By Haley Verre
As Black History Month comes to an end, I thought it would be appropriate to feature some of the most iconic black women in fashion. These women have not only changed fashion as we know it but also have done everything from spying on World War II dictators, to acting in classic movies, to getting degrees at Ivy League colleges.
1. Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker pushed the boundaries of gender, race, and sexuality in the early 20th century, making her the center of controversy on several occasions. One of the most notable of these incidents was when Baker performed on stage wearing nothing but some jewelry and a skirt made of 16 bananas. In addition to being a singer and dancer, Baker was a civil rights activist, a spy, and an adoptive mother of 12. Her renowned beauty and sultry style landed her over a thousand marriage proposals in her lifetime.
Style Lessons: Don’t be afraid to experiment! Try something you might not normally wear and find ways to stand out with bold accessories (but maybe forgo the bananas).
2. Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge was the epitome of Hollywood glamour and class. Dandridge’s style resembles the pin-up look that was popular during the 1950s. She often opted for classic dresses, feminine pieces, and red lipstick. Dandridge was both the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and the first African-American woman to be featured on the cover of “Time.”
Style Lessons: Sometimes it’s best to stick to timeless, classic pieces to look put-together and polished. Dress up an outfit with heels, nice jewelry, and lipstick to channel your inner Dorothy.
3. Diana Ross
With a music career that spans nearly 60 years and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys, Diana Ross is one of the best in the music industry. She made her debut as a lead singer in The Supremes and eventually launched a successful solo career. Ross’ style can best be described as “diva glam.” In her earlier years, Ross wore her hair in a big beehive updo, heavily lined her eyes, and wore colorful and sparkly dresses. In the 1970s, Ross experimented with various hairstyles, including her iconic afro, and traded in heavy liner for big, fluttery false lashes.
Style Lessons: Try out different hairstyles and makeup looks to find what works for you, but remember to love your natural hair texture. Embrace your inner diva with bold makeup and a touch of glitter to add an interesting element to your outfit.
4. Grace Jones
Grace Jones is a Jamaican-born singer and songwriter, who also happens to model, act, and produce records. Jones is known for her bold features and challenging gender norms throughout her career. Jones often sports androgynous clothing, which raised questions in the media during the 1980s. When asked whether she was feminine or masculine in 1985, Jones famously stated, “It’s not being masculine, it’s an attitude. Being masculine, what is that? Can you tell me what is being masculine? I just act the way I feel.”
Style Lessons: Forget what you’re “supposed” to wear and choose what makes you feel best. Don’t feel obligated to stick to one kind of style or gender when it comes to fashion.
5. Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama is arguably the most accomplished of the First Ladies, having a degree from both Princeton University and Harvard Law School. Before she met Barack, Michelle worked at a law firm in Chicago. As First Lady, Michelle wore more affordable brands like J. Crew, H&M, and The GAP. This meant that most everyday women could easily replicate the outfits she wore and saw her as more relatable than former First Ladies.
Style Lessons: You don’t need to buy designer clothes to dress well. Wear sophisticated and flattering pieces that show off what you love about your body. Despite the backlash from traditionalists, Michelle wore sleeveless dresses to show off her strength.