What does cash have to do with it? That’s a phrase that comes to mind when I’m in deepness of thought regarding fashion and personal style. As a world traveler and connoisseur of vintage and modern men’s fashion, I’m excited to see folks finally doing away with the mundane and stretching their creative spirits in pursuit of their own style. There’s a clear reason for that. Some folks are just naturally creative and will put together an outfit on their own terms. They have style even if they don’t have a lot of money and don’t carefully take notes about what’s on trend. I remember attending spectacular vintage-fashion trade shows in New York and seeing buyers and pickers from the major design houses grabbing items to take back and copy, so they could unleash regurgitated ideas on the marketplace. Thus, these items find their way back into mass consciousness via periodicals, television, music artists, and music videos, especially in the black community. Being a serious collector of men’s fashion and being fifty-nine years mature, I have an appreciation for what makes a good piece of clothing—creative tailoring, fine materials, and a modest price tag. Which brings me once again to my point: what does cash have to do with it?
For me it all started at an early age, when I attended R and B shows at the legendary Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. I would see all the soul groups who had hit records and they would be dressed up, as we said back in the day, “as sharp as a tack.” Images of fine silk and well-tailored mohair suits have stuck in my mind ever since.
I have known people who had all the cash in the world but didn’t have a clue about putting together a killing outfit. Yet my folks would go to a flea market, secondhand store, or consignment shop and put together a look that would floor you. I mean floor you. At these places, you can find one-of-a-kind or rare items that are more interesting than off-the-rack styles. This brought my appreciation for fine men’s clothing to another level because I had access to it. And I learned an important lesson: once a car is driven off the lot, its value goes down. It’s the same thing with fashion. Once a $4,000 jacket is worn or is out of season, the price goes down—way down—making it attainable for the average person. The idea of recycling fashion was very important to me even before it became popular. So what this all means is that a creative person with a great eye can do extremely well shopping at flea markets, resale shops, consignment stores, and estate sales, even if their budget is modest. They will find high-level designer men’s clothing—both contemporary and vintage. As a music artist, fashion stylist, and men’s cologne collector, I think it is extremely important to add an interesting and complementary sensory element to every performance, giving the audience a complete experience. Fashion is just one more extension of my creativity that I share with world.
My clothing and accessories are constantly in rotation, with items coming and going. But for the gentleman who is interested in what I call “mainstay” pieces, having an eye for quality fabric and workmanship is of the utmost importance. When I am not on tour, I run a small boutique (by appointment only) in Philadelphia called the Redd Carpet Room. At the shop, I satisfy my desire to acquire, acquaint myself with, and provide gentlemen with high-quality vintage and modern menswear. Artists and nonartists alike constantly come to my boutique and trust me to do for them what I do best. I show them items that I’ve acquired from around the world. I don’t even carry my bass guitar on tour anymore, because nowadays it’s dangerous for an instrument to be handled by most airlines. So I have my promoter provide a Fender bass at every venue and I carry an empty suitcase, which I fill up with goodies from around the world. While I’m traveling, I text photos of these goodies to my guys, and they put claims on certain items even before I get back home.
All this is important to me because it is a way to preserve black culture—the traditions of a community where dressing up was the thing to do. I have heard guys talk about how their fathers, grandfathers, and uncles would change their clothes three or four times a day to look their best. You don’t see the youth of our community wearing tailored suits anymore, and I want that type of vitality and pride to return. This thinking has led me to begin a book project celebrating men’s style in the black community, filled with photos and illustrations of vintage items that were popular during the era of my youth.
If you’re in Philadelphia, come see me at the Redd Carpet Room, and also visit my associates: Erik Honesty of Cultured Couture, Taji Nahl of House of Ra’oof, the Search & Rescue Squad, and Walé Oyéjidé of Ikiré Jones. In all of these places, you will find men’s fashion items that show the range and depth of contemporary black style.
Always My Pleasure. – Jamaaladeen Tacuma