Blackface Chic: High Fashion, Racechange and Cultural Tourism

In: Social Issues

Submitted By arshar
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Blackface Chic:
High Fashion, Racechange and Cultural Tourism

Race, Identity, and Public Culture

Popular cultural representations, in particular those in the fashion industry, have recently reinvented a historically loaded image in their performances: blackface.1 In the past several years, blackface and other images of physical transformations of race have appeared in a number of high and popular fashion contexts including a “yellowface” fashion show in Shanghai sponsored by Karl Lagerfeld, supermodel Heidi Klum photographed wearing only chocolate syrup, an issue of French Vogue featuring a white model in black body paint and elaborate “African-inspired” costuming, a photograph in V Magazine of two models, one in blackface and one white, wrestling, two episodes of America’s Next Top Model involving racial and biracial transformation, and an editorial naming American Apparel and showing a woman in blackface. Blackface, though in a contemporary form more accurately described by the term “racechange,” or the performance of one race by another (Gubar 2000), far from being taboo have become an aesthetic in the fashion industry. Though popular magazines and newspapers such as Essence and a number of fashion blogs have responded to particular instances of racial transformation, there is relatively little scholarly work on the rise of racechange in contemporary fashion. This essay attempts to fill that gap in scholarship by examining racial transformation through the lens of cultural and critical studies as well as historical analyses of race, consumer culture, and fashion. Specifically, it asks whether racechange and racial transformation, or the costuming of an individual of one race to look like another race, is a politically transformative gesture that elevates the status of the color body in a liberatory fashion or a performative act that is so…...

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