Spiked and Plated: The Trendy Material Culture of the Lobi



The African Lobi Pot Collection at Restoration Hardware


It’s not unusual for designers to borrow from non-Western cultures for a seasonal trend. Past design trends have ranged from mud cloths to mandalas, and all have been used as inspiration for both international and independent brands. A burgeoning trend that has been developing into the market are replicas of Lobi pottery, specifically altar vessels covered with three-dimensional spikes. Another aspect of Lobi dress that has gone “mainstream” are lip plates, which are placed on the upper, lower, or both lips.

Although the two items are different in aesthetic and use, they both provide an example of how Western colonization and thought have shaped the popularity of distinctly West African objects.




Altar Vessel (20th Century) via The Art Institute of Chicago


The Lobi are a cultural group that lives in Burkina Faso and parts of Ivory Coast. They are traditionally associated with rural life and live in an informal clan system. During French colonization in Burkina Faso (1896-1960), the Lobi were able to maintain their independence longer than nearby groups, which was due to their open resistance against foreign influence.

The inspiration behind Lobi pottery can range from normal life to the spiritual. This emphasis on spirituality is particularly focused with spiked altar vessels, which is a style that is present in pottery across Western Africa.

Appearing like a browned Jackfruit, Lobi altar festivals can be spiked all over and are shaped with a ladle and at times, a carved lid. The Art Institute of Chicago notes in a description of an early to mid-20th-century vessel that the lid, “protects the contents from natural and supernatural contamination.” This suggests that the item was meant for pouring and may have been used for non-utilitarian purposes. The spikes represent a variety of hopes in life, including protection from witchcraft and misfortune.


This concept of protection is also present in the traditional adornment of the Lobi, which was viewed as offensive by French colonial powers and resulted into few photographic representations. Christopher D. Roy states in the Burkina Faso chapter of the text, Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion that the group used to wear arm and neck coverings that were made from leather and brass in order to protect from spirits in the wild. Aside from arm and neckwear, traditional Lobi dress revealed a lot of the wearer’s skin. Roy notes that men wore thin cords around the waist, which allowed the testicles to hang, and at times, front coverings. Men also wore their hair long in clay locks that framed their face. Women looked similar but wore coverings around the front and back of their lower body. Although not exclusively Lobi, body modification is also a part of the culture through coin-sized lip plates and body scarring in intricate shapes. Lip plates have gained popularity in “alternative” cultures in the West since the late 20th century and are becoming more socially accepted. Lobi dress has now changed and ranges from Western-inspired outfits or wraps that are commonly seen in Western Africa.

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Lobi Woman, Burkina Faso via Dietmar Temps (Flickr)


There has been so much effort to diminish and change cultural groups like the Lobi. As Lobi altar vessels become an accent in homes and mouth plates fill lips, an appreciation and acknowledgment of where these items originate are necessary. For more on the material culture of this group, check out the Art Institute of Chicago’s Lobi collection.


The Fashionable Side of Guam


Chamorro Performers| Image via Marilyn Sourgoseoriginally posted to Flickr as IMG_7883

Although the news focusing on Guam has lessened, there is a wealth of information concerning the culture and life on the island. It is a place filled with a diverse population and serves as a major tourist destination within the Western Pacific Ocean. The island often stays out of American news and popular culture, which may be due to its immense distance from mainland US. However, the 30-mile island is home to a historic and growing fashion culture that incorporates traditional costume with a modern international and local shopping market.

Guam is currently an American island territory, but it has a history as both an indigenous and colonized country. Among its citizens, the indigenous cultural group of the Chamorros calls Guam home. These people’s ancestors date early in Guam’s history and provide a strong example of how the influence of colonization affected the dress of a local culture.

Early Dress
Documentation of early dress in Guam often comes from personal accounts from foreign explorers. This can illustrate the actual traditions of a people, but can also provide a personal and cultural bias of the descriptor.

The early Chamorros utilized the natural surroundings to fashion coverage for their bodies. According to Judith S. Flores in “Dress of the Chamorro” (2010), women wore leaf and bark around the waist and at times, used turtle shells styled into an apron-like item. Women could also wear a tifi as a top and men were bare chested, but both genders used floral and coconut scents that suggest a sensual importance. In numerous European accounts of early Chamorros, men and women were documented as having long hair. Men tied their hair into buns, while others stated that men shaved their head with an exception of one lock.

This form of dress is still remembered today with the works of Guam residents Joe and Ray Viloria. Together they have created clothing and accessories that are inspired by the items worn by Guam’s early indigenous population by combining ready-to-wear with an anthropological approach. Through this effort, the designers have the ability to teach audiences and acknowledge social taboos.

