Friday, October 28, 2016

Culture: The Trendsetting clothing of "Do The Right Thing"

- The Daily Beast

Do The Right Thing, one of the best movies of the ’80s, instantly elevated Spike Lee into an Oscar-nominated bracket of directors—storytellers who weave art, race, counterculture, and social politics into the fabric of modern American life.
Set in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, the controversial, powerful 1989 film takes place on the hottest day of the year, when sub-cultures clash and racial tensions reach a boiling point.
The story was one never fully explored in modern cinema, but more important, we witnessed a largely black community’s narrative fully realized in our distinct vernacular, music, and dress. In other words: The movie relied heavily on how style identified, divided, and ultimately dictated outcomes good and bad.

 Veteran costume designer Ruth E. Carter was responsible for looks that would, eventually, set precedents for the future of urban streetwear and would subsequently influence such future projects as A Different World, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the hip-hop collective Native Tongues, and music festival Afro Punk.

More political than trendy, the costume palette was a sign of the times: 1989, summertime, vibrant, bold, fresh, youthful, red/black/green, Brooklyn. Much like what was seen in Spike’s previous effort, School Daze, the establishment of a communal lookbook focused on location and fashion climate.
The cameo by Jean-Michel Basquiat delivered a more conscious message: the transformation of black art from primitive to abstract, and with it the interjection of an Afrocentric way of life and dress. It was, in layman terms, urban avant garde.

 Carter’s sartorial capture of Bed-Stuy in the film was spot on: Girls wore tube tops and short shorts while guys donned vests, fresh, clean, moderately priced sneakers, and knee length shorts. This would determine the major difference between neighbors, and between, say, Harlem and Brooklyn. The former is more about loud, label-heavy looks while the latter evokes something more ethereal, poetic, and organic in the muted, ethnic-print garb mostly seen on the older, supporting players like ML (Paul Benjamin), Coconut Sid (Frankie Faison), Sweet Dick Willie (Robin Harris), and Da Mayor (Ossie Davis).

 Over 25  years later, a new generation of artists has embraced the aesthetic of this classic. Andre Singleton, artist and co-founder of the social political movement THE VERY BLACK PROJECT, grew up idolizing Lee and Carter’s sartorial collaboration. When asked about the styling, Singleton’s eyes lit up with admiration. “Timeless, expressive, colorful! It helped shape me as a little brown boy growing up in Kansas City, Missouri. I thought I was in the movie with my gray Lens Crafter glasses, biking shorts, and jerseys,” he exclaims. Singleton himself worked for Lee on Inside Man and 40 Acres & A Mule, and admits that his own style of dress was heavily influenced by DTRT. “Movies like Do the Right Thing and shows like A Different World were our babysitters, and more and more [generations] can build a connection, bond with the re-runs. Overall it raised me. These people looked and dressed like me and I was inspired!”

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