Style Politics

One of the aspects that our group wanted to examine was the style politics of Michelle Obama, in the article by Susan Kaiser, “Entangling the Fashion Subject Through the African Diaspora.” In this reading, Michelle Obama is applauded by fashion critics for being very fashionable, and stating that “style is not only a noun, but also a meaningful verb in the African American culture.” According to this reading, she wants to relate to the people through various aspects, fashion included, and it is interesting to see that her upscale sophisticated choice of clothing, often associated to the upper white rural class, is mentioned as affordable, “Michelle Obama has been lauded by the fashion press for her way of mixing garments by new or ethnic minority designers with other ACCESSIBLE garments and accessories…. She accessorized her Toledo’s design with jade leather gloves from J. Crew and Jimmy Choo green shoes.” After some research, we found the typical prices in J. Crew and Jimmy Choo clothing, and that these prices are far from accessible. This makes us wonder, what message is Michelle Obama trying to send to the public? As the first African American First Lady, what is she trying to say politically about socio-economic class issues, and how does this affect the portrayal of her image by the media?

In Kaiser’ article it states that “not statements become entangled in a larger morass of subject positions and hegemonic regulations” (Kaiser 252).  This can be seen in both Kaiser’s examples of the Sean John brand transitioning away from street style clothes as well as the NBA’s dress code regulations.  When Sean Combs started his fashion line in 1998, it did “initially embrace the street style aesthetic of the African diaspora as portrayed in hip hop fashion;” however, in the last couple years, the line has moved further away from street clothes opting for a more refined mainstream look (259).  By not having a high prevalence of the street style aesthetic in the Sean Combs brand is this a way of entangling subject in a system of hegemonic regulations?

Similarly to the Sean Comb’s brand, the NBA has decided to regulate the style of their players to business casual, in part, to “appeal to wealthier season ticket holders by dressing in a manner that mirrors the look their affluent fans” (253).  The commission office has defined the dress code through prohibitive language; therefore, players are not to wear things like shorts, T-shirts, chains, or headphones.  Would the reaction to the dress code been different had the commission office used suggestive or generative possibilities opposed to prohibitive language?  Allen Iverson was major opponent against the dress code, because he felt it separated him from his fans, who he felt were lower-income African American boys.  Was this dress code meant to appeal to white season ticket holders?  And what message does this send to lower-income African American boys, who idolize players like Iverson?

The final reading discussed black hair and style politics surrounding it. Kobena Mercer said, “black people’s hair has been historically devalued as the most visible stigmata of blackness” (101). This led to the discussion of what is considered good hair which was discussed on the Tyra show. Many of the children that were interviewed spoke of how white hair was considered the best type of hair. This was reiterated in one case by the pop icon Hannah Montana and her blonde wig was what made her feel pretty. Mercer also states that “the assumption that whiteness was the measure of true beauty…can also be seen in images of rage articulated in the nineteenth century popular culture” (102). Seeing as we are currently in the twenty-first century this is very upsetting to see that these stereotypes are still ingrained in today’s youth. Not only are these negative stigmas carried out through pop culture but also through the media. Specifically, we discussed the horrific racist comments spoken by the sports commentator about the hair of the black women on the Rutgers basketball team. What are the surrounding factors that lead to society’s view of what defines good hair? How can this stigma be changed in society and what are ways in which the concept of “good hair” can be universalized to all types of hair and styles?

Below are the videos we discussed in our presentation:

Don Imus and Rutgers:
Tyra’s Weave Reveal:
What is good hair:


7 thoughts on “Style Politics

  1. I have to agree with Allen Iverson on his feelings about the dress code. Having all of the NBA players dressing in suits, presumably Armani etc., does appeal to an entirely different type of crowd. When the players wear “regular” clothes, such as t-shirts, chains, jewelry, jeans, shorts, etc., kids and other members of the middle and working classes can more easily relate to the players. It’s not necessarily about affording the suit itself, its what the suit communicates. The suit separates the player from the kids. When the kids see Iverson in street clothes, they are more likely to relate because this is what they wear, and therefore feel as if their dreams or aspirations are more in reach. Whereas, a suit may deter the kids because it communicates an entirely different meaning. The suit certainly appeals to the rich white season ticket holders, and honestly, I think having the players wear a suit makes everyone more comfortable. I just don’t think the NBA players should be policed on what they wear for the sake of social comfort.

  2. “Good hair” is shiny, straight or STYLED waves, and usually “flowing”. “Good hair” is so hard to achieve. I have thick, extremely curly, and dry hair. I never thought anything of it until I reached sixth grade, when I started to get made fun of for having a different type and texture of hair. So, I started to straighten it to conform to the ideal of ‘good hair’. To this day, I NEVER wear my hair natural. When I do wear it “curly”, it’s usually because I have rolled it into hot rollers, or spent a few hours with the curling iron. Basically, I try and conform to what I see in the magazines or on television, or just a ‘plain’ hairstyle. I have to say this one of the only areas of fashion that I am self conscious about. I NEVER leave the house without having my hair done.
    Changing the idea of makes hair ‘good’ hair poses a challenging task. I think it will be a while before all types of hair and styles are accepted as ‘good’ hair, or maybe it won’t. To have a “good”, there must be a “bad” to compare it to.

  3. As mentioned in class, most “urban” brands have definitely changed over the years. Urban brands are a product of Hip Hop culture and since Hip Hip is constantly changing, it makes sense that the clothes these brands are offering change as well. I don’t think the change that has occurred can be summed up as conformity. Sean John and other brands such as Baby Phat and Rocawear are now offering clothing that can appeal to a wider range of consumers, making it more “mainstream” than just “street” and I don’t see a problem with that. Hip Hop is diverse so I think that it’s good that these urban brands are trying to be inclusive because the consumers are diverse.

