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272 pp., 5.5 x 8, 26 halftones, notes, bibl., index

Gender and American Culture

ISBN  978-1-4696-2515-7
Published: October 2015

Liberated Threads

Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul

Tanisha C. Ford

Awards & Distinctions

2016 Liberty Legacy Foundation Award, Organization of American Historians

From the civil rights and Black Power era of the 1960s through antiapartheid activism in the 1980s and beyond, black women have used their clothing, hair, and style not simply as a fashion statement but as a powerful tool of resistance. Whether using stiletto heels as weapons to protect against police attacks or incorporating African-themed designs into everyday wear, these fashion-forward women celebrated their identities and pushed for equality.

In this thought-provoking book, Tanisha C. Ford explores how and why black women in places as far-flung as New York City, Atlanta, London, and Johannesburg incorporated style and beauty culture into their activism. Focusing on the emergence of the “soul style” movement—represented in clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, and more—Liberated Threads shows that black women’s fashion choices became galvanizing symbols of gender and political liberation. Drawing from an eclectic archive, Ford offers a new way of studying how black style and Soul Power moved beyond national boundaries, sparking a global fashion phenomenon. Following celebrities, models, college students, and everyday women as they moved through fashion boutiques, beauty salons, and record stores, Ford narrates the fascinating intertwining histories of Black Freedom and fashion.

About the Author

Tanisha C. Ford is assistant professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


“Creates a fierce and vibrant dialog on the rarely recounted women's perspective on black style, beauty, and soul."
--Library Journal, starred review

“Adds important elements to the conversation on resistance. . . . Highly recommended.”

"This book skillfully weaves together black women's political culture, fashion, and transnational cultural exchange, emphasizing the complexities of soul style. Ford’s wonderful prose brings her sources to life. A stellar achievement."
--Noliwe Rooks, Cornell University

"Liberated Threads is innovative, impeccably researched, and bound to make a significant contribution to scholarly understandings of black beauty, fashion, and politics. In exploring the soul of style, Tanisha C. Ford offers a rare and much needed window into the activism and experiences of black women in the United States and abroad."
--Tiffany Gill, University of Delaware

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