May 1960, New York City. Arlene Hawkins, Owner of Arlene Hawkins Cosmetics
1978, Newark, NJ. Linwood Allen, Designer
1969, New York City. Veronica Jones, Boutique Owner
1978, Newark, NJ. Douglas Says, Designer
“One should not enter a room and expect ambiance; one should enter it and become it,” Geoffrey Holder wrote in the foreword to The Way We Wore: Black Style Then by Michael McCollom (Glitterati Incorporated).
Chronicling African-American fashion from the 1940s through today, The Way We Wore features snapshots of over 150 black men and women's most unforgettable "style moments", giving the book the look and feel of a family album. The photographs are taken from the personal collection of McCollom’s own family, as well as a circle of friends which includes Oprah Winfrey, James Baldwin, Iman, Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Tracy Reese, Patrick Kelly, Kimora Lee, Bobby Short, Bethann Hardison, Toukie Smith, and Portia LaBeija, among countless others.
As Holder observes, “The Way We Wore is not only a historical piece that journeys through the African-American landscape, but is also an album celebrating the individual. Like a yearbook, you will come back to this work again and again. Though you may not know the people personally, you will recognize them. Michael has carefully chosen pictures and people that exhibit the historical framework of African-American influence on fashion, design, and culture.”
Indeed, from brides glowing in white dresses to bachelors in bell-bottoms, the photographs featured in The Way We Wore encompass the tremendous variety of fashions begun by the African-American community and guided international fashion culture. Some outfits are dynamic and outrageous—elaborate hairstyles and chunky shoes, enormous earrings and funky glasses—yet their wearers' vitality and pride leap from the page. Other styles are striking in their elegance and composure: World War II servicemen in their uniforms, women in haute couture gowns, and children dressed for Sunday morning church service. Gorgeous shots like these transcend fads, engendering the book with a sense of heritage and history befitting the legacy of African-American style and culture.
The Way We Wore is both a marvelous journey from Harlem Renaissance to Hip-Hop and a celebration of the innovative and captivating history of African-American fashion over the past century. Michael McCollom speaks with The Chic about his life in fashion.
In the introduction to the book, McCollom reveals, “As far back as I can remember I have always had a love of fashion. All fashion: the good, the bad, and the awful. Fashion in my opinion has always been less about clothes (even though my chosen profession is that of designer) and more about style & attitude. For me style has always been far more democratic than fashion.
“I was born in the ‘60s and my family was very Black middle class. Our mode of living was not extravagant, but we lived extravagantly through our style. Early on I was inundated with style, from my mother’s ever evolving looks to my grandmother’s steadfast devotion to her Chanel-influenced Kimberly Knit suits.
“For us back to school shopping took on the importance of the couture shows in Paris. My mother would pre-shop the stores for trends and direction, put items on hold for us, and then we would go in for fittings. If we liked a certain style particularly well, say a shirt or pants, she would not just buy us the one but one in every colorway or pattern. Clothing had importance for us, an importance not dictated by a designer label; it was more about what you wanted to wear and when you wanted to wear it. We had outfits for school. We had outfits for picnics. We had outfits for church. We had outfits for holidays.
“My parents were very social. I would sit in anticipation to see my mom’s new formal dress or which of my dad’s tuxedos would be chosen for the evening. Yes we had more than one, he had several from a ‘60s Sutach-embroidered shawl collared style to a ‘70s Cranberry velvet two-button with grosgrain trim (think Tom Ford’s Gucci collection fall 1999. Dad too was always dapper and the epitome of fashion. The unexpected was a given in our house and change was imperative.
“This evolution is very apparent in my grade school photos. Kindergarten through fifth grade, from Star Trek to Layered Prep, Nehru to Hippie, my changing style was celebrated, never discouraged. I recently discovered this early rebellious celebration of style not to be uncommon among my peers in fashion .This revelation was the genesis of this photographic journey.
“I invited over 100 fashion insiders, outsiders, and beautiful people to share their personal photos. Style is so subjective. If you ask 100 people what style is, you’ll get 100 different points of view. The result of their submissions, The Way We Wore: Black Style Then, is a unique review of fashion and moreover personal style.”
Geoffrey Holder concurs, “Michael has put together a book that subscribes to the notion that style can be expressed in dress, gesture, or attitude. Be bold, take risks, and experiment!”
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Photographs from The Way We Wore: Black Style Then by Michael McCollom
Curated by Miss Rosen
Bethann Hardison, Talent Manager/Producer/Documentarian, New York City, 1968
Woodward High School Homecoming Dance, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1977
Summer 1981, Times Square, NYC. Steven J. Robinson, Creative Director