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:


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