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Slaves to Fashion Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity

by Monica L. Miller

Slaves to Fashion Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity Synopsis

Slaves to Fashion is a pioneering cultural history of the black dandy, from his emergence in Enlightenment England to his contemporary incarnations in the cosmopolitan art worlds of London and New York. It is populated by sartorial impresarios such as Julius Soubise, a freed slave who sometimes wore diamond-buckled, red-heeled shoes as he circulated through the social scene of eighteenth-century London, and Yinka Shonibare, a prominent Afro-British artist who not only styles himself as a fop but also creates ironic commentaries on black dandyism in his work. Interpreting performances and representations of black dandyism in particular cultural settings and literary and visual texts, Monica L. Miller emphasizes the importance of sartorial style to black identity formation in the Atlantic diaspora. Dandyism was initially imposed on black men in eighteenth-century England, as the Atlantic slave trade and an emerging culture of conspicuous consumption generated a vogue in dandified black servants. Luxury slaves tweaked and reworked their uniforms, and were soon known for their sartorial novelty and sometimes flamboyant personalities. Tracing the history of the black dandy forward to contemporary celebrity incarnations such as Andre 3000 and Sean Combs, Miller explains how black people became arbiters of style and how they have historically used the dandy's signature tools-clothing, gesture, and wit-to break down limiting identity markers and propose new ways of fashioning political and social possibility in the black Atlantic world. With an aplomb worthy of her iconographic subject, she considers the black dandy in relation to nineteenth-century American literature and drama, W. E. B. Du Bois's reflections on black masculinity and cultural nationalism, the modernist aesthetics of the Harlem Renaissance, and representations of black cosmopolitanism in contemporary visual art.

Slaves to Fashion Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity Press Reviews

Monica L. Miller's book is the first of its kind: a lengthy written study of the history of black dandyism and the role that style has played in the politics and aesthetics of African and African American identity. She draws from literature, film, photography, print ads, and music to reveal the black dandy's underground cultural history and generate possibilities for the future. . . . [U]ncanny feats of scholarship that illustrate ways in which the figure of the black dandy has been an elephant-in-the-room - albeit a particularly well-dressed one. -- D. Scot Miller * San Francisco Bay Guardian * Miller's study incites a much-needed dialogue between existing scholarship on the figure of the dandy-particularly its performative queering of modern narratives of masculinity and nationhood-and the legacies of imperialism and slavery that attest to the constant, if silent, presence of race and racializing discourse in those same narratives. . . . [A]n absorbing and timely study of the black dandy. -- Jaime Hanneken * Comparative Literature * Miller has performed a cultural excavation, sifting through fragments of visual and literary culture to trace a history of black style and assemble the first history of black dandyism. Her work deserves a place among the finer recent contributions to black performance studies. . . . -- Kristin Moriah * Callaloo * Encompassing the genres of drama, fiction, photography, film, and sculpture, Miller's study highlights the ways in which diaspora can be located in the image and the imagination of the body and its garments. . . . The value of Miller's text is in its historical range. -- Alisa K. Braithwaite * Modern Fiction Studies * A model for cultural studies, Slaves to Fashion brings the rich,interdisciplinary scholarship of the black dandy into the twenty-first century, serving the fields of both black and American studies. -- Pamela J. Rader, MELUS Revising and augmenting scholarship on minstrelsy, literary representations of blackness, and black sartorial aesthetics and visual culture, Slaves to Fashion is an impressive and meticulously researched treatise on the history of the black dandy. It fills a gap in the scholarship on the cultural politics of black self-fashioning. -E. Patrick Johnson, author of Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity Monica L. Miller's close readings dazzle, and her historical reach-confident and unforced-is as long as the transnational arc of black dandyism here is wide. Arresting, discerning, responsible, and urgent, Slaves to Fashion is path-breaking. Literary criticism, visual history, and black Atlantic studies never looked so good. -Maurice O. Wallace, author of Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men's Literature and Culture, 1775-1995 Miller has performed a cultural excavation, sifting through fragments of visual and literary culture to trace a history of black style and assemble the first history of black dandyism. Her work deserves a place among the finer recent contributions to black performance studies. . . . - Kristin Moriah, Callaloo A model for cultural studies, Slaves to Fashion brings the rich,interdisciplinary scholarship of the black dandy into the twenty-first century, serving the fields of both black and American studies. - Pamela J. Rader, MELUS Monica L. Miller's book is the first of its kind: a lengthy written study of the history of black dandyism and the role that style has played in the politics and aesthetics of African and African American identity. She draws from literature, film, photography, print ads, and music to reveal the black dandy's underground cultural history and generate possibilities for the future. . . . [U]ncanny feats of scholarship that illustrate ways in which the figure of the black dandy has been an elephant-in-the-room - albeit a particularly well-dressed one. - D. Scot Miller, San Francisco Bay Guardian Encompassing the genres of drama, fiction, photography, film, and sculpture, Miller's study highlights the ways in which diaspora can be located in the image and the imagination of the body and its garments. . . . The value of Miller's text is in its historical range. - Alisa K. Braithwaite, Modern Fiction Studies Miller's study incites a much-needed dialogue between existing scholarship on the figure of the dandy-particularly its performative queering of modern narratives of masculinity and nationhood-and the legacies of imperialism and slavery that attest to the constant, if silent, presence of race and racializing discourse in those same narratives. . . . [A]n absorbing and timely study of the black dandy. - Jaime Hanneken, Comparative Literature

Book Information

ISBN: 9780822345855
Publication date: 8th October 2009
Author: Monica L. Miller
Publisher: Duke University Press
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 408 pages
Categories: Fashion & society,

About Monica L. Miller

Monica L. Miller is Assistant Professor of English at Barnard College.

More About Monica L. Miller

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