Black women have been at the frontlines of some of the world’s biggest trends in the fashion industry. However, our creations, often regarded as “ghetto” and “unprofessional, ” are imitated by white people, who are praised as innovative and daring. Yet, despite these attempts at our erasure, we continue to push the boundaries of self-expression and style.
Why It Matters
Fashion is far from superficial: it tells stories of our culture and heritage. But unfortunately, systemic racism aims to erase these narratives by casting shame on our cultural identifiers while uplifting the same trends in our white counterparts.
Acknowledging our role in American style demands credit for our contributions in a primarily white society while encouraging us to continue paving our way in fashion. In light of black history month and our overall dopeness, we wanted to remind ourselves of our fashion contributions.
11 Trends Sparked by Black Women
Also referred to as “door knockers,” this chunky bold jewelry gained popularity in the 80s among women of color. You could make a statement with gold, silver-even nameplate styles for under five dollars at the beauty supply store. Rappers and fashion icons Salt-N-Pepa were among the earliest celebrities to rock this look along with MC Lyte.
LL Cool J even mentioned his love for the statement piece in his 1990’s hit Around the Way Girl with his line, “I want a girl with extensions in her hair. Bamboo earrings. At least two pairs.” While the exact origins of these earrings are unknown, they’ve become a symbol of resistance and a celebration of ethnicity within colored communities.
A look synonymous with black liberation, the afro is a statement of self-love and a rejection of Eurocentric beauty standards. During the height of the civil rights movement, strong black women such as Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver began wearing their hair out as a sign of resistance against systemic racism.
Soon after, black women across the country began rocking their natural curls to signal solidarity.
The look resurfaced in the early 2000s with the natural hair movement. Black women were turning away from chemical straighteners and began falling in love with their curly tresses. Haircare was no longer seen as a chore but a form of self-care.
Black businesses began leaning into natural haircare as a black girl luxury, calling on women to pamper themselves with their products. Soft life social media Influencers jumped on the bandwagon, referring to haircare as a ritualistic safe, a way to prioritize mental health and connect to your African ancestry.
Like sneaker culture, loose-fitting clothes originated with black men, but black women have taken the trend to a new level. 90s Pop culture Icons like Aaliyah and TLC challenged gender norms by adopting what was considered a more traditionally masculine style.
Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott debuted a baggy look in the late 90s that shook the fashion world and caused a lot of buzz in the popular culture sphere. Her oversized, puffy latex jumpsuit, styled by designer June Ambrose, was a way for the rapper to push against society’s expectations of women and their sexuality. Yet, by covering her body, she still received critical acclaim for her work.
There has been a resurgence of baggy streetwear in recent years. Oversized T-shirts and low-riding pants have been spotted on popular singers like Rihanna and Billie Eilish, who have echoed similar sentiments around the fashion trend. In an interview with Calvin Klein, Eilish revealed that she wore baggy clothes so people won’t have anything to say about her body.
Acrylic Nail Designs
There’s nothing like leaving the salon with a fresh new set. The origins of nail adornments can be traced back to Egypt around 5000 BC, but today’s acrylic mani’s are undoubtedly the work of black culture.
Disco stars Donna Summer, and Diana Ross were some of the first celebrities to bring acrylics to the mainstream in the 70s. Lil Kim’s iconic money manicure was crafted by black manicurist Bernadette Thompson in the early 90s, sparking a trend of elaborate prints and nail designs. Thompson’s design ended up featured in the MoMa in 2017, showing that black fashion is truly a work of art.
We’re now seeing stories where white women are admired for the same styles black people of color have been sporting for years. For example, Janet Jackson’s famous pierced manicure for her 1998 hit “What’s it gonna be” was replicated by Kim Kardashian in 2017 and was called daring and innovative. While these instances of imitation are frustrating, to say the least, it’s a reminder that our creativity is infinite.
This street-style staple is sure to set off any outfit. Bucket hats were originally an item of practicality, employed by Irish farmers and fishermen in the early 1900s to protect their skin from the sun. However, it was only with the emergence of hip-hop culture that this look really began saturating popular culture.
