How Shelby Ivey Christie uses Twitter to amplify Black fashion voices
The fashion and costume historian, Shelby Ivey Christie, on controlling the narrative around Black sartorialism
Saturday 5 February 2022 By Leonie Owiredu Photography by Mcklyn Cole Valencio
Twitter is a place where a cacophony of memes, discourse, and streams of consciousness intersect – an unlikely home for Shelby Ivey Christie’s detailed analyses of the costumes in Mariah Carey’s Glitter or of Luther Vandross suits.
Christie was featured on Forbes 30 Under 30, has her MA in costume studies from NYU, and works as a consultant for brands such as Facebook and NET-A-PORTER. Christie examines fashion through the lens of race, class and culture, aiming to amplify Black contributions to fashion. We speak to the fashion powerhouse about how Twitter threads help her to do just that.
Let’s talk about your Twitter threads. When did you start creating them and why did you choose Twitter as the medium?
‘Being a Black individual rising in the fashion industry, I didn’t see any Black stories in media. I want to make sure our contributions and perspectives are being shared. If I must use my social platforms to do so, then I will. Twitter was my only medium when I started. There’s a layer of camaraderie in my threads because we can relate about being Black. We can talk to each other in a real way.’
Can you detail your process in preparing a Twitter thread and telling the story of a costume piece?
‘I don’t have a uniform process. My ideas often sprout from TV or film; I’ll know a fact and think other people would be interested to learn it too. Last year, I came across an article by Cassie Oh, a Black woman, on how monochromatic tones had meaning throughout the diaspora. I began building off her research as I read. I will also simply add historical or cultural context to a topic I see on Twitter.’
How do you find the balance between sharing costume history and keeping people outside of the fashion world engaged?
‘My goal is to always be accessible; I approach fashion and costume history as a translator. I’m from Charlotte and consider myself Southern. Sometimes the fashion industry can be too New York-centric and I make it a point to talk in my regular Southern AV. You’re going to see my y’alls, I want to be authentic to myself.’
What is it about Black style that makes it a subject you want to revisit again and again?
‘I identify with it. I’m a fashion kid and I grew up on Tumblr and reading magazines. I also want to know about stories of people who look like me. There are holes and gaps for us. I know this stuff; let me fill those gaps, let me start this conversation.
‘I don’t need a New York Times article to tell me that my work is a valid form of costume or fashion history because it’s black. I want other Black professionals to feel motivated to find those stories about Black people and uncover works that may not be touted.’
What is the value of Black narratives being told by Black people?
‘There are Black stories now being told by Black people, but they’re not being costumed by Black people. Why are we watching a Madam CJ Walker film that a white woman costumed? It matters who the vehicle is, not just the message.
‘The Black experience is a lived experience. These stories must be told by someone who has lived in that skin and walked in those shoes.’
Where are you headed next?
‘I want to package these threads into a documentary, then perhaps write a book, specifically a children’s book to show kids that people like them can have fashion careers.’