Slaves to Fashion

Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity

Slaves to Fashion

Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: 42 illustrations Published: October 2009

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality, Theater and Performance

Slaves to Fashion is a pioneering cultural history of the black dandy, from his emergence in Enlightenment England to his contemporary incarnations in the cosmopolitan art worlds of London and New York. It is populated by sartorial impresarios such as Julius Soubise, a freed slave who sometimes wore diamond-buckled, red-heeled shoes as he circulated through the social scene of eighteenth-century London, and Yinka Shonibare, a prominent Afro-British artist who not only styles himself as a fop but also creates ironic commentaries on black dandyism in his work. Interpreting performances and representations of black dandyism in particular cultural settings and literary and visual texts, Monica L. Miller emphasizes the importance of sartorial style to black identity formation in the Atlantic diaspora.

Dandyism was initially imposed on black men in eighteenth-century England, as the Atlantic slave trade and an emerging culture of conspicuous consumption generated a vogue in dandified black servants. “Luxury slaves” tweaked and reworked their uniforms, and were soon known for their sartorial novelty and sometimes flamboyant personalities. Tracing the history of the black dandy forward to contemporary celebrity incarnations such as Andre 3000 and Sean Combs, Miller explains how black people became arbiters of style and how they have historically used the dandy’s signature tools—clothing, gesture, and wit—to break down limiting identity markers and propose new ways of fashioning political and social possibility in the black Atlantic world. With an aplomb worthy of her iconographic subject, she considers the black dandy in relation to nineteenth-century American literature and drama, W. E. B. Du Bois’s reflections on black masculinity and cultural nationalism, the modernist aesthetics of the Harlem Renaissance, and representations of black cosmopolitanism in contemporary visual art.


Slaves to Fashion enriches current scholarship by undertaking a large-scale survey of how members of the black diaspora have used fashion to negotiate identity. . . . Slaves to Fashion is accompanied by well chosen and well-rendered illustrations and photographs that communicate the book’s argument eloquently. . . . [S]cholars interested in the performance of identity,
fashion, and African American culture will find Slaves to Fashion a thought-provoking jumping-off point for further investigation.” — Shari Perkins, Theatre Journal

Slaves to Fashion is a major contribution to the study of race and performance and charts a fertile terrain for future investigation for anyone interested in the social and cultural politics of black self-making.” — Douglas A. Jones Jr., TDR: The Drama Review

Slaves to Fashion tells a story which has hitherto been almost completely neglected…. It is an elegantly argued and theoretically informed work that for the first time tells the story of the dandy in the black Atlantic world… Miller’s intelligent and sensitive readings of literary, visual, and performative texts convincingly demonstrate that black sartorial aesthetics, black identity formation, and cosmopolitanism are intimately bound up with each other.”

— Ulf Schulenberg, Amerikastudien

“[T]he book provides a provocative account of some truly memorable individuals and of a phenomenon that provides a wide, clear window onto the history of black style.” — Clare Corbould, American Studies

“A polished work of scholarship that succeeds in being both conceptually focused and ambitious in scope, Slaves to Fashion shows that the black dandy tradition is much richer, more various, and, yes, queerer than scholars have previously acknowledged. . . . Slaves to Fashion greatly advances our understanding of the black dandy and does so with an elegance and panache that is worthy of its subject.” — Elisa Glick, GLQ

“Clothes make the man and other intergendered subjectivities in this stimulating study of the social meaning of fashion in the black community. . . . [Miller]offers an incisive, nuanced analysis of a rich vein of cultural history.” — Publishers Weekly

"Monica L. Miller’s monumental and brilliant study Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity reveals Miller at every turn to be a visionary and probing intellectual…. This study is impressive in the extent to which it forces us to expand the conventional and familiar definitions of the dandy and to think about the figure in more complex ways, while both demystifying and expanding the racial and sexual epistemologies that are sometimes associated with him." — Riché Richardson, Clio

“A model for cultural studies, Slaves to Fashion brings the rich,interdisciplinary scholarship of the black dandy into the twenty-first century, serving the fields of both black and American studies.” — Pamela J. Rader, MELUS

“Encompassing the genres of drama, fiction, photography, film, and sculpture, Miller's study highlights the ways in which diaspora can be located in the image and the imagination of the body and its garments. . . . The value of Miller's text is in its historical range.” — Alisa K. Braithwaite, Modern Fiction Studies

“Miller has performed a cultural excavation, sifting through fragments of visual and literary culture to trace a history of black style and assemble the first history of black dandyism. Her work deserves a place among the finer recent contributions to black performance studies. . . .” — Kristin Moriah, Callaloo

“Miller’s study incites a much-needed dialogue between existing scholarship on the figure of the dandy—particularly its performative queering of modern narratives of masculinity and nationhood—and the legacies of imperialism and slavery that attest to the constant, if silent, presence of race and racializing discourse in those same narratives. . . . [A]n absorbing and timely study of the black dandy.” — Jaime Hanneken, Comparative Literature

“Monica L. Miller's book is the first of its kind: a lengthy written study of the history of black dandyism and the role that style has played in the politics and aesthetics of African and African American identity. She draws from literature, film, photography, print ads, and music to reveal the black dandy's underground cultural history and generate possibilities for the future. . . . [U]ncanny feats of scholarship that illustrate ways in which the figure of the black dandy has been an elephant-in-the-room — albeit a particularly well-dressed one.” — D. Scot Miller, San Francisco Bay Guardian

“Monica L. Miller’s close readings dazzle, and her historical reach—confident and unforced—is as long as the transnational arc of black dandyism here is wide. Arresting, discerning, responsible, and urgent, Slaves to Fashion is path-breaking. Literary criticism, visual history, and black Atlantic studies never looked so good.” — Maurice O. Wallace, author of Constructing the Black Masculine

“Revising and augmenting scholarship on minstrelsy, literary representations of blackness, and black sartorial aesthetics and visual culture, Slaves to Fashion is an impressive and meticulously researched treatise on the history of the black dandy. It fills a gap in the scholarship on the cultural politics of black self-fashioning.” — E. Patrick Johnson, author of Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Monica L. Miller is Assistant Professor of English at Barnard College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Stylin' Out 1

1. Mungo Macaroni: The Slavish Swell 27

2. Crimes of Fashion: Dressing the Part from Slavery to Freedom 77

3. W. E. B. Du Bois's "Different Diasporic Race Man 137

4. "Passing Fancies": Dandyism, Harlem Modernism, and the Politics of Visuality 176

5. "You Look Beautiful Like That": Black Dandyism and the Histories of Black Cosmopolitanism 219

Notes 291

Bibliography 347

Index 371
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2010 William Sanders Scarborough Prize, presented by the Modern Language Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4603-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4585-5
Publicity material