The expansion of fashion is often understood as the result of the violent colonial enterprises of European countries around the globe. However, fashion in colonial contexts extended beyond the simple adoption — or imposition — of the styles of dress preferred by European elites. In different cases, colonial peoples expressed their identities through fashion, uniquely combining elements from the cultures of both the colonizers and the colonized. In this process, fashion became a tool through which hierarchies of race, ethnicity, religion, and other social categories could be constructed and expressed. As such, fashion in colonial contexts can reveal both cultural encounters and the variety of tensions that emerged from them.

Oil painting of a white Spanish noble woman and her black slave with coconut & coconut trees in the background

Vicente Albán, “Sra. Principal con su negra Esclava” (Noble Woman with Her Black Slave), ca. 1783. Oil on canvas, 81.3 × 106 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund (M.2014.89.1).