Black Market: African-American Tuxedo Advertising

Perhaps it was the multicultural makeup of my hometown Toronto that led me to notice the absence of black men in American tuxedo marketing campaigns of the past.  In particular, the ads and pictorials in vintage issues of Esquire and GQ were lily-white up until the 1980s when a smattering of African-American models began to appear.  I was left to wonder whether black consumers historically had resigned themselves to seeing only Caucasian models or if they simply had little interest in traditional formal wear.

The answer presented itself recently when I stumbled across some vintage formalwear ads from Ebony magazine on another blog.  My interest piqued, I searched through GoogleBooks’ online Ebony collection and discovered a treasure trove of ads and pictorials specifically aimed at the African-American demographic.  From those visuals emerged a few interesting insights:

  • industry giant After Six seemed to have a monopoly on Ebony‘s formalwear advertisements and their products dominated the pictorials prior to the ’80s
  • After Six ads in Ebony from the 1950s and 60s were often identical to their ads in Esquire and GQ except for the substitution of black models for white ones
  • in the 1970s and 1980s the Ebony ads featured noticeably more unorthodox styles than featured in Esquire and GQ 

Left: 1974 After Six ad in "Esquire", Right: same ad in "Ebony"

I look forward to exploring the different preferences of various cultural groups for the next edition of The Black Tie Guide.  In particular I’d like to test my theory that the higher one climbs on the socioeconomic ladder the more conservatively one dresses.  After all, one of the traditional tuxedo’s greatest assets is it ability to levels the playing field by making all men appear equal.  At least for the evening.

Wedding formal wear featured prominently in "Ebony", probably because the magazine targeted both men and women. (1978)

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