6 fashion trends pioneered by black women

Being a black woman is so dope, it really is. It would probably be much easier to exist as a myriad of other identities that are less supportive of societal oppression, but despite that, I wouldn’t trade my identity for anything in the world.

Black women generate cultural lexicons by existing. Our fashion and our art radiate from our communities to the world. Even though credit is often not given where it’s due, we continue to create and shape pop culture with our boundless flair, creativity and aesthetic.

These six fashion trends are ones you know and love, and which you may not realize were started by black women.

1. Nail art

Credit: Tony Duffy | Getty Images

Two words: Flo Jo.

While the modern manicure dates back to ancient Egypt and long nails to the historic Inca empire of South America, what we now call a “complete set” was introduced to the pop culture scene by a black woman.

In 1988, Florence Griffith-Joyner broke the 100 meter world record three times at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials; the world turned its attention to this astounding feat and, as a result, to her amazing nails. Flo Jo took the world by storm, sporting 4-inch curved tiger stripe nails, then returned the next day with a totally new and fiery fuchsia ensemble.

Years later in the 1997 film BAPS, Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle Reid delivered performances we still talk about today, but it was the hair and nails that really took center stage. Their long, worked nails and elaborate hairstyles have made them legends in the black community.

From Flo Jo in 1988 to Cardi B in 2021, black women continued to kill the nail game and treated their nails like canvases of art long before the rest of the population realized it. Now? It’s more than us who do it. Some of your favorite celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Billie Eilish step out regularly with the iconic long nails and fantastic nail art that were first worn by black women.

Credit: Tony Duffy | Getty Images

2. Nameplate Jewelry

Source: Prince Williams | MovieMagic | Getty Images

When Carrie Bradshaw debuted the famous “Carrie” script necklace in the first season of sex and the city (1998), the buzz ensued. Sarah Jessica Parker’s stylist for the show, Patricia Field, came up with the idea to put the script collar on Carrie after seeing “neighborhood children” wear them. The piece spread like wildfire and quickly became known as “Collier Carrie”. However, the trend for nameplates – from necklaces to earrings –was a peak of Hispanic and black culture from New York in the 1970s.

Like many trends imposed by women of color, these custom necklaces and earrings were shelved and called “ghetto” before they had the Carrie Bradhaw effect.

3. Hoop earrings

Source: Bettmann | Getty Images

Since we are talking about jewelry, we can also applaud black women for popularizing hoop earrings. Conceptually, hoop adornments date back to Nubia and ancient Egypt, but can be modernly traced to figures like Nina Simone and Angela Davis in the 1960s and 1970s.

Bamboo earrings also originated in the black community, with Salt-N-Pepa bringing them to the limelight in the 1980s.

4. Oversized clothes

Source: Jim Smeal | Ron Galella collection | Getty Images

Listen, I know what you’re going to say: surely the popularization of loose clothing was created by a man. To that I answer yes, but only for men. Loose clothes for women? We can thank my personal heroines, the women of TLC, for taking oversized, male-dominated styles and making them cool for women.

Alongside icons like Aaliyah, TLC made an otherwise masculine trend feminine and even ambiguous. Sometimes they wore fully baggy cuts while other times they paired baggy bottoms with bra tops, leading us to Aaliyah’s iconic Tommy Hilfiger look.

The loose, matching tracksuits you’re wearing this winter? You can thank black women for making it cool.

5. Cornrows, edges, weaves and protective styles

Source: John Lamparski | WireImage

This one is bittersweet for me (and I suspect many other black women). It’s hard to see something you’ve been made fun of or embarrassed about becoming a trend because lighter-skinned people say it’s cool. Honestly, that’s the case for a lot of the trends on this list, but this one hits harder.

As little girls we were teased about our cornrows, told our edges were too “extra” and told we should stop wearing weaves and rock our natural hair, but our natural hair was ugly. Even through it all, we made our hair our art and supported each other for our resilience and creativity.

Now, because Kylie Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Kim Kardashian, Ariana Grande, and other non-black celebrities have sported these styles, they’ve become palatable, and that’s hurtful. Our hair has been our expression for so long, but it has also been a source of stereotyping and ultimately our criminalization.

I say this not out of sympathy but to make sure we can have honest conversations about how black women, their hair and their style are treated compared to their non-POC counterparts.

6. Chainmail

Source: Franck Micelotta | ImageDirect

If you’re like me, you didn’t know this trend had a name. I’ve shamelessly Googled “drop and sparkly top” more times than I care to admit looking for one of these tops or dresses (to be honest, I haven’t worked up the courage to go for it yet). ‘buy one and wear one, but there is plenty of time left in 2022).

There is little controversy over whether a black woman started this trend and more controversy over which It was a black woman who started it. Most would point to Aaliyah in her iconic Try again Musical clip; however, some credit LisaRaye McCoy as the first to rock the look.

While it’s hard to pinpoint who may have been the first, we know these two have no chance of being the last.

While these are a few trends that have been started by black women, there are countless others.

I pray that we continue to build a society where identities unite us rather than divide us. Looking forward to that hopeful future, I recognize that society will always see me as black and female — and probably in that order — before even asking my name. It’s good, I continue to be so proud to be a black woman. To stand on the shoulders of such intelligent, creative and beautiful ancestors is an honor.

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