Then, as now, my research showed how American household brands took assertive imagery and slogans and turned them into ads designed to appeal to middle-class black shoppers.
Companies that packaged such products thought they could secure a new, loyal black clientele simply by portraying them in a glamorous way.
As the costs of Ralph Lauren’s new clothing line reveal, wearing the latest fashion trend is a bounty for often overlooked communities.
Prices for the Morehouse collection start at $69.50 for a brown cap and go up to $2,498.00 for a wool coat. The cheapest item in the Spelman collection is a $98 silk scarf, with a $998 wool coat in the signature sky-blue landing from college to high-end.
A so-called $1 trillion in black purchasing power — a figure disputed by some scholars — is likely part of what draws Ralph Lauren to this black history project.
Yet a racial wealth gap where the average black family claims just under 13% of the wealth held by the average white family, reported at $188,200 in 2019, suggests the value of these celebratory campaigns is limited.
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Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, Ralph Lauren joined the rush of companies releasing public statements with an open letter on racial equality on June 10, 2020.
The letter described systemic racism as “an American problem” and “a fashion problem” and summarized the company’s strategy to address its own failures.
In addition to expanding already established initiatives, such as dialogue groups, in-house diversity training, and support for the United Negro College Fund, Ralph Lauren also pledged “to interview at least one black or African-American candidate.” ” for vacant leadership positions.
Ralph Lauren has since unveiled its Morehouse and Spelman collection and explained that it has an even larger list of engagements. Among them is a $2 million pledge to the United Negro College Fund and “internship offers dedicated to HBCU students.
Additionally, Ralph Lauren produced a documentary film, “A Portrait of the American Dream”, commemorating the heritage of each institution and the Ivy-esque style that students appropriated from the 1920s through the 1950s.
The documentary is transparent about the brand’s intention to correct its limited framing of American style by “writing untold chapters” in the history of classic collegiate fashion.
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hip hop style
Ralph Lauren’s belated recognition follows a long history in which black communities have imbued American culture with a distinct aesthetic, particularly in the realm of clothing.
In fact, Ralph Lauren’s decision to spotlight black style before 1960 overlooks a more recent and direct connection between Ralph Lauren and members of the hip-hop generation.
A group of young African-American and Latino New Yorkers glorified the brand in the 1980s, tying it to what was then an emerging urban subculture. The group called themselves the Lo Lifes, a riff on the name Polo and a sarcastic admission that despite their affinity for clothing, they were excluded from the brand’s white, upper-class target clientele.
Although Ralph Lauren initially stood up to this less affluent fanbase, the essentially one-sided love affair between hip-hop and polo persists.
The idea of black excellence is not new. Neither is the commercialization of black pride.
Even retailers such as Walmart are trying to cash in on Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas and forced slave owners to free the slaves.
But questions remain about whether a new clothing line can lead to a better understanding of the spirit of black excellence that fueled the black students of Morehouse and Spelman during the civil rights era.
One thing is clear: Ralph Lauren has at least increased the visibility of black life and culture during this era of racial reckoning.
This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.
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