“Caribbean Style”- now there’s a vague statement. I see it everywhere and I’m guilty myself of throwing it around all willy-nilly to describe some of my own work, but what does it really mean? I’ve never really given it much thought until I started working on this piece. I tried to think of what the average islander would typically wear and it made me realize that our collective style as Caribbean people isn’t quite that easily defined. I mean sure, there’s what everyone thinks of when they hear “Caribbean”: long flowing dresses, cotton shirts, linen pants and straw hats, but if you look around you right now, how many people are actually dressed like that?
I remember waiting to board my flight back home from London a couple years ago and noticing a family of five identically dressed in Hawaiian print shirts, cargo shorts and leather sandals (you know the ones). It took everything inside of me to contain my laughter, and I thought to myself “WOW! Is that really how they think we dress?” Up to this day I still find it amusing, especially when I think of what my friends and I were actually wearing back then: skinny jeans, t-shirts and converse.
I suppose our style is perceived quite differently by outsiders, but the truth is that we’re just as modern and forward-thinking as everyone else, and while we do embrace the stereotypical tropical vibe, we don’t confine ourselves to it. It’s for this reason that I applaud designers who put their own modern twists on Caribbean classics, to create unique and fun fusion pieces; IT WORKS. This out-of-the-box approach challenges the traditional definition of “Caribbean Style” and is causing heads to turn everywhere. Take for example Trinidadian designer Shandelle Loregnard whose brand Willow & Oak perfectly embodies this exciting fashion movement. There is something effortlessly Caribbean yet contemporary and unexpected in every single one of her pieces. They are a perfect combination of international fashion trends and classic defining features of Caribbean clothing.
This new era in Caribbean fashion is breaking all the molds and allowing the free-flow of creativity within the entire industry, and I strongly believe that in addition to social media, this fresh perspective on Caribbean Style is hugely responsible for the growth that’s happening in the regional fashionsphere right now. I mean, I am absolutely blown away by the content I see every day as I scroll through my Instagram feed and I know that I’m just one of the thousands of people that are sharing a similar experience. It’s inspiring. Caribbean fashion creatives everywhere are using the power of social media to lift the whole industry off the ground, and call attention to this refreshing, more modern interpretation of our style. It’s allowing everyone from designers to photographers to hair and makeup artists, to experiment with different “vibes” and aesthetics, to create compelling pieces of art that force you to stop scrolling and take it all in.
Our style is evolving, driven by the designers and creatives who continue to challenge themselves to push the boundaries of what “Caribbean Style” means. By paying more attention to international fashion trends and what the average person wears every day, as well as staying true to their own point of view and aesthetic, designers have managed to create a breed of Caribbean style that is in some ways more practical and unique than the traditional resort-wear look associated with the islands. I for one am eager to continue seeing more of these different interpretations, and I know that I’m not alone. Recently, the number of people interested in locally and regionally made clothing has been increasing quite rapidly, and I guarantee that once they experience the unexplainable pride associated with wearing something that was made right here in the Caribbean, they’ll keep coming back for more.
Moral of the story: Dare to be different and keep Tropping.
Written by Safia Ali | Fashion Enthusiast | Creative | Fashion Stylist
Photos taken from issue 4 of FASHION FOCUS | The Magazine's 'Caribbean Contemporary' editorial by Safia Ali.