Dress Under the Spanish Empire
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This mode of clothing changed once the Spanish Empire colonized the island in the mid-1600s. The Spaniards were a Catholic-based nation who embraced ideas that hid the human body, especially the female form. According to Flores (2010), this resulted in a rise of the mestiza (mestisa) costume, which originally developed in the Philippines. Men wore an outfit of loose, bleached cotton (manta) trousers that ranged in length depending on the formality of the situation and a loose button-down. Women covered their bodies with a round neckline slip with bell-shaped sleeves that was paired with an ankle-length skirt. The style evolved during the Victorian era from what Flores calls  “the soft bell-shape that draped over the arm to the starched “butterfly” look.” During formal occasions, women covered their heads in white handkerchiefs or shawls. However, the Chamorro appearance of this time was less restrictive than typical Western attire due to the need for comfort on an island.

Guam transitioned into American hands after the Spanish-American war in 1848. The island was under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Navy and held under what Dough Herman at Smithsonian.com relates to as martial law. In 1941, the island was bombed hours after Pearl Harbor and was held under Japanese rule for three years. This occupation resulted into over 13,000 locals imprisoned in camps and 1,123 dying under Japanese rule.

Fashion Today
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After the war, Guam fell back under American rule and became an island territory. What may be due to the American influence and/or its reputation as a tourist destination, Guam has formed into an economy that provides a variety of shopping opportunities and a culture that embraces American dress. For the tourist looking for the newest designs by international fashion designers, the island offers the Tumon Sands Plaza that houses Balenciaga, Chloe, and Givenchy, alongside malls and outlets with more moderately-priced options.

Events like Guam Fashion Weekend and the Guam Fashion Delegation showcase local fashion designers and talent. There is also a scene of local fashion designers who integrate Chamorro culture with Western trends and styles. For example, Tao Pacific Designs creates ready-to-wear clothing in block prints that identify and honor Chamorro culture and The Native Worldwide intermixes local fashion with art.

The history and status of fashion in Guam evolves from one influence into another, but there is still a sense of pride and acknowledgment in the island’s Chamorro culture. This is a rare feat for an indigenous group who has experienced a significant amount of colonization that demands change and dismissal of one’s original norms. Although Guam is a part of the United States, and maybe one day be an official state, it is also an island with a rich history that is communicated through its fashion scene.

For more on the island of Guam, visit Guam.gov or the website of the Guam Museum.

The Rise of the Rude Boy: Jamaican Style

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When one thinks of the term Rude Boy (Rude Bwoy) in the United States, the suggestive song lyrics of pop singer Rihanna’s tune of the same name come to mind. However, on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, Rude Boy refers to a half a century-old cultural figure that challenged the appearance of youth gang culture through dapper fashion.  “The rude boy culture came to define an ethos of self-worth, determination and creativity,” states Jean-Philippe de Dieu, “for a generation of migrants ready to strike back at a conservative and racist society.”

The origins of the Rude Boy is traced through a group of young men who were unemployed and affiliated with street culture in the newly formed nation of Jamaica. The country found independence in 1962, but experienced a high rate in unemployment for young Jamaican men.

This lack of opportunities for both economic and personal growth led some to partake in gang-oriented activities that occurred in the country’s capital of Kingston. Although it has been a term that identified men of a certain group who appeared with a certain look, i.e. black Jamaican men, not every Rude Boy was a menace to society.

In Dapper Style

As Rude Boys were closely associated with Jamaican street culture, they were also purveyors of American film and English Dandy clothing. The Rude Boys of 1960s Jamaica wore close-fitting pressed suits with “white breast-pocket handkerchiefs, polished brogue shoes, white starched shirts with throat-strangling ties, and topped by trilby hats that they set at a cocked angle,” (McMillan, 2016). Some Rude Boys opted for loose trousers with a white button-up shirt and tie that recalled the American Zoot Suit, which was a symbol of non-white American resistance in the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots (McMillan, 2016).

By appearing dapper and refined, Rude Boys challenged the status they were given. In her book, “Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity,” historian Monica Miller states that Rude Boys were “ stylin’ out to subvert racial order, perform their identities far from a lost homeland, and redefine blackness and cosmopolitanism.”

