Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
Culture: Jamaican
Setting: Rastafarianism, Jamaican diaspora from mid-20thc 

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Blackburn 1979 p164
"The Rastafarian movement began during the Depression of the 1930s, a time when people felt most severely the pain of their servitude and when they were most in need of some hope of salvation.  To escape persecution by the Jamaican Government authorities a group of between 500 and 1,600 Rastafarians went to live in a commune in the hills behind Kingston.  It was there during the 1940s and early 1950s that the characteristics of the movement were established.  The Rastamen grew their hair long in imitation of the Ethiopian warriors. They cultivated their own crops and lived according to strict codes of diet, cleanliness and dress.  It was during this time that marijuana -- ganja, the Herb -- was cultivated widely and used in all the rituals of meditation.
    "In 1954 the commune was destroyed by the police and a race of wild-looking, religious ascetics came down into the city slums of Kingston.  They established themselves in an area known as Shanty Town and started a new sort of ghetto life, denying any allegiance to the white authorities and living on the edge of utter poverty.  They gathered an ever increasing number of converts; and in spite of attempts to suppress it, the movement survived and grew so that when Jamaica gained independence in 1962 Rastafarianism had become the movement of all the urban poor."

* Owens 1976 p42-43
"The Rastafarians are a chosen people, the ones of which the Bible was written.  By their faith and their love of God, they have repaired the faults of their biblical forebears.  They are confident that their present distressing state is in no way related to their true status and calling in the Kingdom of Jah.  'We are not a Nation utterly cast off by God.  We did not come into this world for a moment to suffer, weak, knowing only lust for vanities, beget children, live a life of wickedness and then die, knowing only lust.  We are the creation of GOD-JAH-I, us the Ethiopians are his chosen people, we were created for his glory.' (Kelly, p. 28).
    "The Rastas' consciousness of being elected is complemented by a conviction that they have received a special form of inspiration or revelation.  Every Rastafarian feels himself endowed with knowledge of great religious and historical truths which have been hidden from the high and mighty.  (Eccleston).  The precise modality of inspiration is expressed variously by the Rastas, but it is generally reducible to some type of immediate spiritual contact with the Emperor himself: 'I-n-I, who are found doing the divine word of our God and King, we communicate with our God and King through telepathical communication, with Emperor Haile-I Selassie-I, unseen angel guiding and watching over I daily.' (Blackheart).  Whether described as 'telepathic communication' or otherwise, the reality and the explanation of such contact is taken for granted, since the brethren consider themselves to be actual participants in the humanity and divinity of Selassie.  Not only are his thoughts communicated to the Rastafari brethren, but the very substance of his being pours into them so that they live one life with him and in him."

* Polhemus 1994 p78-79
"As 'Rasta Style' grew in popularity, a split developed between 'true Rastafarians', for whom appearance was only an outward expression of deeply held beliefs, and 'false Rastas', who liked the look but had only a superficial involvement in terms of beliefs and values.
    "But this tendency on the part of some young blacks to treat Rastafarianism as 'just a fashion' was nothing compared to what would happen in the 1980s when many of London's trendy white kids (including Boy George) began to sport (usually) artificial dreadlocks.  On Boy George's part this may have been a genuine attempt to advance the ideal of the world as a 'Culture Club' embracing all races and beliefs, but its effect was to take a style which had originally served as a visual expression of religious belief and remove from it all meaning except 'I'm trendy'.  In Babylon, the true is made false, the symbolic is made arbitrary and the authentic is made into fashion."


* Owens 1976 p154
"For those not familiar with the Rastafarians, the one external characteristic that makes them easily recognisable is their long hair and beards.  Although the beard alone is becoming more common in Jamaican society at large, the unique way that Rastafarians have of growing their hair, or locks, continues to distinguish them and stands in contrast to the 'Afro' or 'soul' hairstyle of the middle-class youth culture.
    "Beards and locks are cultivated by the Rastafarians because they are seen to be the fullest expression of nature.  Not those who grow their hair long, but those who trim it off are required to explain their actions.  'They that don't like the hair, it's because they are afraid of nature themselves.  Hair play a very important part upon a man.  Everyone that have the colour brown would know that the hair is a nature.  Anyone who fight against the hair fight against the self!" (Teddy).  The Rasta who composed the series of essays on 'natural naturality' defended the Africans' right to grow their hair as nature demands: 'We the African should let our hair grow as much as we desire, so as to fit nature, which is the force that we the African should let control our system.' (Catman)."


* Polhemus 1994 p76-78
"By the early 1970s a substantial number of West Indians were demonstrating their Rastafarian beliefs by wearing belts, hats, 'tams' (knitted caps), epaulettes, badges, scarves, wristbands and T-shirts made in the sacred colours of the Ethiopian flag -- red, gold and green.  From the Rastafarian's desire to live in harmony with nature came an emphasis on garments made from natural fabrics and, also, a distinctive hairstyle -- dreadlocks -- which required no artificial products for its creation or maintenance.  The international success of Bob Marley and other Jamaican reggae musicians served to make both the colours and the long 'locks' synonymous with Rastafarian beliefs.
    "Jamaica's Rastafarian population was swollen in the early 1970s by the addition of a high proportion of Kingston's Rude Boys, who aligned themselves with the Rastafarian cause, giving up their two-tone suits in shimmering electric and midnight blues in favour of the looser, more casual Rastafarian style.  In Britain, as in Jamaica, the dreadlocked Rastafarian in a huge 'tam' and often wearing army surplus clothing (in sympathy with Rastafarian Cuban 'Freedom Fighters' in Angola) became a common sight."

* Surfers soulies skinheads & skaters 1996
"During the 1970s the mainstays of the Rasta's wardrobe was [SIC] army surplus clothes, combined with garments in the distinctive colours of the Ethiopian flag.  Green represents 'the rich luxuriant land that is Africa'; gold 'the wealth of the land'; and red 'the one and only true church' (Horace Campbell).  Natural fibres were favoured in accordance with environmental and religious beliefs."​