    I remember I was into urban labels for a few years; probably from 8th grade to the first half of my sophomore year in high school. When I was wearing urban brands the clothing definitely catered more to Hip Hop culture. Hip Hop culture was very flashy and extravagant back then. Labels held high significance. Looking back, I realize that I looked like a walking ad wearing those clothes because the brand was the main feature of them. The brand itself was the first thing you notice before you notice the style/quality of the item, which I feel is quite superficial. The label represented high status and power and at times, I felt like if I wasn’t wearing a label I was looked down upon or people would think I couldn’t afford to wear labels. I quickly grew out of the urban brand phase because the clothes just didn’t suit me that well and the cost wasn’t worth the quality in my opinion. Hip Hop culture isn’t really like that anymore as far as branding goes. The typical hip hop attire has become more sophisticated. It’s not all baggy jeans and labels printed over every piece of clothing. Things are more subtle now (as far as URBAN labels go). With that being said, I also believe that urban brands aren’t as valued in the hip hop scene because I don’t really see artists wearing them in their videos as much as they used to. European brands are in the forefront even more so now than they ever were.

  4. It is one thing to tell the players that they have to dress up for interviews or at venues when they are representing the NBA , but most importantly themselves. I completely understand that because with any job, there are dress code regulations which one must abide by while on the job. Besides that, there is no reason to limit the personal style of these players in order to assimilate them into a mainstream ” white” society that pays for their activity. I think its just a means of elitist, saying, you are not all right, unless you dress like us even if you don’t look like us. At a certain level though, particularly with clothing everything becomes elitist. You cannot be a member of a certain club unless you dress or look a certain way, to this day. It is for that reason that old money and new money often clash. I respect Iverson immensely because he is still clutching his established foundation, and knows the real importance of his character to those he tries to mentor.. Unfortunately, I believe this kind of subjectification will continual occur to dictate how a person must dress under certain standards.

  5. As it has been stated in a number of previous comments, I do agree with the notion of Michelle Obama’s expensive clothing not being representative of accessible style and that, if anything, her sophisticated clothing connotes the style of the primarily Caucasian upper class. However, I do believe Michelle Obama’s style could also be interpreted as establishing a professional demeanor to which people can aspire to; even though it is debatable as to whether or not this professional demeanor is a construction of the primarily Caucasian upper class.

    The notion of establishing a professional demeanor also extends to the NBA’s business casual dress code, however it is clearly stated that this dress code was enacted in order to appeal to more ‘affluent fans.’ This clearly expresses discrimination towards NBA fans of lower incomes and creates a disconnect between the players and the fans they inspire. NBA players have a universal influence on millions of fans from a variety of backgrounds and they should be at liberty to express this influence however they desire.

    In regards to the question of ‘good hair,’ I believe it to be an outrage that such racist discrimination is expressed towards certain hairstyles and that women feel compelled to style their hair in a particular way to feel beautiful or societally acceptable. The solution to such malignant desires lies in not simply accepting different hairstyles, but rather embracing all hairstyles and types of hair as beautiful.

  6. Though clearly the idea of “good hair” has much more influence in the black community, it is present among other races as well. I remember the first time I realized that all girls are supposed to hate their hair: freshman year of high school, on a free day in P.E., a group of us girls (all white save for one girl of Mexican descent) were sitting by the mats in the corner of the gym, and somehow it came up that one of the girls who had always been blond actually highlighted her hair, as since she’d gotten older her naturally blond hair had started to turn brown. Then the conversation shifted to how much this girl really wished she had thicker curly hair, “like what Katy has.” And Katy started talking about how horrible her hair was and how she tried to straighten it every day just so she could tolerate it. All the other girls had to chime in with how awful their hair was, and how much better they were certain they’d feel if they possessed someone else’s locks.
    In retrospect, through the rest of high school, almost all of these girls underwent a major hair transformation in some way. For most of them it was frying their hair to achieve the desired “natural” blond (this was California) or for the curly haired girls, flat ironing 4 mornings out of 5.
    I can’t say I like my hair every moment of every day – I just legitimately zoned out and started looking for split ends – but I appreciate its manageability. I know I brought this up in class, but my mother has the same hair as I do, and she’s been perming it curly for two decades. I think dissatisfaction with one’s hair (faux or otherwise) is a sort of false modesty, especially since it’s one of the flaws many women point too when trying to deflect a compliment. Pride in one’s personal appearance, especially those aspects which occur naturally, is frowned upon in our culture. I can’t say if this is true for men, but I imagine most of the women in our class know what I’m talking about. I have no idea whether this is an American thing, but I suspect it has something to do with the common idea that all things can be made better if we’re just willing to but in a little effort.

  7. I remember a few years back there was a big discussion regarding the NBA dress code. It kind of seems nonsensical to make the players dress business casual in an atmosphere revolving a physical sport. The players are mainly on the court side seats watching the game if they are not playing, an act that is not the same as sitting at a desk in an office or other business setting. Additionally, most fans of these players know what those particular players’ true style taste is and so making them dress in a more “appropriate” way portrays them as hypocritical more than respectable.

    As far as the topic of “good hair,” I feel that one reason why African descendant people’s hair is considered “not normal” is because black men and women are still viewed as the “other.” Additionally, I think that this idea is constantly being reinforced in ads for hair care products. You never see Black models featured in these ads; white, long haired models are always shown flaunting unrealistically shiny, perfect hair. That being said, I don’t think that the concept of “good hair” can really be universally be applied to all hair types because this places too much importance on the aesthetic condition of people’s hair, when really no one can ever achieve 100% perfect hair.

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