When the words fashion and Barbados are used in the same sentence it is easy for your mind to immediately go to global superstar Rihanna. However, long before fashion was ‘fashionable’, it was used as an art form, a form of expression, a form of protection and as the currency which many used to announce their value and worth when the world insisted otherwise.
Early post-colonial Barbados saw many Bajans struggling to find their footing in the world and on the island. New clothes, nice clothes were a luxury and from generation to generation ‘old time stories’ detail the painstaking care required to maintain the quality and integrity of these pieces. Long before sustainability was popular, it was our culture to repair clothes by hand, to buy better instead of more and to hand wash clothing using several innovative measures to maintain the original appearance and condition of the fabric.
Church was one of the places where these cherished outfits were worn. The Sunday best clothes were always clean and carefully starched. “Cleanliness was next to Godliness” and this emanated through our clothing. Glimpses of this can still be seen via Christmas in Queens Park. This annual event, started in the early 1900s, sees Barbadians from across the island gather in Queen’s Park on Christmas Day. Colourful outfits sometimes bordering on costume adorn the wearers with the best dressed and most outstanding outfits featured in the local newspaper.
Of course, we also love a celebration and there is none greater than our annual Crop Over Festival. This celebration spans the course of two months and culminates with a day of masquerade known as Kadooment. Costumes are created inspired by historical, cultural and global events often using dazzling fabrics and intricate bead and feather work which thousands wear as they jump in the parade.
Present day fashion in Barbados shares many similarities but also differences with that of our past. While we still use fashion as a part of our identity the approach has become more relaxed. With greater access as well as the invention of cheaper, faster fashion, global trends which previously took years to reach us are now being employed in our day to day. However some trends from our ancestors are still maintained today. We still love bright outstanding colours and loud prints and we still understand the concept of buying better instead of more.
2014 CFDA Style Icon and arguably the most famous Barbadian ever, Rihanna is the high note that we want to close on. One of the world’s most recognisable celebrities, Rihanna became a global name when she used fashion to break from a self-described cookie cutter image and emerged as a risk taking, trendsetting icon. In her acceptance speech for the CFDA award Rihanna summed up her style and pretty much the entire Barbadian fashion experience in this way “ …Fashion has been an outlet for me to express myself, to speak up, to say who I am and be very loud about it”