BLAXPLOITATION STYLE LESSONS
By Will Morley, 16 December 2016
Aimed squarely at the urban African-American community, for a short period in the 70s a genre known as ‘blaxploitation’ ruled the cinema.
With scrappy production values but charismatic actors, these films attempted to speak directly to a young, black audience with contemporary music, language and street style that had been previously ignored. Cool characters, salacious violence and explicit nudity ensured crossover appeal, and studios jumped on the bandwagon – churning out low-budget efforts for a quick profit.
Critics have called out the lack of positivity (bloody revenge is a key theme), easy stereotypes and the (more often than not) white production teams behind them. But blaxploitation movies have still remained hugely influential. And while the oft-flamboyant fashion doesn’t translate directly, there are some key style lessons to be learnt – so listen up you jive muthas.
Black Samson is a bizarre movie about a benevolent owner of a topless bar, who’s rock-hard and goes about battering people with a massive stick if they try to intimidate anyone in his community. He also has a lion (it’s never explained why he has a lion, people just seem totally cool with it) and a sweet selection of dashikis (traditional African tops). As a side note, the actor playing Samson is called Rockne Tarkington. Solid.
A cheeky dashiki isn’t for everyone, but dude here knows how to rock one: by matching it with of-the-moment garms. Paired with an ASOS bomber in military green, slim jeans, fitted cap and clear-frame specs, the crisp white and burst of colour around the collar elevate his look. If this style is a bit too much for you, a long-length tee or Henley would be ideal to layer up with this winter.
Three the Hard Way
A record producer (Jim Brown), a PR man (Fred Williamson) and a martial artist (Jim Kelly) uncover a Neo-Nazi plot to poison the entire African-American community. Kelly plays a character called Mister Keyes (named Mister by his mother so he’d always be spoken to with respect), and is the high-kicking crux of the film. He goes full-tilt on the tonal and provides most of the action dressed head-to-toe in caramel leather.
The key to the tonal trend is subtly changing the colour of your pieces throughout your outfit. Model Oliver Cheshire gets it right by keeping his look understated in pastel pinks and greys, while also mixing unexpected pieces together. Nothing says pro-level confidence like a trackie top under a formal double-breasted suit jacket.
Rudy Ray Moore was a stand-up comedian and actor best known for his character Dolemite: a sweary, Kung-Fu-fighting pimp (he featured in the video for ODB’s Got Your Money), who never shied away from a ridiculous hat. But his 'fits in Monkey Hustle are next level. When all together, his golden grandma-style bowler, floral embroidered cropped blazer and high-waisted pants with a bare chest are a thing of bonkers beauty.
Like Rudy Ray Moore, Off-White founder Virgil Abloh knows that floral embroidery can add a touch of individuality to any item. Breaking his outfit down is simple – basic, boxy pocket tee, plain sneaks, and blue jeans accentuated with a snake and flower design. As long as everything else is a little pared back, you can always have that one item that goes all-out.
Although the director didn’t consider it to be part of the blaxploitation genre, it’d be remiss not to mention Shaft. It's not as ragingly political as fellow 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, but Richard Roundtree as John Shaft proved there was room for a strong, stylish, African-American leading man. Not just in 'black' cinema, but in mainstream viewing, too. You can pull any piece from Shaft’s wardrobe and it would still be fire today – but we’re going to focus on his gloves, in the same leather as that iconic jacket.
Check out designer Zac Posen, posin’ here in his blue-leather gloves to match his suit and tie. While he’s never going to be as dope as Shaft (no one ever will be), his wide-brimmed hat and colour-matched ensemble is pure 70s awesomeness.