Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dancehall Culture and Fashion

From the urban ghettos of Kingston, to the rural districts of the countryside, dancehall music is the most potent form of popular culture in Jamaica. Brought into the mainstream in the 70's and 80's by such acts as Shabba Ranks, U-Roy, Barrington Levy, Lady Saw, Yellowman and Eek-A-Mouse, dancehall quickly informed the zeitgeist. For Jamaica's ghetto youth, from among whom come its most notable and creative artists, dancehall is undoubtedly their favourite recreational form. But to think of dancehall only within a sphere of consumerism would be almost completely unsound. It is a field of dynamic cultural production, influencing language, beliefs, mores, behaviour and of course, fashion. Styles of clothing, haircuts and jewellry, once only worn to dancehall sessions, have now become everyday garb, influencing designers locally and beyond our shores. When thinking of local designers who have made dancehall culture their forte, Earl Turner AKA Biggie, easily comes to mind. This Jamaica based fashion designer never fails to amuse his fans with his provocative, jaw-dropping designs. Turner can easily be attributed with bringing the 'edge' to Dancehall attire, single-handedly. Adding flavor to the fashion industry for the past two decades, his reputation as a dancehall designer and stylist extends across the nation with a chic clientele to his name. Turner’s creations have always been inspired by the sex appeal of a woman's body; his designs seemingly catering to females who have the attitude and flamboyance to wear them. Little self-control and a whole lot of skin is what this sexual dancehall designer is known for.
Dancehall fashion has seen a tremendous change over the years. Gone are the days when patched or leather suits in motley hues, fish net stockings and colorful wigs of the 80's. Gone also is the baggy male silhouette of the 90's.
On the internation scene, when one thinks of Jamaican popular culture in fashion, Christian Dior's recent Rasta collection and corresponding ad campaigns easily come to mind. The music of the UK (grime, trip-hop, dubstep) is heavily influenced by dancehall, and just like in Jamaica, the music of course influnces what the youth wear there. Subsequently, the cultural interpolations don't end in Europe. For years, the Japanese have claimed the island as a favourite vacation destination. The quasi-symbiotic interconnection of cultures have resulted in Japanese Dancehall Queens like Junko. Their Harajuku fashion, also, seems to take many cues from dancehall fashion with its brightness and sheer daring. On the matter of Harajuku... Gwen Stefani, for years, has cued her music and personal style from Jamaican/dancehall culture. Having worked with Lady Saw, Bounty Killer, Sly& Robbie, and taken influence from ska and rocksteady (early dancehall), Stefani took inspiration from Rastafarianism for her clothing line, L.A.M.B.
Having provided inspiration for designers, artistes, and fun-lovers the world-over, Jamaican culture, indeed its music, is now of iconic status in world affairs. Just as the insignia of Che has become ubiquitous on tee's and bags, so too the images of Bob Marley, and the colours of red, green, black and gold.

From top: Gregory Isaacs in front of his African Museum store on Chancery Lane, Kingston; Kingston's youth decked out in fedoras; dancehall girls; Grammy-award winning dancehall pioneer Shabba Ranks; Dior ad campaign; L.A.M.B. bags and accessories; designs from Biggie, showcased at Kingston's Island Couture; UK urban artist, Roots Manuva; Harajuku girls; dancehall queen Junko; M.I.A. hanging with the boyz; dancehall star Tifa (Images from SociaLingua used by permission)


  1. I have also seen where sports brands such as PUMA and ADIDAS have revived their sales by seeking inspiration from the Jamaican culture...interesting post

  2. yes, good point! PUMA has an entire Jamaican arm, with Kibwe McGann and Usain Bolt as recent faces for ad campaigns. thanx much!