On Wednesdays We Wear Prints: Fashion Rules in the African Atlantic

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Stella McCartney Spring/Summer 2018 ready-to-wear fashion collection, Paris, Oct. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Bronwen Everill, lecturer in history at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge University, and author of Abolition and Empire in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Cambridge Series in Imperial and Post-colonial Studies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Follow her @BronwenEverill.

In 2017, Stella McCartney ran into trouble during Paris fashion week. Her faux pas was cultural appropriation: using Nigerian Ankara fabrics, reportedly pretending to have “discovered” them, and dressing her almost exclusively white group of models in the fabric.

In 1791, British traveller Anna Maria Falconbridge complained of the failure of her own attempt to promote cultural appropriation of European fashions, while describing her visit to the Temne, in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Spending time with Clara, the wife of the royal secretary, “I endeavoured to persuade her to dress in the European way, but to no purpose; she would tear the clothes off her back immediately after I put them on. Finding no credit could be gained by trying to new fashion this Ethiopian Princess, I got rid of her as soon as possible.”[1] Now, maybe it’s just me, but I always think Anna Maria would have given Gretchen Wieners a run for her money as Regina George’s BFF. Her book, Two Voyages in Sierra Leone, is full of snarky comments about fashion in Sierra Leone, but it comes across as so much posturing. Continue reading

Guest Post: Dress and West African Desire

Jessica Blake is a PhD candidate in U.S. History at the University of California-Davis, where she is completing a dissertation entitled, “A Taste for Africa: Imperial Fantasy and Clothes Commerce in Revolutionary-era New Orleans.” She is currently a dissertation fellow at the Winterthur Museum and Archive.

Linen Market, Dominica, by Agostino Brunias (1780), Yale Center for British Art

Linen Market, Dominica, by Agostino Brunias (1780), Yale Center for British Art

In 1808, the New Orleans trader John Joly placed an advertisement in the Moniteur de la Louisiane for a shipment of large Angola shawls (grands shals d’Angola), a rectangular cloth of African construction meant to drape over the shoulders. Joly marketed the cloth for the general consumer, making no indication that he considered it a product intended solely for use by enslaved or free people of color.[1]
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A Humorous(?) Post about People Traveling by Canoe

Crossing the bar of Gallinas River, near Sierra Leone and Liberia. During the 1820s and 1830s, slave ships stopped at the mouth of the Gallinas River, to collect slaves. Image taken from The illustrated London News. Originally published/produced in London, 1849. British Library Images Online, Shelfmark P.P.7611.237, filename 080997

Crossing the bar of Gallinas River, near Sierra Leone and Liberia. During the 1820s and 1830s, slave ships stopped at the mouth of the Gallinas River, to collect slaves. Image taken from The illustrated London News. Originally published/produced in London, 1849. British Library Images Online, Shelfmark P.P.7611.237, filename 080997

This summer I started research for my second book project, which I will admit feels a bit ridiculous when my first book project is still in process. I’m blithely ignoring this problem at the moment. In brief, the project, currently-horribly-titled “Aquatic Foodways” asks two related questions: 1) Where, why, and how did people fight over food when crossing water in the early modern Atlantic, and 2) What happened when people disembarked and interacted with indigenous peoples as they searched for sustenance? After a month of preliminary research at the British Library this summer, I’m decidedly more interested in the second question, but have a sense that I’ll need to answer the first question before proceeding forward. Continue reading