By Alex Holder
Long before sultry, entertaining, feather-wearing Las Vegas showgirls, there was Josephine Baker. Long before we were shocked by the outfit choices of Cher, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj, there was Josephine Baker. And long before Angelina Jolie adopted every other child she met, there was Josephine Baker, who adopted twelve children of various races and called them her “rainbow tribe”. Josephine, born Freda Josephine McDonald, was born in St. Louis, Missouri – shout out to my hometown – in 1906. At 15, she began dancing for the St. Louis Chorus Vaudeville Show, but in those times Josephine was considered a second-class citizen due to her skin color. So, she packed up and moved to “The City of Light”, aka Paris, in 1925 and rose to fame. She was a triple threat – singing, dancing, and acting – for over four decades as the ultimate entertainer of her time. She even became the most photographed woman and was a muse for several including Pablo Picasso and Christian Dior. The color of her skin didn’t matter anymore; Josephine was a star.
Her sultry dance moves and outrageous costume choices have made her one of the most memorable and fashionable entertainers of all time. Her style was elegant and her success afforded her the opportunity to indulge in luxury goods such as her pet cheetah that often accompanied her on walks through the streets of Paris with a diamond-encrusted collar. Talk about a fancy feline! This was the age of Art Deco in Paris, and Josephine epitomized this look with sleek lines and geometric shapes. But perhaps her most memorable fashion moment was from her “Banana Dance” where she performed in almost nothing but a skirt made of bananas, yes, as in the fruit. Who on earth could make dancing in a banana skirt look sexy? None other than Josephine Baker. I mean it though… Beyonce tried back in 2006, and even though I love that Halo singing diva, the whole thing was a total flop.
Luckily, Josephine’s style has impacted us in several positive ways as well. Miuccia Prada paid homage to Josephine in her Spring/Summer 2011 collection with banana prints and finger waved hair. The geometric patterns and accessories obsession during the Art Deco movement and Josephine’s reign on fashion can be seen all around us today. Modern-day fashionistas can emulate Miss Baker by overindulging in accessories and making daring, fearless choices. So load on those pearls, gigantic earrings, and cocktails rings and never look back. If you’re a little more hesitant, try a beaded headband or a neat print. Women of all ages, shapes, and backgrounds can take a cue from Josephine’s style and her confident attitude. Here’s the key: be yourself and don’t be afraid to make a statement. Her impact on our world and our industry is indisputable and many famous entertainers can thank her for teaching them the meaning of “pushing the envelope”. Just remember, before Lady Gaga wore a meat dress, Josephine Baker wore bananas.
Bananas for Josephine Baker?
An Icon: Josephine Baker. Retrieved from http://vintagefashionblog.co.uk/blog
Blume, L. M. (2010, Oct 16). Icons Of Style Series: Josephine Baker. Huffington Post.
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Wermick, A. (2012, May 27). A History of Style: Fashion Inspired by Josephine
Baker. Retrieved from http://www.collegefashion.net/inspiration/a-history-