‘I Want to Wear It’: Fashioning Black Feminism in Mahogany (1975)

by Kimberly Lamm


In this article I focus on the portrayal of fashionable clothing in the 1975 film Mahogany and connect it to the history of African American women engaging with sartorial self-representation as a means to assert their visibility in American culture. My aim is to analyse Mahogany’s emphasis on brightly-coloured highly-ornamented clothing, which has a long history of signifying bad taste and became part of accusations of racial and sexual inferiority. I want to show how Mahogany’s representation of fashion undermines the historically entrenched bias against colourful, highly adorned clothing while also revealing how this bias has played a subtle but significant role in the racism and sexism black women have encountered, further (but not finally) impeding them from the forms of recognition the category of femininity offers. Mahogany represents those impediments and repeats the sexual and racial commodification underlying them, but also resists them (albeit quite subtly) through the film’s loving display of fashion and its attention to the work of designing and making clothes. Mahogany tells a story of bright sartorial resistance that can be understood as an articulation of black feminist desires for women of colour to be able to compose the images through which their bodies are perceived.

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