For years there has been an ongoing debate about the importance of dressing up at social dances. Understand that dressing up is a part of the culture if you are doing an African American vernacular dance.
I’m going to explore why dressing up matters, how it shows up often in Black Culture as a means of being respectful not only to yourself, but to the events and the people running it, and how you can find respectful ways to dress up without alienating the black members of your community.
First let’s just talk about the importance of dressing up in Black Culture. Black culture is generally more conservative than most other cultures in America. This is because of our feelings of having to be better than other races to be taken as seriously, but also from style being a big important factor in black community. You get dressed nice for church, for God, and anything else important.
These ideas are taught at a young age; – if you want to be taken seriously you need to dress up. So the general rule is that anytime you step out of your home you need to make sure your style not only reflects yourself, but reflects the importance of the event that you’re going to.
This is why we make fun of our white counterparts for wearing shorts so often: if it isn’t meant to be cute, and it’s not for physical activities, don’t wear it out. This is in part because white culture tends to not take us seriously if we are not in the most professional version of what is appropriate to be wearing in every interaction. It’s incredibly racist and very frustrating – what it means is that to be taken seriously, you have to wear business wear into an ER. So, like we often do, we took it upon ourselves to make this poor situation better. If we have to be better dressed than everyone in the room then we BETTER be the BEST-dressed of everyone in the room.
If you hadn’t noticed, there is a trend among black dancers to be some of the best dressed people in the room no matter what time of day it is. A great example of this is Damon Stone. The man does not wear shorts unless he’s working out and generally he is almost always in a polo or a suit. Personally unless I’m in a lot of pain you’ll never see me outside of dress clothes at an event; to me, it feels disrespectful. Being dressed up is more than just a style thing, it is also acknowledging respect for the event you’re at. It is also to acknowledge respect for yourself and for your position in society, and the fact that you’re an adult who can and should be able to find decently Nice Clothing. I frequently see my white counterparts less dressed up than I am and I know I know it is not a cultural norm for them, but it always seems to feel disrespectful to the person running the event who has taken time out of their life to create something for your enjoyment. To me the respectful thing to do this is dress as though you appreciate that, to put in some effort just like they have put effort into your life.
So you may be asking what do you mean by “dress up”? What if I’m poor? What I mean by “dress up” is you should wear clothes that fit your personality and personal style, accentuate parts of your body that you would like people to look at, make you feel good about yourself, and just show generally that you put some effort into how you look.
This can mean different things for different people and is not particularly gendered in any way. You could be as conservative as this gentleman,
or as fashion-forward as Lenny Kravitz.
I encourage you to consider the privilege you have to never have to dress up to do something simple in your life for someone to take you seriously. Then take the pride that you could have from showing your best self and consider dressing up at dances. (Dressing should up focus on individuality and not problematic ideas that can’t be achieved by other ethnicities. )