Mashable published a powerful story examining the lives of several black Americans who have chosen to dress in suits to avoid being profiled by authorities. In light of the murder of Trayvon Martin, whose hoodie became a unifying symbol for black activists, many black men say they simply don't feel comfortable without dressing up. "I like to wear hoodies,” Alex Peay,f ounder and president of Rising Sons and one of the men interviewed by Mashable, said. "But when I put it on, there’s so much more suspicion. I don’t feel comfortable wearing comfortable clothes. I’m worried about what will happen to me. I also see how others see me. People clench their purses, women don’t walk the street when I do. I’ll wave hello and no one waves back."
The act of wearing suits is a way for black men to deflect negative attention, to say: "I’m safe. I don’t pose a threat. You can trust me." However, this is hardly a new development. African-Americans have tried to dress formally as a way to gain respectability since the 1800s. "When a captive African was enslaved, when they decided to run away, one of the things they did was they stole clothing," Calvin Warren, assistant professor of American studies at George Washington University, told Mashable.
That trend evolved throughout history as men and women made sure to dress in their best suits when attending church on Sunday. Jazz musicians then embodied the image of the eternally cool black men before clothes took on a different type of political meaning. African-Americans wore dashikis during the politically unstable times of the '60s, grew out afros to declare their individuality in the '70s, and popularized hip-hop styles in the '80s.
Still, while black men are trading in their hoodies for suits, some believe it's all for naught. "How black men uniform themselves is irrelevant in the eyes of the police," Jabari Asim, professor at Emerson College, told Mashable. “He’s not looking at your sneakers; he’s looking at your skin."