- Shelby Ivey Christie is the former digital marketer and sales planner for Vogue. She is currently attending New York University where she is an M.A. candidate in the Costume Studies graduate program.
- Christie focuses her studies on the intersection of race, culture, fashion, and politics, and has written numerous articles regarding the topic.
- Online, she is known for her Twitter threads documenting black America’s historical contributions to the costume and fashion industry.
- In a sit-down interview with Business Insider, Christie spoke about growing up in North Carolina, attending a historically black university, working in corporate Fashion America, and the impact black Americans have had on the fashion industry.
- This is part of Business Insider’s “The Style Series” highlighting fashion entrepreneurs and businesses across the globe.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Shelby Ivey Christie is a historian for the digital age. Online, she is known for her meticulous and informative Twitter threads which recount and document the impact black Americans have had on the fashion industry.
This is, as she said, to make sure that black people’s contributions are widely acknowledged and appreciated, especially when they are often overlooked. Her work has led to notable partnerships, including one with streaming service Tidal where she was able to interview legendary fashion designer Dapper Dan. She also worked with Netflix for the release of Beyoncé’s 2019 “Homecoming” special.
But Christie isn’t just “Twitter famous” – she’s also an academic.
Hailing from North Carolina, she attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University where she obtained a B.A in race, class, and culture.
She then moved on to work for some of the biggest corporate names in fashion, including a stint at Vogue as a digital marketing & sales planner.
She is now an M.A. candidate at New York University for costume studies. In a sit-down interview with Business Insider, Christie spoke about diversity in the fashion industry, what has changed, and how far we still have to go.
“I was born in New York.”
I was born in New York and I lived there until I was three. And then my mum and I moved to Denver, Colorado. I grew up [in Denver] until I was 10, then I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Growing up, I [would] bounce between wanting to be an attorney and a fashion designer. I did always love fashion … [but] by the time I got to high school, [my passion] was more journalism.
“I went to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.”
I entered as a fashion merchandising student. But at the time, I had a boyfriend who went to another school and he was a history major, and I loved talking to him about black history. I was like, ‘wow, I think I really love that.’ So I secretly snuck and changed my major. [But] I was confused [about my career path] – I took two years off from school [and] in that time, I moved back to New York to intern for [W magazine] and I took community college classes online … I went back to college [at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University] when I was 21. I entered as a race, class, and culture major.
“When I came [back] into fashion in 2015 I moved to New York to intern for InStyle magazine.”
That was right around [the time] where you were hearing whispers about magazines starting to close. I love fashion and I thought, ‘ok the editorial sounds like it’s not going to be doing so hot.’ But at time, the fashion closet was right around the corner from the marketing director. I thought, ‘oh, what does he do?’ and someone said ‘Oh, he’s a marketing director.’ And I knew about marketing as a business corporate function, but I never knew these corporate roles [overlapped] into fashion … I knew there was more job security there.
“I think a lot of fashion operates on white nepotism.”
A lot of the people who occupied that space, they haven’t had to maybe work their way all the way up, or they come from a certain kind of pedigree or background. So they probably haven’t spent a lot of time around people of colour. You’re kind of the one person who they interact with throughout their day who isn’t white. So there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that from a performance perspective, always having that extra gaze on you. And then just the rigour of the work.
“Vogue was some of the most challenging work I’ve ever done in my life.”
In the last two years since I left [Vogue], I started the Instagram Stories and the Twitter threads, and they have taken off. I was only able to do that because I was no longer at Vogue – because I didn’t technically work in fashion anymore, so I could be more vocal.
[Eventually] I wanted to figure out, ‘ok, I love fashion, I want an advanced degree. What does that look like for someone who doesn’t want to go into design?’
“I’m a fashion historian and a curator, but I do wear many hats.”
I do like to always put myself out there for opportunities where I’d be leading discussions with brands. I just partnered with Tidal, sitting down with Dapper Dan for them … And I partnered with Netflix to do a thread about Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” costumes. I try to make myself available for all different opportunities … I want to be the authority as far as costume and fashion goes from a cultural, societal, and race perspective.
“I want [people] to understand that fashion is not just this frivolous thing.”
It’s not just clothing. It’s political. Textiles can tell us a story about how [the] economy [is doing] … I think the more people learn about [fashion and its history], the more it can help inform decisions and help people make better ones and understand the time that we’re living in. Just from observing fashion.
“Black people have given so much flavour, colour, and depth to the fashion landscape that it would not be there without us.”
Look at Bootsy Collins and the funk movement. And all of the camp that they injected into the atmosphere and changed the way black masculinity was perceived. Busta Rhymes, Andre 3000, Lil Uzi Vert,Young Thug – the work that they have done to change how masculinity is viewed in hip-hop from a straight cis male perspective. And we go all the way back – Zelda Wynn Valdes designed the Playboy bunny costume, [which was] the standard of sexy.
“[Black people have] always been in awe of luxury, because that’s where we come from, right?”
Luxury is a symbol of rising from the ashes in a sense. We’ve caught up to our [white] counterparts in the 400 years [since American slavery ended]. It took them centuries to do what we have done. The concept of “Sunday’s best” is something that is true to African American culture – and that thread has stayed with us. We love to get dressed.
Fashion is both societal and political … For many, many years, black women wore uniforms – something that was a maid uniform, or a housekeeper uniform. And so when you finally did not have to be in your uniform, or you were finally off work on Sunday – you were with your own family after being with the white family you worked for all week, and you finally get to Sunday, and you can wear your own clothes.
“The black elite definitely dresses differently [than they did in the past].”
Furs would have been a mile marker, white gloves, different kinds of hats. Now we’re less focused on the pearls; it’s moreso about individuality. Affluent black people have moved away from those key indicators in wanting to homogenize into white society. Now we’re at a point where to be wealthy is to be able to express yourself in the truest, purest form. Wearing a black designer on a red carpet or to a very importance appearance … that is more like a show of power and allegiance for upwardly mobile black people.
“I don’t think streetwear is dead.”
There’s been a dramatic shift back to feminine silhouettes. But I don’t think that means that streetwear is dead; I think people are observing that [shift] and they might think, ok, there definitely is a shift away from [streetwear] as far as, you know, whole collections dedicated to streetwear. But I don’t think it will ever be dead because it’s ingrained in a black way of dressing, and one can’t be divorced from the other.
When you see a sneaker, whether that is on a runway or out on the street, that comes from a certain kind of hip hop culture. There’s culture in that, whether it’s intentional or not.
“I’m passionate about making sure that our footprint [and] black people’s contributions to the fashion landscape are documented and more widely known.”
As a black woman who used to work in fashion, we revered the YSL, we revered the Dior – and I love [Dior] and I love his legacy – but we so often don’t hear or see anybody who looks like us, even though they existed.
My hope is that people who are passionate about fashion – even people who are already more familiar with the black footprint and the black impact of fashion – know that we were there in the beginning and that there are all these great fashion pioneers who were black too.