identity’ internationally is undeniable.” (Roache,The Gleaner. 2004)

However these are not the national colours of Jamaica but the national flag colours of Ethiopia. Yet many assume they are Jamaican colours just showing the global impact this faith has had on the perception of these three colours in this particular combination and design. Alicia Roche continues and says,

“The concept of goodness and oneness, people feel it and they are attracted to it. There is nothing negative about the red, green and gold; people will wear it.” (Roache,The Gleaner. 2004)

These colours have a very deep significance which adds to its global impact as it reminds the black community their history and their potential,

“green, which must be on top, means the vegetation of Ethiopia; gold, placed in the middle represents the mineral wealth of Ethiopia; and red, placed at the bottom, represents the blood of Ethiopians” (Roache,The Gleaner. 2004)

Reggae music promotes the message of ‘one love’ of equality and peace which gives strength to the Rastafari movement. These symbolic colours and the Rasta style grew fast through music

“The worldwide infiltration began with Bob Marley in the 1970s when reggae became immensely popular overseas,” (Roache,The Gleaner. 2004)

Marley himself was seen as a timeless style icon

“we’ve looked through the archives of style icons for men and found the perfect Throwback Thursday inspiration in the form of the always cool, always awesome Bob Marley.” (Sweterlitsh 2013)

Bob’s light skin complexion was fashionably acceptable, his curious dread-lock hair was bold and meaningful, and his retro style sportswear, denim wear and customised military army were all admired.

“as well as other manifestation, the black liberation struggles of garveyism and rastafarianism utilised military dress as a method of crystallising a sense of solidarity, pride, and common purpose among followers.” ( Dyk. June 2003)

The Rasta hat which is known as ‘a tam’ are practical solution for those with locks and but soon became a style to the wider community with normal mainstream wearing wool tams too.

This was then ridiculed by the mainstream.

“From the ’70s, the most obvious and perhaps the most tasteless form of imitation has been the ‘Rasta hat’, a knitted tam in red, green and gold with false knitted dreads” (Roache,The Gleaner. 2004)

Soon the whole Rasta style was seen as cool colours amongst many cultures and in mainstream fashion as its popularity grew and so did the price tag

“Rasta’ has taken on a more ‘sophisticated’ appearance in fashion. In 1999, celebrated international designer John Galliano for Christian Dior took the image of the Rasta in fashion to a new level with a Rasta collection” (Roache,The Gleaner. 2004)
With each musical sound created a clothing style is created for fans to reference too.

“Musical styles spawn their own subcultures and distinctive looks.” (Frow. Roots of the future,1996)

Where reggae is targeted for all ages and races and often is political or with a deep religious message a new faster paced beat spun out of Jamaica in the 90s which was targeted to the younger dancer and clubber called Ragga later known as Dancehall.


This sub-genre also had a huge impact on fashion as it is represents almost the complete opposite to reggae it is more about the celebration of sexual confidence and power. Dancehall promotes having a high self esteem and a larger than life character not the humble lifestyle that reggae champions. Dancehall is more about the individual rather than the collective. Although some tracks do still have a conscious message. Dancehall image is often associated to very short shorts known as ‘the batty rider,’ which are now popular in club culture of any music

This high energy music is full of slang and slackness as with any other youth music. it’s about the alter ego the aspirational self-version of the everyday you

“Our fashion identity is formed through social scripts, and fashion is there to aid us in our character choice” (Jamie, August 2012)

The music is known for its flamboyant coloured hair and nail extensions, fake eyelashes, over the top jewellery, wearing of lingerie as party clothes including fishnet tights.

Dancehall party nights are themed around a particular and creative dress code,

‘The link between fashion and music is not accidental; it is inevitable.’ (caughbythesound.com)

often ideas include one colour code i.e. The all-white party, the red party, denim wear, sportswear,etc.

Price tags are deliberately visible and left on to show others the brand and cost. Dress-codes are like uniforms, they help people unite providing the sense of an occasion to dress up for, and creating the not to be missed event. A dance is a place designed for dancers to be noticed and freely express them self both in movement and appearance.

“Music spans continents and time. It touches upon our deepest emotions. It enlivens every happy event, and moves us when we are sad. Fashions such as music express our uniqueness. Sometimes it makes us feel good about ourselves and sometimes a little less” (caughbythesound.com)

Sound clash culture is a long standing music tradition in Jamaica, it is a DJ competition event that often requests the customers to adopt the army wear style clothing as club dancers are replaced by keen listening music lovers, and experts as they support DJs entering international musical warfare.

Dancehall artist Vybz Kartel has had the biggest influence in UK fashion. His global hit single called ‘Clarks’ is a statement song in Caribbean culture, followed by two more singles called ‘Clarks Again’ and ‘Clarks 3’.

