October 4th, 2011

Pushing the Boundaries of Black Style


THE best posts on the style blog Street Etiquette find its principals, Travis Gumbs and Joshua Kissi, in motion. As opposed to the fascistically frozen street-style snaps of The Sartorialist and others, these pictures are styled and plotted fictions but also affecting ones, depicting a pair of young black men taking ownership not just of the body and what goes on it, but also of the environment it moves in. No one ever smiles on Street Etiquette: there’s business to attend to.

Most days, the actual business of Mr. Kissi and Mr. Gumbs takes place in a work-space-cum-clubhouse on Bergen Street in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. With vintage sweaters hanging from the ceiling and art books lining the walls, this is the nerve center of the Brooklyn Circus, whose flagship store is just a few dozen steps away, and which is a key collaborative partner for Street Etiquette, which began as a basic beautiful-things blog in 2008 but is now one of the foremost online repositories of black style.

The posts on Street Etiquette straddle the modern and the historical. Mr. Gumbs and Mr. Kissi, both 22, highlight specific themes — floral prints, the saddle shoe and so on — modeling them and detailing their history. They are careful caretakers, respectful students, tailoring loyalists and handsome models.

And they have become Internet-age fashion polymaths: stylists and models, but also writers, preservationists, photographers and editors — and soon, designers and retailers.

Already they have wide reach: Street Etiquette receives 20,000 page views a day. The two men are the most prominent public faces of a new burst of black dandyism taking root in small retail outlets, niche fashion lines and thoughtful style blogs.

“There’s more than one cool now for black people,” Mr. Gumbs said on a recent Tuesday at the Bergen Street studio, wearing a slight wisp of a goatee and dark glasses that sharpened his round face. “When we were growing up, it was just one kind of cool.”

That was hip-hop, with its hegemonic style. But the men of Street Etiquette and their peers practice a deliberate elision of hip-hop style (except in the site’s early days, when the two were still shaking free of their Air Jordans). They even eschew the prim eccentricity of an Andre 3000, or the cosmopolitan flamboyance of Kanye West.

Instead, this generation emphasizes the basics: great fabrics, aggressive tailoring, thoughtful accessorizing. It’s a return to style as a source of dignity, a theme that has run through generations of black American style, from Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance to the civil rights era to the mixed messages of the hip-hop era.

Originally posted on the New York Times.

(image via NYT)

About the Author

Ronn Richardson
Ronn Richardson is a young PR professional from NYC who is determined to learn as much as he can despite any barriers that try to hinder him. Eager to see a change in the types of online publications that college students, young professionals and new-school entrepreneurs visit, he conceived Socialtik Mag.



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