Student-Led Black Material Culture—1968: A Curator’s Thoughts

  • Fath Davis Ruffins


Although not all sociopolitical eras are characterized by a particular form of dress, the young people of the late 1960s actively produced distinctive clothing, jewelry, and hair styles that would allow any knowledgeable historian of the future to instantly date a photograph to the late 1960s, in this case 1968–1969. What makes this “look” so characteristic of its time? What kinds of visual or artifactual sources would help a curator in placing this photograph and the people and objects it documents in a cultural/stylistic era? These sources help answer further questions: what were ordinary students and faculty members wearing before this era (circa 1968) and after? What makes the clothing, postures, and hairstyles (which are collectively called “costume” or “dress”) worthy of documenting and preserving? How does understanding these clothing styles contribute to an intellectual comprehension of this moment in the American past?