The first image of this show features a man wearing tartan tights, Regency-style heels, a large hat, a cardigan with sleeves pulled over his hands and a gold chain across his bare chest. All at once, he looks strong, fragile and way cooler than you (or I) could ever hope to be. Curated by writer Ekow Eshun, the exhibition gathers photographs from as far back as 1904 and from the four corners of the globe to chart the journey of the black dandy.
While it would be easy to get bogged down in how incredible the ensembles are – fantastic flares, perfect pattern-clashing and seriously sharp suits – this show is about a lot more than achingly cool style. Dandy-dressing is an act of peaceful rebellion – rather than knocking down stereotypes, it waves them flamboyantly away with a feather fan. From the immaculate tailored outfits of Senegalese men in Larry Dunstan’s black-and-white studio prints, to the incomparable pattern-clashing in Hassan Hajjaj’s work, these men are elegant, impeccably dressed and defiant. Looking straight at you, you can almost hear them say, ‘Yeah – and what?’
But many images are as much political as personal. Take Samuel Fosso’s self-portraits from the ’70s, where he stands graceful and audacious, his flares as wide as his hips. Fosso’s style is a two-fingered salute to Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the then-emperor of the Central African Republic who – in what sounds like a sub-plot from ‘Footloose’ – banned the wearing of bell-bottoms and platforms.
Other pictures are pure jubilation: Malick Sidibé’s photos of post-French Mali show men dancing and posing like pros, looking fun and silly in their brilliant attire, dots clashing with stripes. And this is the point. The dandy is freed from the expectations of his class or race by his clothes and style. ‘Made You Look’ is a fascinating exploration of black identity and gender norms – but be warned: you’ll leave feeling the need to up your sartorial game.