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Racism and racial
stereotypes are issues that have 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.

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Cultural stereotyping and
cultural norms have 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, exploring how racial/cultural
stereotyping and racism are dealt in the fashion industry and what are the

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 to 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 the 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
on 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 as shown in figure 1. 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 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
as shown in figure 2. 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 the 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.




Racial stereotyping and cultural norms in fashion

From all the readings I have
done on racial stereotyping and cultural norms in the fashion industry, I find
myself thinking about a general idea of the two words, ‘fashion’ and ‘beauty’. Is
fashion an individual’s personal style of living or is it the conception of modern
day faith or belief? Is beauty a combination of qualities one possesses or is
it a perception generated from an individual’s faith or belief? How does
society conjoin the whole concept of the word ‘fashion’ and ‘beauty’?

Race, ethnicity and
culture are three main expressions when looking at formation of norms. We as a
human are naturally attracted to people alike us and share a mutual background
or history. This attitude probably arises a sense of classes’ difference between
society and therefore leads to the formation of cultural norms and stereotypes.
For Asian, especially in India, the idea of ‘fashion’ initially comes a lot
later compared with the west (the United Kingdom). With considering the words describing
‘beauty’, there are terms that being used gives people a sense of classes’
difference. For example, in Indian culture, when we talk about beauty, the
desire or unhealthy obsession with fair skin is so extreme that people consider
being pale white prettier than being dusky or suntanned, and the fair complexion
gives other people in the same society impressions of upper classes, being well
educated and considered as ‘superiors’. Dusky or dark complexion gives the
impressions of lower classes and thus considered as ‘inferiors’ in the Indian

Coming from an Asian
background (India), I trace back to my memories when I was in my childhood living
in a culture obsessed with fairness, there is no way to not be affected by the
life you live in, and the culture that surrounds you, as well as all the
stereotypes and norms formed within it. With the idea of ‘being fair is better’
became immensely popular and commercial, all kinds of fairness skin products sprang
out. According to Dr. Thuy Linh Tu’s investigation, skincare products dominate most
of the cosmetic market and fairness creams are among the highest selling
cosmetic products in Asia that even topmost Bollywood actors and actresses appear
regularly in advertisements endorsing fairness skincare products. 

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