It is always noteworthy when politics and fashion collide. In October, The New York Times ran an article entitled “Runways Fade to White”. The article described the relative absence of Black models on the runways of the most recent Fashion Week.
As a follower of fashion and a Black woman, the article caught my attention.
I tend to live by the proposition that race is a significant characteristic, but should not govern our lives and or dictate our decisions. However, this year’s Fashion Week has challenged those beliefs.
The New York Times article painted a picture of the whitening of the fashion world. According to the article, the number of Black women used in fashion shows has steadily decreased. Frequently, designers request the model’s race in advance so that they can reject the Black models. When the agents try to pull a bait and switch, by withholding the model’s race, the designers later complain. The designers reject the Black model and blame the agent by saying, “You didn’t tell me that she was Black.”
While I was unaware of the underlying details, my review of fashion magazines has revealed that Black models were suffering some challenges. I peruse my five subscriptions to fashion magazines religiously every month, under the belief that fashion is universal. Rather than bemoan the absence of Black women on the hundreds of pages, I have rejoiced when I see a Black face on one page.
I used to believe that I was progressive by not letting politics influence my purchasing decisions. Now, I realize that I was naive.
The Census results gave me an easy way to I rationalize the decisions of the fashion industry. Black people account for about 12% of the population so it would follow that we would not be on the majority of the covers of fashion magazines. However, the article indicates that deliberate discrimination and not statistics likely explains the absence of Black women from the covers.
By excluding Black models, the designers are communicating a powerful message. While we do not know what the message is, we do know that the message is not a good one. To suggest otherwise overlooks a basic fact. Fashion is about more than selling clothes, it is about selling an image of beauty. Whatever their motivation, it is clear that many designers do not envision Black models as portraying their image of beauty. Once I find out who the biggest offenders were, I doubt that I will be able to envision myself wearing their clothes…