‘Dandy Lion’ Redefines Black Masculinity At Hammonds House

Sapeurs posing in Brazzaville 2008
Sapeurs posing in Brazzaville 2008
Credit Daniele Tamagni

The old cliché tells us that “clothes make the man.” One art exhibit in Atlanta right now is focused on the ways that being a black man is being redefined, partly through the clothes they wear.

It’s called “Dandy Lion: (Re) Articulating Black Masculine Identity.” The show is on view at the Hammonds House Museum in the West End through May 31.

The photography exhibition curated by Shantrelle P. Lewis debuted at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography in 2015. It examines global black dandyism, men with a penchant for color and a taste for refined fashion.

Black dandyism originated in England’s Age of Enlightenment slave culture, and has continued for generations in black cultures around the world. Now, set against the backdrop of hip-hop culture, the newest iteration of dandies is redefining what it means to be black, masculine, and fashionable.

“Black people were brought to this country with nothing,” Hammonds House executive director Leatrice Ellzy tells “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes, “and one of the first things that black men purchased after enslavement ended was a suit. They connected a suit with respectability, they connected a suit with a certain level of agency.”

“All over the African diaspora, dressing is something that black people do no matter where they are,” she says. “The remixing of these Victorian styles with the style and flair that African men exude, we remix those styles and remix those colors into what you see now as contemporary dandyism.”

Ellzy says that curator Lewis created the show in response to negative stereotypes about black men.

“She said that ‘the men that I knew in my life were not anything like the men being described,'” Ellzy quotes, “so she wanted combat the narrative.”