The very basis of who we are reflects in our clothing, an obvious fact. However, dress expression goes beyond style and trends. It's a way of calling attention to social issues and injustices. The 50's, 60's, and 70's filled the country with reasons to protest an injustice. For example, the beatniks of the late 1950's were a literary movement that took on eccentric habits of dress. They typically wore black turtle necks, peasant blouses, berets, dirty sneakers, and sandals. From the beats, the hippies were born later on in 1966. The hippy movement revolted the values of the adult society. They wore "gypsy" like tie-dyed clothing, layered jewelry, headbands, and sandals. Anti-war protesters in that same decade, wore blue jeans as a symbol of solidarity with the working class. These jeans became a form of self expression, as they began to embroider and paint messages on them.
The Civil Rights movement, which protested equal rights and treatment for African Americans, led to Black Pride. Many African Americans adopted the use of traditional multi-colored African garments, like dashikis, and amber, ivory, and ebony jewelry. They wore their hair in afros and corn-row braids. The Black Panthers, who protested police brutality against African Americans in the late 60's, dressed in all black, called "black bloc", which included black berets and leather jackets.
Yet, earlier than this, dress expression and protest was ever present in the early 1900's. Another example, the disposal of hobble skirts. During the Women's Suffrage Movement, women began to wear what was called the "suffragette suit." It was a direct response to the hobble skirt (a narrow skirt that went down to their ankles and impeded walking) which was was seen as a form of oppression. In the 1920's, women, known as Flappers, were breaking away from the restraints of the past. They began cutting their hair short, wore shorter, unfitted dresses, and flesh toned tights.
Fast forward to now, we are seeing everything from feminism and anti-racism t-shirts on the runway, all black attire at award ceremonies, and white pantsuits among many other forms of protest. Let's make one thing clear: protest is not fashion or an outfit of the day. It's simple to confuse a trend (not a fashion trend) with fashion, but there is a difference. How we feel and think, our outlook on life, our political views and so on affects what, why, and how we dress, but that doesn't make it "fashion." There will always be people that will choose to make a profit. The trouble is that if we are wearing a Black Lives Matter tee because we think it's cool and everyone else is doing it, then we're not exactly believing they do. What happened in the case of these social movements, is that it became a fashion trend and everyone forgot the original cause. We get caught up, we forget. We can't afford to forget the original purpose of our protest and outcry. Fashion and style help, but dress expression is not a fad, it's a purpose.
About a week ago, I got to interview the beautiful and intelligent Ashley Dunn, a Houston native, LA based stylist that I had the privilege of interning with. We had a deep discussion about her personal style and a few challenges she faces in her industry. Below was our conversation, in essence.
Tell me a little about how you started out as a stylist and got to where you are now:
I started at Praire View A&M University. I was a sophomore, around 2002. I knew I wanted to be an actress or something, but didn't know what yet. I wanted to do something non-traditional, so I started tapping into celebrity style and news, and what they were wearing. Like Nicole Richie, she went from a mess to super chic. Her whole look evolved. And Lindsey Lohan too. I started researching and found about Rachel Zoe. She is a stylist, and started divining into it. By my junior year, I got an opportunity to help shoot a movie, so I interned steaming clothes. That was my first big thing. When I graduated in 2006, I got my DBA and started working as a stylist. I got cards made and passed them out. In Texas, no one wanted a stylist. It sounded very foreign, but I wanted to take a risk. I mean, here I am in LA taking a risk as always. I was in corporate America, so I'd style my boss and coworkers. Then it evolved into a collaboration with a guy friend, called Fashion Revolution. He targeted men, and I women. The collab didn't work because it didn't make sense, but we learned a lot. A partnership with styling is not ideal. I did that from 2006-2013. I quit my corporate job and pursued styling full time. Then I had a collection put out in 2014. Styling was the catalyst the opened the door or everything else. I started working Television, with BET, FOX, ABC. There is a misconception that you can't do several different things, but you can. You can be on TV and be stylist. I feel like in all of this, I made a lot of mistakes, but did a lot of things right. I'm in the place where I need to be now. I knew I needed to be in entertainment. We as women should not limit ourselves.
Describe your style and why you dress the way you do.
For the most part, I'd say simple, but that simple can be different in different things. I can wear a plain suit, but it can be bright red, paired with a white tee and sneakers. When I wake up, I know I need to represent Ashley in the best way. I don't dress the way I feel, personally. My style is simple and it makes a bold statement. I know when I walk out the door, I want to impact someone and myself.
Were you ever, at any point racially profiled? Would you say there is inequality in your industry?
Yes, once back in 2006 in TX, when I was saying I wanted to pull clothing at a store for styling segment. I knew what to say, had my lingo down, and they said no. I know they thought, "who is this black girl trying to take our stuff." Even now in LA, my husband and I are looked at a certain way. It makes me upset, but I don't want to make a scene. Think what you want. As long as you don't say something or touch me, we're good. Even during fashion week, it was very white. We'd be the only black people in the show. And that was in 2014. Now, its more diverse, but they'd look at us like "what are you doing." It was female and male influencers. you know, we'd save up to get there and connect and they'd look at me like "why are you here?" I also think about how Black, Latino, and Asian people don't get cast during fashion week.
Did that stop you from pursuing any opportunities?
