In honor of Black History Month, I thought it would be appropriate to consider some of the beautiful, chic, dark-complexioned ladies of our past and present who have influenced not only fashion, but American culture and civil awareness. These women have changed society as we see it today not only by leading by example but bringing African-American fashion and sensibility into the spotlight.
Perhaps the godmother of black fashion in America would be Dorothy Dandridge. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1922, Dandridge was the first African-American to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress. While she was in several movies, appeared on various variety television shows and had a somewhat substantial singing career, she was best remembered, of course, for her role in “Carmen Jones”, the part for which she earned her Academy Award nomination. Cited by Angela Bassett, Cicely Tyson and even Whitney Houston as inspiration, Dorothy Dandridge was immortalized after her untimely death with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Halle Berry (to be mentioned later) also celebrated her life in an HBO movie, “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge”. Her classic good looks and sophisticated dress made her a timeless beauty women of all colors can look to.
Selling over 100 million records and twelve-time Grammy nominated singer (not to mention her nominations and wins in the Tony Awards, Golden Globes and Oscars), Diana Ross also tops my list of influential African-American fashion icons. Born in Detroit, the very heartbeat of Motown pulsed through her veins at a very young age, resulting in the formation of the Supremes in 1961. Through 57 albums, a Broadway show, film and television appearances, Ross has recreated herself, decade after decade. Diana Ross morphed from perfectly coiffed Supreme leader to the fabulous Billie Holliday in “Lady Sings The Blues”. The late 1970’s and early 1980’s turn to disco let Ross let it all hang out with her gorgeous hair and flashy garb. In the last several years, she is in fantastic shape, recording duets with other greats such as Rod Stewart and being commemorated in her own Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. At 64 years old, Diana Ross is still turning heads, even to this day.
The third African-American fashion icon I chose to mention, I have a certain, biased fondness for. It’s not only the fact that she is gorgeous and from my home state of Ohio (Bedford, to be exact) or a remarkable, award-winning actress. I chose Halle Berry because as an impressionable, wide-eyed child of five years, I got to hold her hand for Coca-Cola’s “Hands Across America” homelessness and hunger awareness event that spanned across the USA on May 25, 1986. A local celebrity as Miss Ohio 1986, Berry arrived with a glorious up-do of long black hair and a white dress covered with oversized pink and orange polka dots. Of course, this isn’t her claim to fame, after the plethora of Oscar, SAG, BAFTA, Golden Globe, NAACP and BET awards and nominations for “Monster’s Ball”, “Swordfish”, “Die Another Day” to only name a few. But I’d like to think I got in on the ground floor of the majesty that is Halle Berry. I’d like to think my fandom was a good investment because after two decades now of a successful career and just being named Esquire’s “Sexiest Woman Alive” after having a child only six months before. Always dressed to the nines, a spokeswoman for Revlon and an unrelenting force in acting, Halle Berry is inspirational in both fashion and personal endeavors.
Certainly, there are several icons that have been left out of my write-up here. Iman, Lena Horne, Beyonce and a whole slew of others past and present have solidified their position in black fashion, and pages and pages could be written about black fashion in music, movies, television, you name it. But I have to leave a little space for the other High.girls, right? If you have thoughts about whom else should have made the list, leave it after the jump!