“Everybody haffi ask weh mi get mi Clarks
Di leather hard
Di suede soft
Toothbrush get out di dust fast”
(Kartel, 2010) (sic)

This describes the impact of wearing them and even explains how to maintain them. The songs focus is on the shoe brand, it appears the shoe helped sell the song, but the song helped sell more shoes, Gemma Merchant, senior account manager for Clarks Originals in the UK said that there was

“increased interest and demand in particular areas of the UK, shortly after the song became big in Jamaica”. (Serwer, 2010)

Many artists have sung about the shoe before but this was a global success on another level. The admiration the Jamaicans have for the shoe was returned when a special tribute version of Clarks was made,

Kartel further sings

“A you alone have dah style deh dawdi di queen fi England haffi love off yard.” (Kartel, 2010) (sic)

Boasting of his impact on this brand. In another track Kartel chants,

“Straight jeans and fitted, Ina white t-shirt we did it” Kartel feat. Russian (2010) (sic)

There was a shift from the baggy jean clothing of hip hop to the straight fitted jeans. The white t-shirt is a poke at the branded T-shirts as it puts emphasis back into the person who wears it not what brand the person is wearing. A plain white t-shirt is often inexpensive and simple yet made to be classic and timely and revolutionary within youth culture, comparable to the impact of the ‘the little black dress’ that Dior has had on fashionable females.


When looking at the UK alone there is a diverse range of sub genres such as drum and bass, garage house, grime, g-hop, funky house, jungle, all born in the Black British communities. It is an exciting time where UK artists and producers can create their own sounds without imitating other countries genres and now having their own identity to create and weave. Music and clothes are often designed to fit the occasion in mind and the times in which we live. Logan Sama said

“While the sound of Grime was hard, edgy and aggy, the feel of its trademark garms was soft and probably smelt like Lenor. These were clothes for comfort, clothes to play Playstation and smoke weed in, and most importantly, for a generation of burgeoning bedroom producers, to sit around and make beats in. Not so much about getting dressed for the rave, but getting dressed for the home and neighbourhood.- What We Wore: Grime.” (Sama. 2014)

Most of these sub genres have a particular fashion and image attached to the club scene which can create tension and a power shift in music and fashion. Logan goes on to say

“That affluent ‘flash’ style that Garage was about just wasn’t realistic for many of the kids growing up in London and estates across the UK. The image of the tracksuit and the Air Max and the caps… that was actively banned from the ‘no trainers’ policy in most Garage clubs. The fashion style was in a way representative of how the Grime scene in general was originally blocked out by the Garage scene. No entry. That’s why many of the artists started their own scene which became Grime” (Sama. 2014)

This quote describes the tension in public acceptance and tolerance when new sub genres of music are created. It also reinforces the woven relationship between black music and fashion in creativity, market resistance and development. The discrimination music receives when its first created has become an obvious and predicable factor in the business and every now and then it is good to remind others of this historical struggle and stand proud in the roots of the creative source that inspired your battle. Logan Sama also says,

“Grime has actually come full circle in terms of style, notably with Skepta accepting his MOBO in an all black Nike tracksuit. That sort of thing is a statement. A celebration of the roots.”(Sama. 2014)


The black community is not new to fashion and style,

“more than 3500 years have elapsed yet Nefertiti and all things Egyptian continue to inspire todays designers” (Kindersley -fashion the ultimate book of costume and style,)

Much later in history in the 18 century this celebration of glamour was called dandyism and since then black musicians and celebrities have celebrated the freedom in self-expression in fashion.

“As the Atlantic slave trade and an emerging culture of conspicuous consumption generated a vogue in dandified black servants. “Luxury slaves” tweaked and reworked their uniforms, and were soon known for their sartorial novelty and sometimes flamboyant personalities. Tracing the history of the black dandy forward to contemporary celebrity incarnations such as Andre 3000 and Sean Combs, Miller explains how black people became arbiters of style and how they have historically used the dandy’s signature tools–clothing, gesture, and wit–to break down limiting identity markers and propose new ways of fashioning political and social possibility in the black Atlantic world.” (Miller. 2009)
This regal and military look has long historical threads with the black community and has been adopted by the rastafararian movement and also the black panther movement as a political sign of revolution and a symbol of identity to unify the black community, weather its dreadlocks or afros it all has meaning,
“Politics and fashion were fused during this time and the use of these symbolic fashion statements sent a clear message to America and the rest of the world that African Americans were proud of their heritage, that Black was indeed beautiful and that it was important to embrace ones African identity.” (Vargas, the undergraduate review)
The power of music in fashion is more obvious now with successful musicians that have become a power in the fashion industry such as ‘Rocawear’ by Jay Z, ‘House of Dereon’ by Beyonce, It has become the part of your musical business plan to have a fashion label, as you already perceived as a fashion icon.
“Sometimes the well-dressed black man coming down the street is asking you to look and think.” (Miller, author of Slaves to Fashion)
Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Identity, to be noticed and to be walk with pride are woven characteristics in the black community.
“black people are not the only ones to turn heads on the street but it is the attention to detail in the art of dressing that makes black style so significant. Historical roots cultural difference, a pleasure in feminity, (sic) or sexuality, and the ingenuity of designer clothes have all influenced the way black people dress.” (Black British style, V&A publication 2004/2005 – pamphlet.)
This explains the layers of diversity in black British style how some aspects are modified and adopted from other scenes. How trends are created within the community and then commercialised, it describes the celebration of the concepts of gender, often playing into traditional stereotypes such as Dancehall dancers who are known for their provocative but skilled dancing far from having any ballet skills yet they will wear a frilly ballerina skirt with conviction.

