A starred Booklist and glowing Kirkus Review for Tanisha Ford's Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl's Love Letter to the Power of Fashion

Apr 24, 2019
Starred Booklist Review
A colorful dashiki. A U.S. Navy leather bomber jacket. A Trayvon Martin hoodie. For academic, pop-culture expert, and fashionista Ford, growing up “projects light” with Black radical parents in conservative Fort Wayne, Indiana, these clothing items are talismans charting her evolution into an independent Black woman. Fashion and hair choices have always had particular significance for African Americans as protest against “being told all your life that your hair is wrong, your culture is primitive, your family is broken, your mind will never be good enough for college, your money will never be good enough for luxury.” Ford’s memoir explores the connections between Black style and Black struggle; her nostalgia for Nike “kicks” is tempered with pain over the crack and gang era they represented (“We watched as our parents’ freedom dreams morphed into crack vapor") and anger at Nike executives who “for damn sure weren’t showing up on our doorsteps to give their condolences to so-and-so’s mama after her kid was gunned down in their shoes or beaten and robbed for them.” Ford’s ultimate fashion achievement, successfully bucking racial profiling at a Louis Vuitton store, represents “enfranchisement . . . a feeling few black folk in this country get to feel.”
— Lesley Williams

Kirkus review
A professor and pop-culture observer finds insight behind the statement, "clothes are never just garments.” For Ford (African Studies and History/Univ. of Delaware; Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul, 2015, etc.) and her generation of black women who came of age in the 1980s and '90s, born to parents who embraced the civil rights and Black Is Beautiful movements, certain garments carried cultural import. In a narrative that progresses by discrete, chronological chapters, the author presents a kind of memoir of her life through certain iconic looks that she incorporated over the years, creating through hairstyle, clothes, and accessories a "powerful social skin." Her topics include the dashiki, baggy jeans, "coochie cutters," knee-high boots ("according to the churchgoing adults in our young lives, knee-high boots were…for club-hopping women, street walkers, strippers, and drug dealers' girlfriends"), bamboo earrings, the afro puff, and the hoodie. Each of these, she asserts, was a black innovation that encapsulated "rich, textured stories of our lives." The dashiki was adopted by black militants in the late 1960s as a symbol of pan-African struggle. In a humorous section, Ford describes the Jheri curl craze of the 1980s, sported by Michael Jackson and others. "Hands down," she writes, "the Jheri curl is the most maligned hairstyle in black history" as well as "the messiest…smelliest hairstyle ever invented." As the author delineates, many of the looks were inspired by urban culture and the emergent genre of hip-hop. As Ford moved from high school to college, where she majored in English literature and African studies, she continued to experiment with her look as a reflection of her inner self. Later, "with three degrees behind my name," she championed the hoodie look as a form of protest and sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement. An entertaining coming-of-age memoir from "a proud dashiki daughter, dressed in my own dreams." 
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