Stylin': African-American Expressive Culture, from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit


Product Details

Cornell University Press
Publish Date
6.44 X 9.51 X 1.27 inches | 1.39 pounds

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About the Author

Shane White is Professor is Honorary Research Associate in the Department of History, University of Sydney. He is the author of Stories of Freedom in Black New York. Graham White is Honorary Reearch Associate in the Department of History, University of Sydney. Shane White and Graham White are the coauthors of The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History through Songs, Sermons, and Speech.


"In this slim but fascinating volume of essays, scholars Shane White and Graham White try to divine the roots and meanings of African-American body adornment."

-- "Baltimore Sun Newspaper"

"A lively survey of Afro-American culture from its roots to the zoot suit."

-- "Midwest Book Review"

"As this brisk, illuminating survey amply documents, African American culture--from the 19th-century dandy mocked by whites to today's baggy hip-hop clothing--has helped make black survival possible in America, both as link to the homeland and as voice of resistance. Using material as varied as runaway slave advertisements, autobiographies, beauty-contest fliers and sociological surveys, the authors bring to vivid life 'the way in which, over more than two centuries, ordinary black men and women developed a style that did indeed affirm their lives.'... This well-researched and engaging history pulls together a mostly untold story with as much verve as the swinging dandies it depicts."

-- "Publishers Weekly (starred review)"

"Focusing on such variegated indicators of black style as dress, hair, body language, and dance, the authors reveal an evolving semiotics of black self-creating that has been designed from its very outset to impose a degree of individuality on the numbing uniformity bred of slavery, poverty, Jim Crow laws, and white racism.... This volume represents an excellent example of how to use the most unlikely materials, such as newspaper-sponsored beauty pageants from the '20s, to examine how a people's culture defines its values in the face of oppression.... Well written and intelligently argued. It even has that rarity of rarities in a university press book: a preface that is delightfully funny. A highly useful contribution to black history from an unexpected direction, in every sense of that phrase."

-- "Kirkus Reviews"

"Innovative, thought-provoking, and consistently entertaining.... The authors' observations on the distinctive ways in which working class African Americans have dressed, styled their hair, and communicated meaning via gesture, dance, and other forms or bodily display reveal the existence of a vibrant, life-affirming black aesthetic sensibility that for generations has challenged white Americans' misplaced assumptions of superiority.... This well-illustrated, beautifully produced study does an admirable job of extracting an African-American perspective on cultural mediation from non-black and non-traditional sources."

-- "Georgia Historical Quarterly"

"Sifting through photographs, paintings, interviews, and surveys, the authors detail how blacks from the slavery era to World War II developed a self-affirming, expressive body style that differentiated them from the larger society and was manifested in clothing, hairstyles, dance, gestures, and other personal attributes. They argue that the politics of 'black' style was the embodiment of ambiguity, acting as subtle jab to the dominant racial group."

-- "Library Journal"

"This volume provides fascinating glimpses (including more than 50 illustrations) of black culture, from owners' annoyance at their slaves' taste in color to beauty contests."

-- "Booklist"