On the first day of my Ethnic Costume Design class, my students said, “Ms. H., I can sorta’ tell the influences of different cultures in fashion design, but how do we really know?” After discussion, the students and I came up with four criteria to identify specific cultural fashion designs: It was color, type of fabric, motifs/symbols, and form. We were then able to use these criteria to identify different cultures and their clothing. For example, traditional Scottish garments were usually green, black, and red; the motif is plaid, the fabric is wool-like, and the form is a skirt and full blouse.
American culture is an amalgamation of elements from all cultures of the world. Most countries are homogeneous – with a basic sameness. Quite different from America. We have all types of looks, food, music, clothing. From Greek, Asian, you name it. We have so much cultural creativity to pull from. And in turn, cultural designs can help us learn more about one another.
“Designed items can be held and physically examined and is easier for understanding cultural differences than abstract ideas;”
By Penny Storm, Functions of Dress: Tool of Culture and the Individual
As an African American, coming of age during the Black awareness movement, I found appearance in clothing styles directly told one of the many stories about American cultures. With the growth of the Black awareness movement came Black’s embracing African cultural garb, and this ethnic style was ultimately seen on the fashion runways of New York. Besides fashion design, cultural design may show up in interior design. For example, you could see a great presence of African paintings and sculptures featured as decorative accents in mid-century modern (1960’s) home décor. Today this art style may be referred to as ‘primitive or ethnic’ home accents and is seen mixed in with contemporary or modern home décor. The knowledge of my culture, as well as learning about the culture of other Americans, has served me well. I understand, I appreciate, and I use this knowledge as an artist.
“I created this hand-printed decorative pillow using traditional hand stamped African Adinkra motifs. I put a contemporary spin on it by using trending interior design colors of grey, blue, and gold.”
As for my design students, we all had a wonderful experience learning more about our own ethnic groups and those of the other students through their class presentations. A Japanese student modeled the kimono that she designed and included a traditional tea ceremony as part of her presentation. A student of Greek heritage shared a story about celebrating their patron saint, St. Nicholas. I was so proud to have my students explore their own culture by learning about the traditional costume of their heritage and learning about their classmates’ various cultures. Finally, my aha moment came a few months later when I saw a 9-year-old Asian boy walking in Chicago with his Asian father wearing African kente’ print sports shoes! Talk about American cultural expression!
“Evidence of America’s diverse cultural influence: contemporary sneakers with traditional African Kente cloth print.”
Rhonda Hardy has a lifelong appreciation for art, culture and city living. Using her skills in pattern making, textiles, fashion and cultural history, Rhonda started her company, Designs for Urban Comforts in 2015. The company’s original concept derived from she and her sister’s love for beautiful spaces and family celebrations 16 year ago and so the company has evolved into what it is today. One of the home décor product lines is called the Bronzeville Babies Collection. This collection has received city-wide recognition at art exhibits throughout Chicago.
As president and lead designer for DFUC her responsibilities also include collaborating with other artists to market and merchandise their art products. Rhonda looks forward to expanding her product lines as well as the work of other artists and is planning for a successful upcoming 2020 Christmas holiday season.