Another sub-genre that has rapidly grown from Jamaican sound system culture is the now fully grown genre of Hip Hop, and like reggae it started off with a certain colour combination hip hop had its own symbolic colours when it first started.
“performers often wore kente cloth, a traditional Ghanian fabric – and the black nationalists colours of green, red, black and yellow.” (Thames and Hudson)
By 1985 club culture was popular worldwide. The UK was developing a rave culture, and new wave clubs, while in America a new hype was emerging,

“Hip hop and rap were the dominant urban club styles, associated with pristine sportswear, leather bomber jackets, and heavy gold jewellery” (Kindersley .Fashion the ultimate book of costume and style)

it was fresh, bold, and had a strong identity in sound and style,

“Hip hop music fashion culture and dancehall grew very fast at the same time such a strong unique identity with so many aspects of its culture having that same impacting presence. New dance moves hair styles, social scenes new role models, achievements in commercial success being visible but more importantly than that it was a strong black movement.” (Ascasa and Ket, dokument press)

Hip-hop music spoke of the reality of the ghetto it mentioned lifestyles that the local media and news did not want to high light. It is often perceived as gangster music but in reality it is the stories of the unheard and unseen lifestyles. Hip hop soon exploded worldwide and youths of all races were in sync with this new culture this became a threat in the1980s,

“In the heart of the ghetto, the police, press and politicians made a concerted attempt in the years after 1981 to divide Afro-Caribbeans from Asians” (Institute of race relations)

The elements of hip hop came together to become a cultural lifestyle,

“on a fashion level they introduced us all to a part of what was cool and what we thought was fly. By taking if from trains and bringing it to the shorts, they were the first guys to make hip hop kids care about clothing in that way. Shirt kings brought the hip hop element into the clothes for real and integrated it” ( Ascasa and ket, dokument press, ll cool j )

This describes how black fashion is creative innovative and bold. Examples of this is the hip hop art form ‘graffiti’ consistently used in adverts, publications and clothing targeting the youth market. This reached its fashion peak when there was a graffiti collection in 1984,

“Jacobs and Louis Vuitton to create a version of the popular ‘speedy’ bag , featuring graffiti print superimposed on the classic lV logo print.” (Thames and Hudson)

“Vivian Westwood’s witches collection of 1983 features a print inspired by the graffiti art of Keith Haring” (Thames and Hudson)

Hip hop culture has influenced many aspects of fashion such as making sportswear an everyday fashion item that has become a commodity of coolness

“to reject high street fashion and the traditional aspirational labels, and instead embrace sports clothing and street wear” (Thames and Hudson).

This sports style is adopted not just by the sports enthusiasts or hip hop listeners but to all pockets of society and hip hop helped that become possible.

Run DMC started the trend when they wore Adidas trainers it was a rebellious concept. Firstly they all wore the same shoe design, establishing a hip hop feeling, they all took their laces out, a rebellious response to the original trainer design, they chilled and performed in them. From that moment on they were recognised as everyday foot wear with added street coolness. The trainer business now is worth millions of pounds and music artists are still endorsing brands.


Hip hop culture has always been provoking public thought and perception,

“the rift caused by slavery, paired with the fight for political and social equality, was channeled into the fight for political and social equality, was channeled into the politics of dressing the body as a symbol of racial consciousness”( Thames and Hudson.)

