The Will to Adorn

ROCK THE RUNWAY: PERFORMING STYLES

Fashion shows are a very common form of entertainment African American communities, including churches, fraternities and sororities, youth centers, and ethnic and immigrant organizations. The models in these “visual concerts” are usually recruited from the community, and unlike the shows organized by the fashion industry, participants include people of varied ages and body types. The goals of the shows are entertainment, participation, and often fundraising. The clothing worn may or may not be for sale, and the performance is paramount.

Runway competitions produced in and organized by African American gay and transgendered communities in America urban areas are a vibrant subgenre of these community-based fashion shows. The tradition of “drag balls” came to mainstream public attention in 1990 through filmmaker Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning and Madonna’s pop single “Vogue.” The conventions of this tradition were inspired by couture fashion shows, but the modes and aesthetics of these vernacular performances have since circled around to influence contemporary runway practice in the fashion industry.

Every afternoon during the Festival, we rocked the runway. Special guests featured each day included local designers and youth group showing off their style in a “visual open mic.”

The Alfred Street Baptist Church produces an annual spring fashion show featuring millinery collections modeled by members of the congregation. Photo by Sharon Farmer, courtesy of National Museum of African American History and Culture