How Chicago Gang Violence Affects my Fashion Sense

Anyone who knows me  well is aware of my love of fashion. Some days I think I should have studied it rather than earning a master's degree in social work. I love love love fashion even though I can't afford much of it right now.  I often think I would be in a better position to pay off my school loans with a fashion degree, considering how social work jobs pay indentured servant like wages.

I'm like a poster child for girly girl tendencies. I like to dress up just for the fun of it. Besides, I like to think I'm always interviewing for something, even if it's not for a job. No, I don't need makeup and all the glitz and glamour  of accessories. But, sometimes I like having a bit of color to accentuate my almond eyes. Cheesy I know...

A few days ago, I decided to go to the jazz festival at Grant Park. I wanted to change up the look and do something more along the lines of "bad ass". I threw on a mini skirt, a black collared shirt (with the sleeves rolled up), some punk rock gloves and my MAC russian red matte lipstick. I had just bought a bright caribbean green bandana at a hair supply store for a dollar that I thought would look great wrapped midway around my brown afro top.

Ooh wee I was working the style! Some silver hoops and a chain with a leaf pendant hanging from it solidified the look. I carefully added some black eye liner to match the bold lip color and turned up the volume of my eyelashes with Cover Girl mascara. Confident of my ready to wear runway attire, I started posing in the mirror and talking up how cute I looked.

Why a punk rock look for a jazz concert? Who knows. It was just how I was feeling and I guess I wanted to challenge the idea that someone dressed like a punk rocker wouldn't possibly listen to music made by Allen Toussaint and Carrie Underwood .

As I went back and forth from the bathroom to the bedroom, some loud recording in my head started playing. I began to ask myself if the green and black colors had anything to do with a Chicago gang's colors. Living on the west side of Chicago, I'm all too aware of the violence that has plagued Chicago's summer. I cuss out loud every time I read about another shooting in the Chicago Tribune, or hear about some innocent child getting shot on the way to school. Just last week, there was a shooting within a two minute walk from where I live. I heard the gun shots circle around the house just before the police and ambulance arrived. Thank God I was indoors and not at that corner stepping off the bus from another free Chicago event.

Before making a final decision about the bandana on my head, I searched on the internet to find out if what I was wearing matched the description of any Chicago gang colors. "Really? I have to consider this when it comes to living in Chicago?" I said to myself. The violence not only causes me to be hyper aware of my surroundings, but  also infringes upon the choices of clothing I put on my body. I just want to choose my clothes based on what I'm feeling as I prepare for another joie de vivre experience .

About twenty minutes went by as I looked through the websites I found on Chicago gangs. I kept going from looking at the websites to looking at the bandana in the mirror.   "Take a chance or possibly get shot?" I kept thinking. "Damn. Damn. Damn. I really want to rock this look. Surely nothing about me says gang member or kin to a gang member" I reasoned. But many innocent bystanders, with no affiliations to chicago gangs, have been shot this summer en route to carrying out their living.

Off came the bright green bandana. An african, black and white printed dress strap would have to do the trick.

In my 31 years of living, I've never had to consider whether or not my attire could be connected to gang violence.  Fashion isn't just fashion in Chicago. What you wear in this city says a lot about what side of Chicago you're from, if you're a part of the elite or a member of some of the less visibly lethal political circles. I can't help but wonder if a Caribbean girl living in the South Loop of Chicago or somewhere in Evanston, Illinois, would have to think twice about how what she wears may be associated with gang colors.

I'm ashamed to admit that in the minutes that it took to decide if I should wear the bandana, I finally found one reason to miss living in Boston (even though it and other cities have their share of violence). Nothing in me misses Boston's dry kaki and chino fashion standard.  I've just never had to swap a piece of my apparel to ensure my physical safety while living there.

I hope next summer will include lower temperatures of violence in Chicago. I want the students waking up to get dressed for school, to worry more about getting a good grade on a chemistry exam and less about dodging another bullet walking past a sketchy corner. Maybe next summer it won't matter what color bandana I plan to pair with a mini skirt. For now, the green one will have to stay on the dresser.





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