Introduction to Black (Fashion) Studies Syllabus

The following course seeks to investigate and analyze the language, rhetoric, history, and impact of Black culture on the fashion industry today. In doing so, we will utilize contemporary and historical conversations around race, gender, sexuality, and class in order to interrogate and analyze key concepts, moments, styles, and trends of the fashion industry. By engaging and learning about the specific history and impact of Black culture on the industry through critical dialogue with essayist, journalist, writers, YouTubers, podcast and more, the function of the course will be to assist students in gathering first-hand knowledge on contemporary problems facing the industry today.  Students will develop their research skills, methods, critical thinking and argumentation through critically interrogating and engaging the historical, sociological, cultural, environmental and economic impacts of fashion and race.

Recent conversations in the fashion industry about gender, sexuality, class, race, environmentalism and individuality have begun to raise important questions about the influence and impact of fashion’s recent renaissance in Black designers like Kerby Jean-Raymond, Grace Wales Bonner, Virgil Abloh and Kanye West. The increased intrigue and vogue of the ‘Black Designer’ is an important event in the history of fashion which generates our pressing interest and concern with developing a critical language for discussing these trends in streetwear, luxury and fashion. Taking our cue from Rikki Byrd’s essay, “On the ‘Black Designer'” this course is an “Introduction 2 Black (Fashion) Studies.” Understood broadly as a critical and reflexive engagement with the operations of the fashion industry, the pedagogy of the course will be united in its ambition to educate on both the merits of fashion research, argumentation and analysis as well as attempting to understand, “what it means to be black in fashion, what it means to create something from nothing, and, indeed, what it means to make oneself more visible,” (Byrd). Critical language and critical thinking on fashion is the central topic of our analysis. Selected readings across multiple genres (documentaries, scholarly articles, essays, YouTube videos, podcast, etc.) provide the foundations for our complex consideration of the role that racism, sexism, elitism, discrimination, and creativity has played in historical and contemporary trends of the fashion industry. Each reading will provide a template for considering the larger, more abstract dialogue about the place of desire, thought and economics in the creation, construction and curation of the contemporary fashion industry.

For your research project, you will select a specific fashion industry related problem, use your research to explain what the problem is, describe its effects on specific communities and individuals, analyze the context in which the problem developed and, finally, describe and evaluate what experts are currently doing to address the problem. The second part of your research project will be an argument, based on your research, about what are the best approaches to solving or mitigating the problem. 

The ultimate goal is to showcase and generate creative, intellectual research that is capable of intervening in scholarly conversation about fashion and race in an informed, expressive and engaging manner. The work of writing about fashion has been around for centuries. The skill of constructing well-researched fashion writing is both an art and a methodical logic. This course will seek to give students a better understanding of how exactly to apply this methodical logic of research in unison with the creative art of writing.

Assignments and Grading:

 Research Project Part One: Contexts (30%)

Research Project Part Two: Advocacy (40%)

Oral & Visual Presentation (10%)

Final ePortfolio (20%)

Week 1. Orientation Week // Introduction to Hip Hop and Fashion

The following week introduces students to the basic concepts and jargon necessary for completion of the course. Students will be introduced to the history of Black struggles against the fashion industry as well as significant terms for fashion research, analysis and argumentation.

Watch Documentary, The Remix: Hip Hop x Fashion

Watch YouTube Video, Bliss Foster, “Fashion School: How to Analyze Fashion”

Watch YouTube Video, Bliss Foster, “Fashion School: Fashion Terms You Need to Know”

Read AGWR, Chapter 10: Writing 60 – Research and Argument

Read AGWR, Chapter 4: Multimodality


Complete – Multi-modal Self-Assessment

Week 2. Teaching Fashion & Race

The following week introduces students to scholarship in fashion and race, specifically getting into systemic racism black designer’s face in the fashion industry as well as the multimodal self-assessment of Kim Jenkin’s own reflection on “Teaching Fashion & Race.”

Read Essay, Kim Jenkins, “Teaching Fashion & Race.”

Read Essay, Rikki Byrd, “On the Black Designer”

Listen to Podcast, The Business of Fashion, “Tackling Systemic Racism in the Fashion Industry”


Complete – Source Summary Assignment

Week 3. Topics in Black Fashion Studies

The following week introduces students to topics in Black fashion studies which might help them to develop various topics for their research papers.

Read Essay, Hafizah Geter, “Black Phenomena: On Afropessimism and Camp”

Watch, Yeezy Season 9,

Camp: Notes on Fashion,

Optional readings to help students develop and locate topics in Black Fashion Studies:

Read Article, Salamishah Tillet + Vanessa Friedman, “It’s Time to End Racism in the Fashion Industry. But How?”

Read Article, Eric Wilson, “Who Put the Black in Black Style?”

Read Article, Gabriela Garcia, “The Unrelenting Power of Hoop Earring in Black and Latinx Communities”

Read Article, Brian Roberts, “A Brief History of Bling: Hip Hop Jewelry Through The Ages”


Complete – Developing Context Project Discussion Post

Week 4. Beauty is a Method: Writing & Research

The following week looks into writing and research methods by going over logos, ethos, and pathos and applying these rhetorical strategies as methods of analyzing Christina Sharpe’s “Beauty is a Method.” In addition, we are visited by the University librarian in order to help us to develop skills of research and working with archives.

Read Essay, Christina Sharpe, “Beauty is a Method”

Read Interview, Saidiya Hartman, “Working with Archives: An Interview with writer Saidiya Hartman”

Read AGWR, Chapter 6: I Came Here For An Argument


Complete – First Draft of Context Project

Week 5. The Collab: Peer Review

The following week discusses the history and process of collaboration in fashion as a segue into thinking peer-review as a process of fashioning collaboration between students.

No Readings. Turn in Final Draft of Context Project.

Week 6. Introducing Fashion Advocacy

The following week looks into the work of Tremaine Emory, the designer of Denim Tears, and Stoney Love, one of the designer’s behind Stuzo Clothing, to discuss how they have utilized fashion as a means of advocating for issues surrounding race, class, gender, and sexuality.

Read Interview/Article, Francisco J. Galarte, “The Crowns of Stuzo Clothing: Design, Representation and Craft.” Transgender Studies Quarterly, Vol. 4 Issue 2, pp. 296–300

file:///Users/johngillespie/Downloads/TSQ – The Issue of Blackness (1).pdf

Watch interview: Stuzo Clothing’s Stoney Love talks the future of Queer Fashion & Design | Electric Pop (Episode 3).

Read Interview/Article, Zito Madu, “Tremaine Emory is Creating Fashion With Meaning.”

Watch Fashion Film: Denim Tears Levi Jeans 2,


Work on Fashion Advocacy Presentations

Week 7. Fashion Advocacy Analysis

No readings. This week is spent reading through, analyzing, comparing and contrasting the fashion advocacy of Tremaine Emory’s collaboration with Levi Jean + Stuzo Clothing’s design and crafting of representation.


Complete – Fashion Advocacy Presentations

Week 8. Fashion Advocacy Presentations

No readings. Students present their own fashion advocacy presentations in preparation for their own advocacy projects.


Complete – Finish First Draft of Advocacy Projects

Week 9. The Final Collab: Peer Review

No readings. Collaborate on Peer Review


Complete – Final Advocacy Projects

Week 10. Th(e)Portfolios.

No readings. Invite Guest Speaker. Turn in Final ePortfolios.

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