Fashion has been used as a tool by people in the Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora to build national and regional identities and also as a means of resistance. These five sources delineate historical and contemporary moments in which dress and design have been utilized to disseminate and signify cultural knowledges specific to the Caribbean.

Caribbean Carnival is an annual celebration with syncretic origins in Pagan and Catholic Europe, West Africa, the Caribbean (specifically Trinidad and Tobago), and the African diaspora at large. The festival originally took place from around Christmas time, until Ash Wednesday, a period of excess and gaiety before the inhibited sobriety of Lent. During the era of slavery, French and English planters living in the Caribbean organized public and private masquerade balls, but created legislation that prohibited most free and enslaved people from participating or even being in public. However, after emancipation, the festivities took on a new meaning of freedom — freedom of expression and freedom from bondage. “Playin’ mas,” or the masquerade, has remained the primary form of personal and cultural expression during Carnival time. As such, the history of Carnival dress and costumes not only charts a varied history of aesthetic tastes, but also a vast arena of complex negotiations of cultural identity, resistance, and power.

Man dressed in all white Carnivale outfit: white feathered wing harness, white bejeweled crown, white/silver sequin top and pants, and white gloves holding a bejeweled white scepter

Photography by Atsme. “Carnivale King Bonaire.” 2020.