Tahirah Hairston, deputy editor of a Condé Nast lifetsyle site called Lenny Letter, relies on authoritative sources – her Detroit family – to document the distinctive role of linen garments as “a summer uniform that I associate with all the black people I know over 40 years old.”
The New York journalist writes about “that art of staying cool” in a post headlined “Black People and the Beauty of Summer Linen” that’s part sociology, part anthropology and mostly instructive fashion history.
The lightweight, breathable fabric is a practical and obvious choice for warmer months, yet there’s a distinction in the way that black people wear it.
It’s not just a means to keep the breeze flowing in the summer heat, it’s a look. Always starch-pressed. Always accompanied by a two-step, probably to some Frankie Beverly and Maze or Charlie Wilson.
The fabric is usually white or beige, and sometimes pastel, lime green, orange or tan. The color white looks radiant on dark skin, which means that a black person in white linen immediately stands out and has a look of regality. The look embodies an entire generation and their love for going out . . . and, as my grandmother would say, their penchant for looking “sharp.” . . .
Black people prefer their linen starch-pressed with pleats down the front of the trousers. And while the fabric is also a signifier of leisurely downtime, black people wear linen as an option for dressing up for special occasions.
Her father’s mother and a close friend, Denise Pratt of Detroit, “told me that my dad adopted the same linen uniform after seeing his uncles wearing it while he was growing up,” writes Hairston, a 28-year-old Howard University jouralism graduate. “Over the phone, they reminisce about going to Hudson’s and picking out their all-linen outfits ahead of whatever artist was coming to Detroit to perform that weekend.”
She quotes Pratt as saying: “Detroit is known for its cars and dressing.”
Hairston prefers more casual styles now, but expects to embrace the tradition as she ages.
“What I really aspire to be is a black auntie in my linen two-piece with oversize shades, two-stepping at an oldies concert (probably Erykah Badu by that point).”
— Alan Stamm
Hat tip to Detour Detroit newsletter for linking to Tahira Hairston’s post this week.