DDespite not being a part of Team USA after a failed drug test, Sha’Carri Richardson reappeared yesterday in a Beats by Dre commercial with the soundtrack to a new Kanye West song. With her signature long nails, long eyelashes, and hair like fire, Richardson has underscored the point that, Olympian or not, she is one of the most electrifying style icons of 2021.
That style, which has been called “extra”(In a good way), it is a celebration of aesthetic excess. “Being ‘too much’ is an important act of self-control, self-expression and assertion,” says Eric Darnell Pritchard, a professor in the English department at the University of Arkansas. He says this visual statement of “hype” also plays as an important statement about the agency of black femininity. ‘We see it in Richard’s statement’I am that girl‘but we also see it in its aesthetics. It is imperative that black women do it and receive support to do it because it is not a space that is given to them for free in the world ”.
Another aspect that fuels Richardson’s unique aesthetic is his hometown of Dallas, Texas. “I think there is a certain southern sensibility and pride in the aesthetic of his style,” says fashion historian Darnell-Jamal Lisby. “From her hair, nails, outfit and attitude, the desire to visually elicit vibrancy through personal style is southern to the core.”
Pritchard says that geographic location is synonymous with celebrations of black beauty. “The American South has played an important role in illustrating the beauty of expressive cultures that are absolutely black,” he says, “particularly when blackness intersects with the self-expression of those who are poor or working class.”
Placing his style in the canon of black pop culture icons, he references Missy Elliott and the characters Nisi (Halle Berry) and Mickey (Natalie Desselle Reid) in the 1997 film B * A * P * S, where the characters dressed extravagantly. “Also consider the extra red nails from SWV’s Coko and Lil ‘Kim, with the nails decorated like hundred-dollar bills,” he says.
Richardson also visually connects with athletic fashion pioneer Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo), who lit up the Olympics in ’88. “Flo Jo is the direct reference here,” says Lisby. “With her lush, flashy, beautiful outfits and highly decorated nails, ranging from four to six inches, she was completely herself as a black woman.”
Griffith Joyner crafted his own visual image, updating the larger-than-life, “like a superhero,” as Lisby calls it, which he had through designing his own outfits. She was also a nail technician (she kept working in a salon while training for the 1988 Olympics), so she had a professional understanding of how her nail art was presented in public. “Her style was based on self-control: doing the work she came to do, but making an affirmation of belonging to herself while doing it.”
Like Joyner, Richardson uses fashion as a tool of representation. “Flo Jo laid the groundwork: using style as a way to connect culturally with her athletic craft and visually remain a voice for the communities they represent,” says Lisby.
Griffith Joyner was criticized for her style on the runway, at the time saying that people thought her famous one-legged outfit was “shocking.” Dr. Pritchard believes that the way Richardson’s style has been received is indicative of how far we’ve come in allowing a black woman to be completely herself in the public eye.
“Flo-Jo received a lot of criticism at the time,” he says, “with racist, class and misogynistic comments. How people respond to Sha’Carri Richardson will say a lot about how far things have and haven’t come in terms of black women being able to occupy that space without ridiculing them. “The support Richardson received after her test of drugs, from people like Roxane gay as well as from the fashion industry, they suggest at least some progress.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism