The moment I saw this flamingo dress I was immediately attracted to how quirky and cute it was. I debated for a while whether to purchase it or not. I was on vacation in Florida so of course, it matched my location at that time, but I would be returning to New York in a few of days. Fall was arriving soon and it didn’t fall into a Fall color scheme nor did it match my metropolitan environment.
As I sat in the dressing room for more than 20 minutes I thought about how I was completely in love the silhouette, neckline, and its print. But, it screamed “southern prep”. I paused for a moment and wondered if I felt as if the southern preppy style was exclusively for white women? This thought alone unexpectedly brought up some past emotional issues I had about being mixed.
My color or race was never an issue while growing up in St. Croix. The skin tones of my family members come in a wide range. It was normal to me and I never thought twice about it as a child. The women on both sides my family are classy, feminine, and beautiful. They wore stylish pieces and always looked ‘put together’. It wasn’t as if certain styles were reserved for my black relatives and certain styles were reserved for my Puerto Rican relatives. One could argue that maybe I was just too young and naive to notice, but based on the photo albums I’ve seen, I beg to differ. It wasn’t until after moving to America, that I realized racism wasn’t a just history lesson and where I would have experience my most memorable experiences with colorism. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in the Caribbean because it does. What I am saying is that I was introduced to heavily in the states.
I went to a fairly mixed high school in Florida, but at times I felt like I wasn’t “black enough”. I was constantly being called “high yella” and was constantly being told I spoke ‘like a white girl”. To top things off, I didn’t have an ‘urban’ style. I remember purchasing a Baby Phat top to just fit in and it felt completely wrong… completely unauthentic. At times, I felt as if I had to be a stereotypical version of a black woman to legitimize my ethnicity.
The urban style was created out of the need of representation for African-Americans. In the 90’s it was reserved for R&B and hip-hop artists who embraced street wear brands. This dress is the furthest thing from urban clothes but I felt the most authentic in it… more than I did when I tried to rock that Baby Phat top. As I continued to sit in the dressing room reflecting on my experiences surrounding my racial identity in relations to my style, I wondered if I was alone in feeling like this and if I had a disconnect with my culture. Shopping behaviors come from internal motivations like emotions, experiences, and culture. But, do we ever stop to think about those motivations?
My experiences are just snowflakes at the tip of a gigantic iceberg concerning racial identity and style. We Americans rely on clothing as an economic and social indicator because we don’t have official marks of rank such as a caste system or aristocracy. We are constantly trying to label things and place them into boxes. And when something doesn’t fit into the (perceived) norm it feels like there’s a malfunction. Including when one of a certain ethnic group dresses outside that group’s perceived style.
Who would have thought a simple garment could have the power to bring up such a heavy topic?! Fashion is usually seen as superficial, but there is a rich history, psychological factors, and depth! That’s why I love it. If you are interested in learning more about the psychological factors clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner literally wrote the book on this phenomenon called, “You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You
Society’s influence on how we perceive ourselves including our style is extremely powerful. So ask yourself, will you take control of that power or will societal and cultural norms have complete power over you?
Have you ever experienced colorism? If so, let’s chat!