reDespite not making the U.S. team after a failed doping test, Sha’Carri Richardson made a reappearance yesterday in a Beats by Dre commercial with the soundtrack to a new Kanye West song. With her long fingernails, long eyelashes and firecracker hair, Richardson pointed out that, Olympian or not, she is one of the most electrifying style icons of 2021.
This style, which has been called “extra” (in a good way), is a celebration of aesthetic excess. “Being ‘too much’ is an important act of self-control, self-expression and assertiveness,” says Eric Darnell Pritchard, professor in the English department at the University of Arkansas (who uses the pronoun they). Pritchard says this visual statement of “above” also plays out as an important statement about the black femininity agency. “We see it in Richardson’s ‘I am THAT girl’ statement, but we also see it in her aesthetic. It is imperative that black women do this and be supported to do so because it is not a space freely given to them in the world. “
Another aspect that fuels Richardson’s unique aesthetic is his hometown of Dallas, Texas. “I think there’s a southern sensibility and pride in her style aesthetic,” says fashion historian Darnell-Jamal Lisby. “From her hair, nails, outfit and demeanor, the desire to visually spark dynamism through personal style runs south to the bone. “
Pritchard says this geographic location is synonymous with celebrations of black beauty. “The southern United States has played an important role in exemplifying the beauty of expressive cultures that are unabashedly black,” they say, “especially when the darkness intersects with the self-expression of those who are poor or the working class “.
Placing her style in the canon of black pop culture icons, Pritchard refers to Missy Elliott and the characters Nisi (Halle Berry) and Mickey (Natalie Desselle Reid) in the 1997 B * A * P * S movie, where the characters dressed flamboyantly. “Also consider SWV’s and Lil ‘Kim’s Coko’s extra red fingernails, with her fingernails decorated like hundred dollar bills,” they say.
Richardson also visually connects with sports fashion pioneer Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo) who lit up the Olympics in 88. “Flo Jo is the direct benchmark here,” Lisby says. “With her exuberant, flashy and beautiful costumes and heavily decorated nails, which ranged from four to six inches, she was entirely herself as a black woman. “
Griffith Joyner created her own visual image of herself, achieving the larger than life, “like a superhero” as Lisby calls it, which she got by designing her own outfits. She was also a nail technician (she supported herself by 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 all about self-control: doing the job she came to do, but affirming her belonging while doing it. “
Like Joyner, Richardson uses fashion as a tool of representation. “Flo Jo laid the groundwork: using style as a way to culturally connect with their sporting art and to visually remain a voice for the communities they represent,” says Lisby.
Griffith Joyner was criticized for her style on the runway, when she said people thought her famous one-legged outfit was “shocking.” Dr Pritchard believes the way Richardson’s style has been received is indicative of how far a black woman has come to be fully herself in the public eye.
“Flo-Jo had a lot of hindsight back then,” they say, “with racist, classist and misogynistic comments. How people react to Sha’Carri Richardson will say a lot about how far we’ve come, not whether black women can occupy this space without making a fool of themselves. The support Richardson received after his drug test, from people like Roxane Gay as well as the fashion industry, suggest at least some progress.