Sasha Jenkins’ lively documentary Fresh Dressed nimbly chronicles the rise and rise of hip-hop fashions. Connecting the dots from slave and church culture to gangs and crews and ultimately to designers like Sean John, Fubu, Ecko, and Karl Kani, Jenkins shows how clothing has been a means for expression, acceptance, status, and authenticity for African Americans.
Fresh Dressed uses a plethora of talking heads including academic Dr. Todd Boyd and former Vogue editor André Leon Talley, entrepreneur Damon Dash and rappers ranging from Sean “Puffy” Combs and Kanye West to old-school hip-hopers Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin to make its points about how this urban culture went mainstream.
Some of the film’s best anecdotes come from folks like Mayor, whose enormous sneaker collection is a result of his getting laughed at for having a cheap pair of sneakers as a kid, or Dapper Dan, a Harlem tailor who re-appropriated (although some would say sampled) famous logos on his clothes, before he was shut down for copyright infringement.
Jenkins judiciously weaves photos, clips, videos, animation, and fashion shows in with the interviews, so viewers can reminisce about the bygone era, and get more understanding from Run-D.M.C.’s song, “My Adidas.”
Yet the very specific point of Fresh Dressed—that is drilled in to viewers throughout much of the film’s second half—is how members of the community wanted to aspire to designer brands like Polo, Tommy Hillfiger and other labels. At first, they “boosted” (stole) the clothing and resold it. Eventually, they worked at creating clothing “For Us, By Us,” that not only represented rap music, but took the baggy pants made by Cross Colours and put them on TV in shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and In Living Color. This trend opened the floodgates to other musicians-designers, and how some of them fared is fascinating. It does not go unnoticed that many of these brands fought to be sold in major department stores and were rejected in a not so subtle form of racism and classism.
Fresh Dressed acknowledges the impact these clothes have in popular culture, and how the staying power of rap and hip-hop meant this was more than just a fad or trend. What emerges from this insightful film is the measure of integrity that these musicians and their fans that support them seek through their distinct and highly personal visual statements of individuality.
Fresh Dressed opens in Philly area theaters today.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and film critic. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Follow him on twitter @garymkramer.