It spread with a global speed that was shocking to most but not to those who it was intended for and created by,

“Hip-Hop isn’t just music, it is also a spiritual movement of the blacks! You can’t just call Hip-Hop a trend!” (Hill)

Black music has often historically been banned and rejected

Eventually the music is accepted and made commercial. Could the same be said about the fashion trends that go with the music? In theory one could suggest if black music and fashion are just ahead of the time could this be part of the problem in the cycle as it the concept of new change creates a natural barrier into mainstream,

“when a style is 10 years too soon or “before its time” it is considered indecent, at five years too soon it is shameless; at on year too soon it is daring; the fashion ‘today’ is “in fashion” or smart.” that fashion one year later is dowdy; 10 years later is hideous, 20 years later is ridiculous; 30 years later is amusing 50 years later is quaint, 70 years later is charming; 100 years later is romantic; and 150 years later is beautiful” (Laver, 1973)

There is some comfort in this quote but knowing that it is ‘the strange’, the unknown, that is often misunderstood yet it is also ‘the strange’ that leads the way, as Karl Lagerfeld once said,

“There is no beauty without strangeness”. (Jamie, 2012)

Sometimes it is timing, sometimes the tension feels more political and direct brands evolved because of it trying to help create an awareness of the issues that black designers aspiring to gain economic power and ownership within fashion have. Clothing brand F.U.B.U which means ‘for you by you’ meaning, ‘for black people by black people’ was an economical fashion statement label. It was successful until noticed by the mainstream, which led to it losing its exclusiveness. It was seen as a joke, a problem. It was the clothing brand and trade mark for the controversial Comedian Ali G, who played with many racial stereo types also contributing to disintegrating the brands identity. this pattern of adoption of black style and rejection is repeated in history,

“Aggro-boys of the 1970s adopted Jamaican Rude Bwoy expressions of dress and blue beat music, any goodwill that existed between the two groupings quickly dissipated.” (Dyk. 2003)

at which point a pan african clothing culture appeared.

From briefly looking at these subjects what is true of both music and fashion is the pattern in production
“every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new” (Walden.)

This topic opens up many more avenues of investigation. What is apparent is that black music and black fashion compliment each other. They are both deeply woven into each other and are still some of the most effective tools for expression of identity. We can only be optimistic that as with music black fashion will flourish and grow and find its own place in the market, the demand is there, the creativity is there, and it really is a case of knitting the elements together to create the final look.
(ASCADA & KET) shirt kings pioneers of hip hop fashion, by Edwin phade ascasa and Alan ket, dokument press.
(CAUGHT BY THE SOUND) caughtbythesound.com http://caughtbythesound.com/index.php?dir=site&page=articles&op=item&cs=3004&langpage=eng&category=
(DYK) Lewis Van Dyk, 2003. dilemas in African Diaspora Fashion essay – vol.7 (2) p163 ( 28) peer reviewed journal
(FROW) Mayerlene Frow – Roots of the future – 1996 – ethnic diversity in the making of Britain – commission for racial equality P77
(HILL) lauryn hill http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/lauryn_hill.html

(IRONSIDE) – Jane ironside – notablequote

(INSTITUTE OF RACE RELATIONS) The fight against racism, Book four. p46.

(JAMIE) Jamie – How we use fashion to create an identity. Posted on August 6, 2012 . Sociology of sexuality http://mkopas.net/courses/soc287/2012/08/06/954/
(KARTEL) Vybz Kartel – Clarks Lyrics

(KARTEL ) Straight Jeans & Fitted / Vybz Kartel feat. Russian

(KINDERSLEY) Dorling Kindersley fashion the ultimate book of costume and style, dance culture and club p018, p406

(LAVER) James Laver 1973 key fashion concepts for the Fashion Industry – Andrew Reilly
(MILLER) Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity. By Monica L. Miller. 2009 Duke University Press
(MILLER) Professor Monica L. Miller, author of Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity, http://blackartinamerica.com/profiles/blogs/black-men-and-dandyism-art-fashion-literature-and-exhibitions
(ROACHE) ROOTS RASTA RUNWAY. the gleaner published: Sunday | July 11, 2004. By Alicia Roache

(SAMA) Rewind to the mid-noughties with the key players of Grime and the style story of the east London underground http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/22431/1/what-we-wore-grime Logan Sama. Kiss FM DJ
(SERWER) Kartel puts Clark’s footprint on Jamaica Clarks shoes are back in fashion, thanks to dancehall artist Vybz Kartel. Jesse Serwer The Guardian, Thursday 24 June 2010
(SWETERLITSCH) Style Icons for Men – Bob Marley. Lifestylemirror.com Thursday, April 11, 2013.—Alex Sweterlitsch
(THAMES AND HUDSON) Fashion The Whole Story – Thames and Hudson p373 / P 477 / P466 / 499
(TULLOCH) Black Style, Edited By Carol Tulloch V&A Publications
(TULLOCH) Black British style, v&a publication 2004/2005 – pamphlet.
(VARGAS) Vargas – the undergraduate review – fashion statement or political statement : the use of fashion to express black pride during the civil rights movements of the 1960s “the use of fashion to express black pride” http://vc.bridgew.edu/undergrad_rev/vol5/iss1/19/

(WALDEN) Henry David Thoeau, walden. http://www.literaturepage.com/read/walden-19.html

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