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Racism and racial
stereotypes are issues that has always been happening all around the world
since early colonial times, this is something that has been attached with me to
the core through everything I have done during my secondary school period. Coming
from an ‘Asian’ background, I have confronted cultural stereotypes and racism because
of my ethnicity and race. I was always reminded not to wear bright colours
because they thought that would make me less pretty. I have also been put down
by people because of my culture and skin colour, this made me feel less
confident and self-assured in whatever I do and whatever I wear. Though there
are attempts made to counter the notion of racism and racial stereotypes in the
modern-day culture, which also arise equality between all race and ethnicity,
it is my belief that we are still overpowered and forced into a certain statistic
based on race and ethnicity. I therefore aim to carry out an in-depth study into
whether this in fact is true, the presence of racism and racial stereotypes in
fashion to date and the issue of how this might be/is being addressed.

Cultural stereotyping and
cultural norms has been consequent everywhere in the world and is a much wider
issue, but I will be focusing on the fashion side of it. Everyone has their own
perception of what is beautiful, but it can sometimes be difficult to put their
own perception of beauty and that is when fashion plays a huge part. I aim to
explore the notion of whether racism and racial stereotypes in the fashion
industry is a subsequent issue and if so, is it still the same or has something
been done to evolve this into something new for the modern-day society? I will be
considering countries like India and the United Kingdom, examine how cultural
stereotyping and racism are dealt in the fashion industry in both countries.

I will further analyse what
is now considered the ‘elite’ in the fashion industry and discuss basic debates
and over-arching concepts related to racism and racial stereotyping, in
addition to this I will be exploring how fashion designers are affected by
these issues and how they make decisions to display and promote their creations
by challenging stereotypes, for e.g. choosing models for catwalk shows. Lastly,
I will be looking at the outcome of challenging stereotypes by evoking the
‘beauty myth’ and if this is directly affected or related with how perceptions
of beauty are made apparent.






History of Racism
and Racial Stereotyping in the fashion industry



Racism in the fashion industry

Racism in the fashion
industry has existed for centuries since ‘The Black Dandy’ in year 1768 in
England where the predominant competition between slaveowners was not how
wealthy they were, but how well they dressed. Young men were forced to imitate
the dapper clothing of their upper-middle class owners to fit in with the trend
(the dandy style). They had to wear tight pants as well as makeup to try and
hide their masculine body underneath the indispensable feminine beauty.

“His appearance was
both beautiful and witty, almost as if he celebrated the irony of hiding
masculine muscle beneath such essentially feminine frippery. For a woman to put
her hand on a man’s sleeve and feel the hard tension of his arm beneath the
silk was intensely erotic…”                                                                                                     ? Julia Ross, The

Moving on from ‘The Black
Dandy’, the fashion industry saw another racist attitude towards minorities of
all kind, Vogue magazine which started in 1892 featured 99 percent ‘White’ models
in its cover. In over 1,416 covers, only 14 were featured minorities of any
kind, so here we can see that there were almost no chance for people with
different race and ethnicity to feature in the best possible fashion magazine
there was in the fashion industry during the year 1892 – 2012.

It was during the year
1966 that UK Vogue magazine got its first ‘Black’ cover model, Donyale Luna. The
iconic cover shows her hand tactically placed over her nose and mouth, covering
most of her face. This stylistic decision was allegedly made to avoid scaring
people at a time when black faces in pop culture were very few, particularly in
the fashion world. Vogue magazine’s editors requested this strategy to be made
to help mask Luna’s ethnicity.

A 1966 Life magazine article titled “The Luna
Year” defined the remarkable model as:

“A new heavenly body who, because of
her striking singularity, promises to remain on high for many a season. Donyale
Luna, as she calls herself, is unquestionably the hottest model in Europe at
the moment. She is only 20, a Negro, hails from Detroit, and is not to be
missed if one reads Harper’s Bazaar,
Paris Match, Britain’s Queen, the British,
French or American editions of Vogue.”



















Figure 1: Vogue Magazine UK, March 1966

The year 1970 saw a
golden era in fashion for dark skin models. The “Black is Beautiful” moment
started when black people in America, without being affected by their racial
inequality, deprivement and poverty gave themselves prominence and raised their
sense of pride in the society. Black culture began making their way into all
types of media and determine many art forms, particularly, high fashion since the
beginning of the “Black is Beautiful” moment. It was during that period when
fashion designers or fashion decision makers perhaps changed their perception
of beauty and included models of any kind of minorities, especially dark skin
models on the runway, fashion advertisements and glamourous fashion magazine editorials.



An example of this can be seen in one
of the historical fashion war, “The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show” held on
November 28, 1973, in the Palace of Versailles (France) to fundraise money for
its reconstruction. The fashion extravaganza battle was between the already
established French fashion designers (Christian Dior, Emanuel Ungaro, Hubert de
Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent) against unrecognized American
fashion designers (Anne Klein assisted by Donna Karan, Bill Blass, Halston,
Oscar de la Renta and Stephen Burrows). The five American fashion designers
hired 36 multiracial models to display their creations, out of which 10 was
black. They did not have enough money to hire famous models as photographer Tom
Fallon who worked with designer Bill Blass recollects, “A lot of the models
were turning it down because they weren’t being paid enough”. The dark skin
models were just starting to gain acceptance as Tom says, “…you could get them
at a bargain price. They were willing to go for a reduced salary”.








Figure 2: The Battle
of Versailles

The French however had
never seen black models on catwalks before and was totally enthralled by their
performance, their attitude, their energy, their manner of walking and their confidence.
The more unpremeditated tactic to fashion won the audience over and with a loud
noise they cheered up tossing their shows up in the air. Thus, giving an
enormous chance to the ten black models (Alva Chinn, Amina Warsuma, Barbara
Jackson, Bethann Hardison, Billie Blair, Charlene Dash, Jennifer Brice, Norma
Jean, Pat Cleveland and Ramona Saunders) won the American designers the Battle
of Versailles against the well-established French designers. Then the 1990s saw
a steady career in modelling for dark skin women and models like Naomi Campbell,
Tyra Banks and Veronica Webb became household names and were prospering in
their careers. This moment in fashion was however a “fad” as they like to call
it and then the perception of beauty of fashion designers began to change, and
dark skin models suffered. Since then they are only experiencing “moments” that
are few and far between.


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