The Sound of the Rude Boy

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The Rude Boy persona was also closely associated with then-upcoming music genres like ska, rocksteady, and dancehall celebrations (McMillan, 2016). Musician Desmond Dekker was a Jamaican-born singer who became the international face of Rude Boys. He sang both in groups and on his own, and was made popular with the songs “The Israelites” (1968). Early in his career, Dekker dressed in slim suits, bow tie, and ruffled white shirt. As he aged, Dekker continued to wear fashionable slim suits that correlated with the style of the time, including an all-red velvet 1970s leisure suit and a pair of checkered slacks with a loose V-neck top and camouflage cap. Dekker’s style is a great example of the changing and adapting fashions of Rude Boy style, which has been characteristic of the group since its 1960s origin. This sartorial influence proved strong during the mass immigration of Jamaicans to Great Britain during the 1960s and 70s. The style caught on with young British men who incorporated the style with other fashion groups in British street culture. Even today, it has garnered a following with British men who combine dandy fashions with urban street culture.

For more on how the Rude Boy is influencing modern fashion, check out the book “Return of the Rude Boy,” by Dean Chalkley and Harris Elliott, “Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity,” by Monica Miller, or “Saga Bwoys and Rude Boys: Migration, Grooming, and Dandyism,” by Michael McMillan.

From Queen Alexandra to Jillian Mercado: The Changing Views of Physical Disabilities In Fashion

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Before there was Lady Diana, Duchess Kate, and even Elizabeth II, Alexandra of Denmark was considered the fashion icon of the Commonwealth of England. The Queen of England from 1901 to 1910, she was the visual opposite from her mother-in-law Victoria, who favored darkly colored clothing in the English tradition of mourning. Alexandra is remembered in fashion history for her dusty-colored high neck and tightly corseted gowns with sparkling jewelry. However, with all of her beauty and influence, Queen Alexandra used her appearance as a way to hide a secret: her physical disabilities.


Born into a royal Danish family, Queen Alexandra became an English princess after her marriage to Edward VII in 1863. She became Queen in 1901 after the death of her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria. King Edward and Queen Alexandra’s entry into the English throne brought in the Edwardian era, an opulent time in English cultural, technological, and social history that coincided during a time of peace.

This change also corresponded with women’s fashion. In England, women began to wear health corsets that bent the body into an S-shape that pushed a woman’s breasts forward and her bottom back. The ideal body type favored tall young women at the peak of their health.

Queen Alexandra was seen as an influencer within English fashion for her tight corseted, S-bend silhouettes and ornate evening gowns. Dr. Kate Strasdin in her academic article, Fashioning Alexandra: A Royal Approach to Style 1863–1910 (2013) states that Queen Alexandra was aware of the public attention toward her clothing and used fashion to emote an image of femininity and well being. Strasdin (2013) states in her article that the Queen’s fashion choices were based around elegance. A clothing item could not be too on-trend, but not dowdy or fussy. Her influence helped popularize formal wear by wearing ornate, high-necked gowns that came to be known as “Queen Alexandra dresses” (“Fashion: The queenly figure,” 1939). Much of Queen Alexandra’s evening wear was designed by the House of Redfern, a British fashion house that found success throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Within English society, Queen Alexandra fit the mold: she was wealthy, titled, and was dressed by a haute courtier.

According to Strasdin (2013), Queen Alexandra was rumored to have had a tuberculous infection due to a small scar on her neck. This rumor occurred shortly before her marriage to then-Prince Edward, and if proven true, it would have stopped the courtship due to worries of inherited diseases. This fear developed into a habit of her wearing high neck gowns, ribbons, and dog collars in order to hide her neck (Strasdin, 2013). Although this was an attempt to hide an imperfection, these neck coverings became a trend in evening wear in British fashion.

In 1867, the Queen contracted rheumatic fever which impaired her hearing and gave her a knee injury that resulted into a walking limp. According to Strasdin (2013), Queen Alexandra dressed in ornamental evening gowns in order to steer attention away from her bad hearing. She also altered her evening gowns to reduce a visible curve in her spine. Strasdin offers an example housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which displays a curved center back at the bodice that hid her body’s arching shape. Although Queen Alexandra found methods to hide her disabilities, she continued to walk with a limp. This is said to have caused a trend among fashionable women, who copied the Queen’s stroll.

Jillian Mercado

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Although Queen Alexandra went to great lengths to hide her body, there is now a burgeoning presence in the fashion industry that advocates for visibility of disabled persons. One example can be seen through the work of American fashion model Jillian Mercado, who has muscular dystrophy. Mercado has appeared in major advertisements for brands like Diesel and singer Beyoncé’s merchandise advertisements for her famous “Formation” tour. Mercado is signed to IMG and has become a figure in fashion in both her modeling and Instagram photographs.

