For the second Black History Month post, I am in conversation with Grant Harris, owner & Chief Style Consultant at Image Granted, a Washington, D.C.-based image consulting company dedicated to solving the complex image, style, and fashion issues of today’s professional man. Grant has featured in The Wall Street Journal, TIME Magazine, Men’s Health, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, CNN, and others.
LM: My first post for Black History Month 2013 put the focus on Hip-Hop as a form of blackface, perpetuating the negative black stereotype and the violent, sag-ass Hip-Hop culture. The costume, huge t-shirts, baseball hats, and low-slung baggy pants are based on farce, and an unstable and unsafe way to dress. Essentially, I see this costume as a rock tied around the neck, a uniform keeping young men stagnant and blind to any other reality. Can you comment on this, Grant?
GH: Many black men think of a suit and tie when they hear the word “uniform”, but there are many uniforms that African-American men can wear to present themselves as a competent part of society and to positively influence those around them – military-influenced uniforms, uniforms of higher education, medicine, aviation and others all have positive connotations for black men, but there is a deficit of modern black male role models for today’s youth to look up to.
Black History Month focuses on yesteryear and the men who helped shaped the present, but it rarely if ever focuses on men in the present helping to shape the future. Young black males with no direction or guidance end up with few choices, and turn to the streets, athletics, or music. Popular media rarely focuses on the positive black male, but instead shines the light on rappers, athletes, and entertainment moguls as if these lives are normal and customary.
There are other uniforms which degrade and decline the image of the black male in society. The uniform of XXL t-shirts, sagging pants, sneakers, snap back hats and gold chains only displaces the positivity afforded to those before us. Most of the African-American men wearing these “uniforms” have no idea of the culture from whence they came.
Sagging pants comes from prison where inmates aren’t allowed to wear belts due to the potential of violence, and therefore are left with sagging pants. Wearing baggy clothes makes it easier to conceal weapons. The uniform of gang members, prison inmates, ex-convicts and the like are detrimental not only to unsupported inner city youth, but to the overall growth of young African-American males in the U.S. impacting their ability to make a difference on an international level.
LM: I used to volunteer with an agency that pulled wardrobes together for people entering the workforce, and every month, I dressed at-risk youth from Eva’s Phoenix, a wonderful organization that helps street kids get their lives together, in clothes appropriate for job interviews.
One day, I worked with a young African-Canadian man who arrived in baggy clothes and no idea what he should wear. We found a good-fitting suit for him, some shirts, shoes, and I taught him to tie a tie. He had never seen himself look like this before, and he was stunned.
“I look exactly like Jay-Z,” he said, eyes wide.
I really felt blessed to give this young man a different perspective of himself which hopefully opened his imagination to where he could be, and make him realize that he didn’t have to exist in the life he currently lived.
Grant, are there any organizations in the U.S. that help youth turn their lives around with clothing and presentation?
GH: There are organizations around the world helping to improve the lives of men and women through their appearance and presentation. The goal of these organizations is not to supply the masses with fast fashion, but instead to equip them with the necessary basics that will build a foundation for the future. In Washington, D.C., there are several non-profit organizations that provide presentation services:
MenzFit An educational non–profit organization ensuring long–term gainful employment and financial fitness to low–income men with little formal education. Clients receive professional interview clothing, career development and financial literacy services.
Martha’s Table Martha’s Table deals with the immediate effects of poverty and finds long-term solutions with education, nutrition and family support services. At the core of Martha’s Table family support services is a clothing operation where everyone can shop together and choose how they will present and express themselves to the world.
Strive DC STRIVE DC was established in August 1999 to combat unemployment in Washington, DC, and fill the void of effective programs seeking to accomplish this. Although independently funded and governed, STRIVE DC is one of a network of centers modeled after the acclaimed East Harlem, New York STRIVE employment program, established in 1984.
LM: What is your best style advice for young, at-risk African-American men?
GH: All African-American men are at risk. Not only because of hostile surroundings or because they come from broken homes. Black males are at risk of becoming no more than the status quo, or even worse, becoming an average statistic.
At-risk doesn’t always mean gang violence, and drugs. It also means that black men are at risk at losing their place in society. Black men are no longer the minority in the US, and we do not earn as many privileges as we have in the past. We are at risk of becoming obsolete not just from black-on-black crime, but by the threat of upper class America becoming the only class.
The best way to keep pace with progress is to dress, not for the life you have, but for the life you want.
Further reading: Please pull up your pants.