Communities of Style
A “community of style” is a group that shares a common style of dress that communicates a shared sense of identity understood within the group and learned informally. This identity is shaped by similar experiences, knowledge, dress practices, values and ideas about what is pleasing, appropriate, or beautiful. Just as we may belong to many groups (or communities) including our families, our school buddies, groups with which we identify through ethnic or cultural background, we may belong to many communities of style.
Artisans of Style
Artisans of Style are people who use their creativity, special skills and knowledge of body arts and adornment to support the specialized needs and desires of clients who belong to communities of style. For example, Dennie Moe is a barber in New York City who cuts the hair of hip-hop artists. As an artisan of style he is a member of an occupational group that includes other African American barbers who learn their craft through training and apprenticing with more experienced barbers. By observing, copying, and experimenting, an artisan of style can create new styles based on the preference of their customers but they also influence the dress culture of their clients by creating new hair cut styles.
Exemplars of Style
Everybody is a dress artist. Most of us make choices in the way we dress within the frame of larger cultural and social rules and our access to the resources to dress the way that we want to dress. In every community of style, there are people who as exemplars of style stand out as masters of the arts of dress and body arts. These individuals capture the essence of a community’s ideas of what it is to be well dressed through their artful assembly of hair, apparel, accessories, and body art. Exemplars of style acquire collections of items of dress and personal adornment from which they select to “curate” their personal appearance (a concept contributed by art historian Jane Milosch).
Artifacts of Style
The items of material culture relating to African American style communities include articles of dress and “outfits” in the collections of dress exemplars; specialized tools used by dress artisans—this might include “Afro combs” and synthetic hair samples; cosmetics and hair ointments. Artifacts of style may also include photographic and video and on-line media documenting African American dress and adornment styles (e.g., homemade YouTube reviews of wigs and instructional videos on hairstyling, snapshots and family photos illustrating dress and dress events).