The stigma against physical disabilities in the fashion industry has been dubbed by fashion critic Vanessa Friedman as the industry’s “newest frontier.” As more figures like fashion model Jillian Mercado grow in popularity and adapted clothing lines become more available, the preference for ableist bodies may shift towards a focus on one’s aesthetic or personal style. To learn more about fighting the stigma of ableism in fashion, visit MIT’s Open Style Lab.


Fashion: The queenly figure. (1939, May 01). Vogue, 93, 72-72, 73.

Strasdin, K. (2013). Fashioning Alexandra: A Royal Approach to Style 1863-1910. Costume-The Journal Of The Costume Society47(2), 180-197.

Will Venezuela’s Beauty Pageant Culture Disappear?

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As the Venezuelan crisis continues, the nation’s citizens have struggled to find basic necessities like food and living supplies. It is a decline in a country that once was one of the richest economies in South America. Now there is mass starvation, hours-long queues, and increased crime rates. It has even resulted into the death of Reinaldo Herrera, the nephew of Venezuelan-American fashion designer Carolina Herrera.

Within the fashion world, Venezuela is often associated with beauty pageant culture that includes voluptuous hair, heavy makeup and revealing clothing. This trend also coincides with the societal obsession of plastic surgery, which has even influenced the working class. In order to obtain the looks of Venezuelan beauty queens, both pageant hopefuls and their admirers pay expensive bills for serious procedures to achieve the idealized look. These expensive and high maintenance trends present a conundrum in the nation’s current crisis. Will these beauty pageant trends maintain during, and after, the country’s struggle for freedom or will a less adorned, feminist-focused ideal take forth?

Although fashion and beauty are not the first worry in the country’s present climate, a look into the changing face of the “ideal” Venezuelan woman has potential to reveal the rising role of females and a potential change in their representation in the media.

Venezuelan Beauty Culture

When a Miss Venezuela wins an international beauty pageant, it is a source of nationalistic pride for the country. This notion may have originated from a less than glamorous locale: a beauty pageant held at a baseball game in 1940s Caracas. Two young women competed for the title, with one from a wealthy background and the other from a lower class. After a highly publicized campaign, the woman from the lower class won the pageant. In the 2016 film To Be a Missthis beauty contest is viewed as an underdog story that reflected the country’s growing pride. During the 1950s, Venezuela was a developing country that lead in oil production. It was headed by dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez, who initiated numerous public community programs based around Venezuelan identity. This was enhanced by the 1955 win of Susana Duijm, who was the first Miss Venezuela to win an international contest.

However, the Venezuelan beauty culture that is remembered today did not begin until the reign of Osmel Sousa, an actor turned president of the Miss Venezuela Organization. Despite the fact that Sousa has never participated as a beauty pageant contestant, his opinions and advice are highly valued and may appear extreme to those outside the field. He has worked with numerous Miss Venezuelas who have been crowned with an international title, with María Antonieta Cámpoli as his first in 1972. By the 1980s, Maritza Sayalero, Irene Saez, and Bárbara Palacios all won international titles under Sousa’s guidance.

Since beauty queens were, and are, a glorified example of both female perfection and political pride, it is natural for the public to want to replicate pageant contestants looks. Osmel Sousa often suggests for hopeful contestants to alter their looks through exercise and plastic surgery, which has become a part of many Miss Venezuela’s beauty regimes. A form of the trickle-down method, both pageant hopefuls and members of the general public must find the financial means to gain what they consider “perfection.” This can include surgeries on breasts, buttocks, noses, and even mesh on one’s tongue to reduce food intake. Plastic surgery has become so implemented in society that it has influenced the shape of store mannequins.

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When discussing beauty pageants, there are many stereotypes that paint contestants as vain and ignorant. Although Venezuelan culture is “obsessed with beauty,” there are many examples of beauty queens who used their wins as a platform. Miss Universe 1981 winner Irene Saez entered into politics and served as a mayor and later governor. Veruska Ramirezwho won Miss Venezuela in 1997, was abandoned as a child, worked as a maid early in her life, and after her win, survived an abduction.  During the 2016 American Presidential Election, Miss Venezuela 1995 and Miss Universe 1996 winner Alicia Machado became a symbol of resistance against Donald Trump, who publicly shamed for her body.

As the country is falling deeper into crisis, women have spoken out against the communist regime through protests. One example is Venezuela’s “Wonder Woman” Caterina Ciarcelluti who has been photographed throwing stones in protest. Caterina appears beautiful yet mentally and physically strong, a combination of characteristics that challenge beauty pageant ideals. As these images continue to spread through international news, the public image of Venezuelan beauty may change or it may stick through the crisis and remain as a symbol of Venezuela’s national pride.