Our National Caribbean American Heritage Month (NCAHM) feature today is a guest post from ‘Jamerican’ foodie and fashionista, Dionne Reid.
I have undoubtedly been blessed with having a unique experience in my life thus far, growing up in the Jewel of the Caribbean and then being able to come of age in the cosmopolitan mecca that is New York. Both experiences have made me resolute in the belief that fashion is everywhere. There is color and texture all over. It is seen in the waves that caress the coast of Jamaica, to the lush greens of Portland, the grit and the grunge of New York and the bohemianism of Negril. Inspiration is infinite.
I think the allure of both geographic areas, like fashion and personal style, can be empowering because they prove that there is beauty in nonconformity. Both places are so different, as personal style should be; free of the limitations to fit one small, limiting, elusive ideal. It’s speaks loudly when we can show up in spaces and express ourselves through our dress, our hairstyles, a self-made belt, a watch handed-down from your grandfather; no concern for trend or public opinion. I truly believe that fashion and personal style is another avenue through which we can adorn the body and purposefully express character.
It wasn’t until leaving the home base that I saw people’s obsession with following trends, associating status and popularity with wearing what is in demand at the moment. I remember high school being a sea of Aeropostale, American Eagle, Hollister, Havaianas sandals and Clarks, with “fashion over style” being the mantra for donning whatever was popular at the time.
I always thought it amusing that Bogle, the dancer that coined the phrase, was actually very individualistic in his sense of style, but his mantra meant the opposite. Moving to New York, I was able to see a celebration of the reverse, ‘style over fashion.’ People’s wardrobe was more than just adornments; they were extensions of their personalities, enabling them to express individuality. The clothes, the accessories, and the makeup and hairstyles were all on purpose and told stories of people’s histories and aspirations. People from Ghana wore jewelry wrought into Adinkra symbols. Artists had their necks lushly wrapped in exotic fabrics of lands travelled.
This is why I proudly wear Jamaican designs, whether it be Heather Laine or Yahdie Conscious, both of which are very original in their aesthetic and interpretations of Caribbean culture. Not only does supporting Jamaican designers benefit my own people, but the clothing boasts about my proud heritage.
It’s for these reasons that I’m committing to challenging our culture’s ideals of style and how we devalue, dismiss, and tease people who express individuality on purpose. Buying Caribbean is not only a means to that end, but is an encouragement of the development of our own fashion industry and expression of our diversity as a people. Style has the power to fill every space you enter with your own sense of brilliance and strength.