As a young girl, one thing that always impressed me as a child was seeing pictures of Civil Rights movement and how stylish and dignified the leaders and marchers looked. It instilled me with pride to see my people so well attired and unified. To this day, I do not think there is anything more attractive than a well dressed man. Whether wearing a business suit or casually dressed, our leaders left a legacy of dressing for success.
The sad reality is that we have let that fall to the wayside. This is not a knock on urban wear or sagging pants. However, I was raised to dress to for the position I wanted, not the one that I applied for. I always dreamt big and felt my attire was a direct reflection of where I saw my future.
Before moving to NYC, I heard the tales of the regalia of Harlem, impeccably dressed African Americans strutting in their Sunday’s best on Lenox Avenue, its Renaissance inspired arts, culture, and fashion for decades. It is still the stuff of movies (Cotton Club, Stompin’ at the Savoy, Harlem Nights). What happened to stylish and well dressed men of color? A distinguished gentleman looks as good in jeans and a blazer as he does in Armani.
When a refined man enters the room, his presence informs others that this is a man with a plan and purpose. Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Dr. King, Ralph Bunche, and Thurgood Marshall exuded elegance, confidence, and manliness. Being refined is less about what designer you wear and more about the way you carry yourself. Clothing is merely an extension of your demeanor. Even in the rap and hip-hop culture, when rappers want to appear powerful, they don a dapper suit and tie.
As we take this day to honor the legacy of Dr. King, be mindful that refinement is not merely a term of art, but classifies you as a man who is distinguished, set apart, and to be reckoned with. In fashion, lifestyle, community and career, you are the example of what young boys say they will be when they become a man. You are who mothers want their daughters to marry. You represent the past, present, and future of what is to come for us as a people. You embody Dr. King’s dream. Regardless of your profession, refinement is not something you wear, it is who you are. When the poet sent out the clarion call for “God Give Us Men,” you respond.
GOD, give us men! A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office can not buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.
-Josiah Gilbert Holland