11 Black Fashion Luminaries Who Made History

Throughout American history, the Black community’s contributions to fashion and design have been chronically overlooked, under-reported, and uncredited. From extraordinary figures like Elizabeth Keckley (a former slave who became First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal seamstress) to seminal events like the “Battle of Versailles” (a fashion show walked by predominantly Black models that marked a turning point for American ready-to-wear), history is rife with ignored incidents of Black creativity. In an overdue effort to shed deserved light on these contributions, we’ve put together a list of books — memoirs, biographies, and historical accounts — that detail the lives and works of unsung Black visionaries who helped shape the fashion industry with their ideas and creative output.
To help us build this reading list, we turned to Jasmine Helm and Joy Davis, two fashion historians who co-founded Unravel (along with Dana Goodin), a podcast that expounds on everything from Claire McCardell’s iconic ballet flat to the history of secondhand clothing. With their bird’s-eye view of sartorial culture throughout human history, they helped us pinpoint 11 (a small number of countless) important Black players, movements, and moments in the world of style. Scroll ahead to educate yourself on the Black community’s momentous contributions to fashion. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to chime in with your suggested reading material in the comments below.
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