If anything, no. It makes you go harder. That's not gonna stop me, that's what it taught me. It didn't stop me to go to shows. I don't think the industry has caught up. To me, it's like whites over there and blacks over here. The beauty industry is very diverse, unlike the fashion industry. They need to tighten up before people shift. Now a days, people don't have to time to discriminate. You need to get with the program. If you're looking at someone because of their background, its like really? In general, people need to catch up.
Were you ever denied an opportunity because you're a woman?
I wouldn't have known. But now that I'm in LA, I setup my own meetings, with no manager, but I go into these meetings prepared. I try to make sure I appeal to that demographic. I feel a sense of uncertainty because I'm an African American woman going into these meeting saying "Hi, would you consider me?" I think its more of my skin color that's looked at first and last.
Does your background have anything to do with the way you dress?
I feel like I'm a representation of my mom, sister and my people. I hold that on my shoulders when I create a look. For the most part, I try to make a statement of confidence. With confidence you can do anything. Confidence has helped me to get in the door. That's the overall message I send. Democrat or Republican, a woman is woman. We should be able to navigate whatever is thrown our way.
First hand, I can tell you that Ashley Dunn means what she says. She is all business and love. It's evident, that when you speak to her, you can see all she's overcome in her eyes alone. Now that she is in LA, she is taking on a new journey, that she will surely conquer, because let's face it, Ashley is major super boss that not only has the right tools, but the right mindset.
We have all seen the olive green jacket from Zara that First Lady Melania Trump wore yesterday. A bit of an unclear message, and as much as some would like to give her the benefit of the doubt, I'm not so sure this was aimed at her husband. The truth is, even though her team has said "it's a jacket, there was no hidden message", there was. You see, we NEED to focus on her wardrobe. Fashion talks. Clothing speaks volumes. She is a woman of a few words, but her choice in clothing sends a very crisp message (lest we forget her pink blouse and big white hat).
Exactly one day after Donald Trump decided to sign an executive order that ends the separation of children from their parents at the border, but really does nothing to help the children that have already been separated, this jacket happens. A day after Trump says "we still have to maintain toughness or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for and that we don’t want", this jacket happens. It's almost as if Melania is Donny's puppet. She is like the cherry on top of every offensive act he has taken. Just when you start thinking that as an immigrant she might care, NOPE. But it's okay to give children forcible injections of antipsychotics and sedatives? It's okay to put them in cages?
In all of this frustration, lets veer off a bit. The Trump Administration doesn't really surprise me anymore. The disrespect is expected. It's like everyday we're waiting for him and his team to say something offensive, and they don't care. This has happened before in history, and it's so angering that it's happening now. We need to continue to fight, use our voice, donate, volunteer, protest, call our senators, whatever, we just cannot be silent. In the words of author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, "silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." We have so much more work to do. If our leaders won't care, then we will.
Everything she wears is intentional and meticulous. I mean, even when traveling abroad, she takes that country's influence into consideration. Her behavior, her feelings, her morals, are all reflected in each item of clothing and designer she chooses to wear. Someone who usually opts to wear high-end doesn't all of a sudden unintentionally decide to wear a $39 jacket. That honestly doesn't make sense. She wore heels when traveling to Houston after hurricane Harvey! This, ladies and gents, is Melania's fashion behaviour.
In my book, it is NOT an impulsive purchase, but a deeper look into why we dress the way we do. We are often inspired, or influenced rather, by what this girl wore, or how he paired that look, but we never focus enough on the why. Do you dress the way you do because it's trending? Do you really like it? Is it truly reminiscent of who you are? Or rather, do your morals, beliefs, and political views affect how you dress? Does your race, ethnic background, and culture play a role in your fashion choices?
Fashion Behaviour, what does it say about you and why? Your clothes says a lot about who you are and how you feel. It says a lot about your personality and your decision making abilities, believe it or not. And think about it, if you ask someone why they dress the way they do, they will more than likely say, A.) because they like it, or B.) because it's comfortable. Now take that and think about how it reflects who they are. I asked a close friend why he chooses to wear a polo, cargo shorts, and flip flops all the time. His response? "Because my wife buys it for me, so I wear what she tells me to." I know him pretty well, and I know that she dominates him, so clearly that is why he wears what he wears. In his everyday life, there is no drive, no excitement, and no self awareness. His clothing reflects just that, and that is fashion behaviour.
Now when it comes to all of the other stuff, (political side, race, ethnicity, culture, etc.) what we choose to wear can be in direct opposition of a belief we don't agree on. Last year during fashion week, there were so many designers that decided to speak out with their clothing. Slogans like "The Future is Female" and "I am An Immigrant" made huge statements, and started a fashion revolution that is being carried into this years clothing choices. But it doesn't just end there. There are more and more influencers that are inspiring many millennials to embrace their ethnic background and race. Some like Simran, Miya, Nemah, and Nneka (to name only a few) are a few influencers/bloggers that are not ashamed of their ethnic background, race or religion, and they embrace it and use it to create their individual style. That is fashion behaviour.
Tom Ford once said "dressing well is a from of good manners." I believe this to be so true, but it also shows how you respect and think about yourself, and how you want the world to perceive you. It really makes an impact. This new segments purpose is, I hope, to create self reflection and help you observe your fashion behavior.