Words by Mikelah Rose
In the early to mid 2000’s, it seemed like everyone caught a little dancehall fever. Shaggy, Sean Paul and Beenie Man were at the forefront of the crossover movement, and their international success piqued fans’ interest in what was really going on in the dancehall. Fans around the world wanted to emulate styles straight from the source, and people who weren’t Caribbean wanted to rock Puma gear with Jamaican flag colors—well before Usain Bolt was breaking world records.
Mirroring real dancehall (albeit a cleaned up, PG-13 version of it) of was important for keeping the authenticity in music videos. Vibrant colors, current dance moves and a few slightly scantily clad females were just a few ways of re-creating the real thing for global mainstream TV. Rihanna’s debut song “Pon de Replay” and Sean Paul’s “Gimme de Light” were key videos that showcased the creative styles of dancehall to the mainstream.
Rihanna “Pon De Replay”
Sean Paul “Gimme the Light”
For a while it seemed that red, green and gold/yellow colors were everywhere from Jamaica to Japan, and they even proved to be a hit with luxury designer brands. Early designs from Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. line infused the colors in handbags while other designers like Christian Dior and Blue Marine followed suit later on.
With the influx of video cameras at every party and the easiness of uploading video clips to sites like Youtube, dancehalls styles from Jamaica began to be replicated in dancehalls across the world. As dancers and partygoers gravitated to the video lights, they had to consistently stand out visually in order to get good camera time. Knowing that you could never wear the same thing twice sparked a certain, anything-goes creativity. Straight fitted jeans (sometimes a little too fitted), boat shoes and colored framed glasses were donned by male dancers, while accessories like belts, hats and scarves were a must.
Check out a clip from the dancehall documentary Hit Me With Music for an all-in-encompassing overview of 2000s-era dancehall fashions in the form of clips from the highly influential Passa Passa street party:
The ladies of dancehall, meawhile, kept it sexy and chic, putting a female spin on many of the same accessories just mentioned. Female deejays like Tifa’s “punk meets dancehall” style with puffy skirts, arm bands and cut off graphic tees were hot. Singers like Tami Chynn and duo Brick & Lace went for a more dancehall-chic look with rompers, heels, shorts and belly bearing tops. But they all found ways of keeping the colors vibrant and feminine.
Brick & Lace “Love is Wicked”
Color coordination and vibrant solids and patterned tights; stripes, polka dots, lamé and lace were—and still are—quite popular. Colored sneakers meanwhile became popular for girl dancers as they strove to recapture some of the attention being given their color-conscious male counterparts. But sexy heels were still an option. Check out Japanese Dancehall Queen Junko and her dancers, matching punk rock hairdos and wigs, shorts and high-heel boots for a look that’s equally feminine and tomboy-ish.
As the decade progressed, dancehall artists and followers became increasingly enamored with luxury brands like Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuiton–as seen and referenced in numerous songs and videos. As the first decade of the new millenium ended and 2010 began, Vybz Kartel’s “Clarks” and “Straight Jeans & Fitted” made everyone flock back to some more classic styles, which he deejayed about. Although Clarks shoes have been around for years–since the 1800s, actually–interest in the brand across the Caribbean and the Diaspora was re-invigorated with the release of “Clarks.”
Vybz Kartel “Clarks”
Although we have come to a close of exploration of dancehall fashion through the years, one thing remains constant: we Jamaicans (and dancehall followers around the world) are a colorful bunch! The more variety the better because it’s about fearless self expression through clothes to compliment the personality.