Early fashion theorists argued that dress styles became popular through a process of “mimicry,” by which they meant that social elites set standards of fashion which trickled down to the middle class and then were mimicked by working people. Does this theory of mimicry best explain why Black beauty culture flourished in North America between 1900 and 1960? Why or why not?

Black beauty culture flourished in America between 1900 and 1960 despite, rather than because of, movements that mimicked white upper-class fashion. It was when Black people abandoned such imitative trends as hair-straightening and skin-whitening that a distinctive Black aesthetic was able to develop.

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It was in the first half of the twentieth century that Black beauty culture became more distinct from the Eurocentric beauty culture of white Americans, a phenomenon which first became clear in debates over practices such as skin whitening and hair straightening. The clothes of Black people who could afford to dress well still imitated the formal fashions worn by white people, and this remained true even as Black culture became more prominent in the jazz age.

In "Black Women and Beauty Culture in 20th-Century America" (summary attached below), Maxine Leeds Craig traces the development of a distinctively Black aesthetic in the early twentieth century. Styles and practices that clearly mimicked those of the white community were widely criticized. One of the most important political elements in these critiques was the way in which imitative beauty practices could be used by Black people to "pass" as white and therefore be able to enter segregated spaces. This was widely regarded as an act of treachery within the Black community.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, hair-straightening was one of the biggest bones of contention in Black beauty, with various painful treatments involving hot combs used by Black women to mimic the appearance of White women's hair. However, by the 195os, Rastafarians of both sexes had influenced fashion to such an extent that the reverse effect was observable, and trends for the whole country came to be based on the texture of Black people's hair. In hairstyles, as in other areas of fashion, the Black aesthetic developed despite the early tendency towards mimicry, not because of it.

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