The Jamaican society has grown and evolved over the years and so has the different characteristics that make us uniquely Jamaican. The Jamaican fashion industry is also not to be outdone in terms of dynamics, as it has progressed and developed over the years in line with a prevailing sense of style and customary mode of dress. Jamaicans are no doubt trendsetters in any given field and with the strong influence of our reggae music, and success in athletics, we are definitely among the best in the world with our strong Jamaican fashion. We have had opportunities through our engagement in areas as the Ms. World and Ms. Universe Pageants for our designers to showcase just what they are capable of in producing evening gowns that are of the finest quality comparable to those of top designers worldwide. The Jamaican fashion industry is indeed very trendy and incorporates all modes of dress. As Jamaicans we not only consider clothing as fashion, instead we look further into the entire package hair, makeup, accessories, and shoes. When you hear one speak of the Jamaican fashion industry you should know they are speaking of a monument dedicated to achieving an overall unique classic style that is uniquely Jamaican.
The Jamaican society and by extension the Caribbean at large hasbeen greatly influenced by our rich history of slavery and colonialism. One may consider our history to be one of great turmoil and despair but through our hardships we have developed as a people achieving independence through being able to have our own outlook as to what it is that we want for ourselves. We understand what success means to us as a result of what we have gone through to achieve it. As our motto states “Out of many one people,” so it is with our cultural forms. Our fashion industry did not just occur; it developed over time and continues to do so based on a number of factors. The major ethnic composition of the Jamaican people is that of Africans, this is as a result of our forefathers being brought here from the lands of the African continent in shackles across the seas to be enslaved by their colonial captivators. Africans are by nature a happy people. They enjoy their freedom and depend on the earth and its bearings for survival.
The African influence on our fashion can be seen in the highly-colored garments that we tend to see all over fusing together the most vibrant colors in so many different ways that the beauty of the finished product is unbelievable. African clothing was never constricting and remained free flowing, engulfing and adapting to the curves of the body. Another strong influence of our African culture on our fashion industry is the use of earth and its products—precious stones, nuts and pieces of trees—to accessorize garments. That is still quite evident and uniquely seen throughout many different pieces of fashion in present-day society.
From our colonial masters we saw greater manipulation of garments in a bid to provide shape and posture, to their women and even a bit of a backbone to their men. The European styles did a lot more to enhance the body than is the case with African clothing, which has to be showcased by the body itself. European clothing usually consisted of many layers, but also as a means of combating the weather conditions in Europe, which were very different than those on the African continent.
Our indentured brothers and sisters from Asia brought with them their own styles as well, which was highly influenced by the pristine material silk, which is among the most expensive material in the world today. Asians, like the Europeans, draped their clothing but, like the Africans, depended on the body to bring across style and life to the garment. Another thing that they brought with them much like the Africans was the use of paint on the face. Painting of the face was done to enhance the woman’s beauty and is still very much practiced in fashion today but on a much larger scale in a much milder manner, today face painting is considers as makeup.
We do acknowledge that out of many people we have come together as one Jamaican people. And so as our fashion industry, after much input and omissions from the many influencers of our fashion, it emerged as one hundred percent Jamaican. We came to the realization, that the Caribbean the climate tends to fluctuate a great deal and can get pretty hot and also rather cool at times. Our climate also entails a great deal of rainfall, which one has to account for when considering fashion choices. Hence the complexity of the European style was harnessed giving more shape and form to clothing forcing the clothing to do much more for the person wearing it, but took on the simplicity of the Africans as they had to lose all those layers or face being victims of a heat stroke in the warm Caribbean climate. One thing that remained strong in the styles of our fashion also throughout the origin to present day is the colors and fusion; one can still identify Jamaican and Caribbean fashion chiefly by the composition of colors that is incorporated into one outfit.
Now that we have a clearer understanding as to the origins of what is the Jamaican fashion industry and what makes it unique, we can move on to understanding where the industry stands currently and what are the prospects for the Jamaican fashion industry. We are indeed a unique and independent society, but that still does not dispute the fact that fashion evolves through adaption and acculturation. Hence fashion dynamics is influenced and will continue to be influenced by what is trending in other parts of the world. Thanks to technology, it is so much easier to see what happening in the rest of the world and how others are enhancing and playing around with fashion. This is also aided with the many fashion showcases held here in Jamaica. So it is in the case of Jamaica’s fashion industry we too move with the times and the trends. Our food, music, and overall culture are now being greatly influenced by the western world or the American culture as some may term it. What we find is that a number of our people are now able to travel freely around the world and as they do so they tend to pick up different styles, but the Jamaican fashion industry doesn’t lay aside and accept defeat instead “the industry takes whatsoever it is that is brought to their doorsteps and make own unique Jamaican flavors to it and make it Jamaican”
Article By: Kemar Daswell