Since the first human decided that it was a little chilly outside and put together a dope three-piece wooly mammoth fur outfit, black people have been at the forefront of fashion. Looking cool is a part of our expression and creativity so it is only natural that we have created our own culture of dress.
While everyone’s personal style is different, there are a few accepted norms that extend across the culture, including categories of clothes. We’ve all seen someone at the club who was clearly wearing church clothes or someone at Sunday morning worship who sporting a “going out” outfit. Although we know it when we see it, we have decided to rank the different categories of black clothes, from highest to lowest on the scale of importance.
1. Church clothes
Church clothes is the highest category of black fashion but, in spite of the name, church clothes don’t have anything to do with church. The list of places where one could wear church clothes includes job interviews, funerals, court, and all 50th birthday parties.
Comedian Steve Harvey was one of the first entrepreneurs to take advantage of the church clothes phenomenon when he introduced his line of 62-button church suits.
Because people wear anything to church now, it is very unlikely to find someone wearing church clothes at church unless it is the pastor’s anniversary or another special occasion for which the choir marches in. The Easter suit is the highest class of church clothes, although niggas in Detroit are known for their all-occasion Easter suits.
Church shoes are the anchor of church clothes but they must be “hardbottoms.” Stacy Adams was one of the founding fathers of the hardbottom movement and still reigns supreme to this very day. A pair of Stacy Adams is basically the “red bottoms” of church footwear. In fact, I urged him to take advantage of the popularity of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” by changing his slogan to:
These is ‘spensive, these is Stacy Adams, these is Jesus shoes.
He did not return my email.
Whether it is a Beyoncé concert, a date or a cookout, “outfits” are selected in advance for special occasions and often include multiple pieces.
The only way to preserve an outfit is to hang it on the back of a chair or lay it on a bed until the special day arrives. Once worn, the outfit is generally taken to the dry cleaners, even if it is machine washable. In the rare case that an outfit is washed, it warrants a special ceremonial ritual that is called the “unfolding of the ironing board.”
One must not iron an outfit on the bed.
The highest level of outfits are worn by people who attend historically black colleges and universities. Although church clothes technically fall in a higher category, a homecoming outfit outranks an Easter suit. There is no greater class of clothes than a homecoming outfit.
3. “Going Out” clothes
Going-out clothes accentuate the physical characteristics of the wearer and boosts the person’s self-esteem. They are typically worn on dates, to nightclubs and whenever a person thinks they might run into their ex.
Women choose their going-out clothes based on how it looks in a full-length mirror in a retail store’s dressing room. Unbeknownst to most women, they also choose men’s going-out clothes.
Anytime a woman tells a man “I like those shoes,” or “You look good in that shirt,” it automatically becomes part of his going-out clothes collection. Some people often think that some men wear the same thing all the time but if the right woman compliments a man’s going out clothes, he will buy 212 versions of that shirt.
The highest class of “going out” clothes is the “Titty Dress.”
I did not come up with this name, but according to people I spoke to on the condition of anonymity, Tanzania McIntyre says every woman has a dress that makes her breasts look like they got eight hours sleep and had a nice, healthy breakfast. This category is not limited to dresses. My source also tells me that every woman has a pair of jeans that makes her booty look like she does 200 squats every night.
4. School clothes
Again, this category has nothing to do with school or the education system in general. School clothes can range from jeans and T-shirts to button-ups and khakis, and are worn every day in public.
Most adults wear school clothes to work. A lot of churches allow parishioners to wear school clothes to service, but not at my church. We have a dress code. The deacons won’t let you in wearing jeans or rubber-soled shoes (unless they are white, have thick soles and you are a board-certified usher).
Even when a teenager wears an “outfit” or church clothes to school on picture day, they do not cross over to “school clothes.” The only exception to this rule is that, under certain circumstances, an ensemble worn on the first day of school can be classified as an “outfit,” making the first-day-of-school outfit the top level of school clothes.
White people wear school clothes everywhere, even at homecoming and church.
5. Casual clothes
I honestly never quite understood what this means. How does one dress casual? It’s not a place like a school or a church; it’s an attitude. How the hell do I dress like an attitude?
Although the category is difficult to define, 98 percent of all women will wear a jean jacket over casual clothes. Women’s casual clothes are also typified by pockets. I have no idea why, but women love when their clothes have pockets and will mention it like the designer discovered a new chemical element.
The linen “short set” is the highest level of casual clothes for men, while the sundress is the ultimate casual outfit for women.
7. Work clothes
Again, this category’s name might be slightly misleading because it has less to do with one’s place of employment than it has to do with one’s dress habits. Work clothes include Dickies, McDonald’s T-shirts, police uniforms and anything that a person wouldn’t wear if they weren’t at their job.
For instance, a pair of black Reeboks are work clothes for all security guards and people who work at Applebees, but they are school clothes for people who live in 1989. In fact, most people wear school clothes to work unless, of course, they work in a high-level position like a lawyer, senator, news anchor or pimp.
They wear church clothes.
The highest level of work clothes, for any profession, is indicated by the adornment of the neck. The crew chief at McDonald’s gets to wear a neck scarf. The supervisor at the auto parts store wears a necktie. The officer in charge of the murder investigation wears his badge around his neck. The manager at Walgreens wears a lanyard to swipe so the cashier can void an order. All black high school principals wear bowties.
6. Play clothes
Also called “outside clothes,” this category is self-explanatory. One of the worst cardinal sins in the black community is to be caught by your mama playing in your school clothes. When arriving at your home, your first activity should be changing out of school clothes into some play clothes. When one becomes an adult, “play clothes” are called “house clothes.”
According to the National Association of Play Clothes, 82 percent of play clothes are actually pieces of apparel that have been retired from the school clothes rotation. Therefore, all school clothes are eligible to become play clothes if—and this is the important part—they are comfortable enough to take a nap in. This is the only category that allows for this kind of downward mobility. Church clothes will never become play clothes.
I’mma just be honest—I’m lowkey jealous of nurses and all people who get to wear scrubs to work. They look comfortable as fuck. Why the hell are they the only ones who get to wear pajamas all day? This feels racist.
I believe that one day in the future, we will live in a society where we can wear scrubs at work, school and while at play. I have a dream of going to Howard’s homecoming and seeing the Ques stepping in camouflage scrubs with no shirts on. I have a dream that children will wear their designer scrubs on the first day of school and plumbers won’t show their ass cracks because the elastic waistbands will hold their pants in place. I dream that one day, little white boys won’t have to wear polos to places where they should be wearing tuxedos and little white girls won’t have to wear Daisy Dukes that sag in the rear. I dream of an all-scrubs society.
But not at church.
Jesus and my head deacon ain’t having that bullshit.