LL Cool J is recognized as one of the first black artists to rock the look. Black women took inspiration from him and artists like RUN DMC and styled the hat in a way that posed femininity with a masculine touch. Lisa “left eye” Lopes and Jada Pinkett-Smith appeared in the media sporting the hat with hoop earrings and a bold lip, and the look took off.
Getting your first nameplate necklace is like a rite of passage. The popular trend started gaining popularity in the 80s in New York City among black and Hispanic communities. Nameplates became even more mainstream in the 90s, as black designers began styling hip-hop artists like Da Brat and Missy Elliott.
Nameplate jewelry has resurfaced with the resurgence of Y2K fashion. Kylie Jenner, a large perpetrator of cultural appropriation, was praised for the look back in 2020, where black women have been called tacky. This is another example of how fashion choices are perceived as more desirable when displayed on white bodies.
This timeless statement piece is far more than a fashion trend for the black community. Many black women face discrimination for their names, missing out on career and education opportunities, making this flamboyant display of identity a statement of defiance of self-affirmation in the face of white supremacy.
Cornrows, bantu knots, and box braids are just some of the many braided styles black women have debuted. These protective styles do more than shield our hair from the elements: they’re a way to connect to our black history.
Braided styles originated in Namibia around 3500 BC. Different styles marked each tribe and indicated age, status, religion, and power. African Americans have since adopted them as means of self-care and to exercise individuality.
Braids have never truly gone out of style. From Janet Jackson’s Poetic Justice box braids to Zendaya’s knotless look at the 2020 Annual Critics’ Choice Awards, women of color will continue the age-old tradition of self-expression.
Read more about our round ups about black women hair:
Maximalism took a new form when designer Daniel Day decided to add excessive monogram print to leather goods from high fashion brands like Fendi, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. This look was seen for the first time among the black male community but it didn’t take long for black women to put their spin on it.
Like a dj samples music, “Dapper Dan” sampled clothing items, giving them new life while providing affordable options for those who couldn’t afford the original luxury goods. His business ended up closing but not before gaining popularity among hip hop artists like Lil Kim and Salt N Pepa.
Seeing a traditionally masculine fashion trend on female celebrities sparked the creation of monogram dresses, skirts and bustiers.
Social media influencers have recently brought this style to the forefront, but waist adornments have deep roots dating back to ancient Egypt and Nigeria. The Yoruba tribe was among the first to popularize these beads, made out of glass, bone, and various metals. They signaled maturity and fertility and even offered spiritual protection.
In addition to the spiritual benefits of beads, we’re seeing black and non-black people use the beads for decoration and to manage weight. Full of bright colors, waist beads have become a way to accentuate outfits and show off the midsection.
This beauty trend had a lot of people talking in recent months when model Hailey Beiber posted a TikTok video wearing the look. It’s important to note that she did not claim to invent the brown liner and clear gloss combo, but those within the beauty industry began posting their Instagram pages wearing brown lips, citing Beiber as the creator.
Brown lip lacquer has been circulating for a long time. While the first black woman to debut the look is unknown, the look is large with the black and Latina population in the 90s. Stars like singer Brandy and Jennifer Lopez graced the big screen with warm neutrals.
There are a variety of different beauty products that achieve this unique style. Some used solid brown lipstick, and others used a dark brown liner with a light center. Either way, this look is no doubt an amalgamation of black and Latina cultures. You’ll have a hard time finding a black woman without a brown lip product in their arsenal.
Open your jewelry box, and you’ll likely find a pair of hoops. What is now a staple accessory in the fashion industry was once cause for scrutiny among black and Latina communities. Prominent black women such as Nina Simone and Josephine Baker wore hoops to flaunt their femininity, sparking a trend that would last over a century.
During the black power movement of the 70s, hoops became a symbol of resistance along with afros, the two looks often being sported together. This look also became a staple in the disco scene, with artists like Donna Summer and Cher rocking thin gold hoops.
As time went on, hoops began getting thicker. Chunky hoops became a staple in the 80s, seen on celebrities like singer Whitney Houston. However, the thicker style of hoops opened the door to the signature bamboo styles of the 90s.
Black women have been the blueprint in every time period. We will continue pulling from our real life experiences to express ourselves as we see fit, serving as inspiration to the world.