What is a Classic Man?

While watching Jidenna’s music video, “Classic Man,” I was drawn to his fashion choices throughout the song. I was very curious about it’s significance and where it came from. Clothing choice has been an important way of differentiating cultures for a long time. Particular garments highlight cultural similarities and differences, emphasize cultural identity, and mesh cultures into similar frameworks (Rovine). This sparked my interest in how this fashion came about and how it relates to Jidenna. 

Jean Allman’s Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress explores the “ways in which power is represented, constituted, articulated, and contested through dress” (Hopkins). I found this interesting because you can see this Cleary in “Classic Man.” All throughout the video, Jidenna and the men around him are dressed in very sharp suits, exhibiting the true “classic man” look, giving them a look of confidence and certainty. 

Jidenna’s background also plays a role in the importance of fashion in “Classic Man.” His fashion in the video came about due to the fact that he was broke growing up. He talks about how he would go to thrift shops, which were made up of clothes often from previous generations, buy clothes for a small cost, and make them his own. “I was more concerned with “the fit” than fitting in (Jidenna, 2015). This then sparked my interest to look into the history of second-hand clothing in Africa. In Zambia, the term salaula references second-hand clothing imported from the West. This clothing trade expanded along with the liberalization of economies. Hansen explains how the clothing trade is an example of unequal North-South relations in Africa in her article, “Second-Hand Clothing Encounters In Zambia.” A man from Lusaka explained his love for salaula by saying that he did not like “common clothes and imitations,” but preferred something outstanding. With salaula, you find things and don’t even know how good they are. Another woman views salaula as exclusive because she doesn’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing (Hansen). I thought that this was a perfect comparison to Jidenna. Jidenna explains that the term “Classic Man”, to him, refers to how a person carries themselves in whatever they wear, whether it’s fancy clothes or not. In an interview, he says that you are a classic man when you have “a fit that’s tailored to you and your body” (Jidenna).

Another point that I found interesting was the history of the African textiles. The Dutch East India Company played a big role in trading in European markets, and saw a large opportunity to produce batik textiles. They began to duplicate the specific style of clothing using an industrial printing process, which greatly interested merchants in West Africa. As they work to imitate clothings from different regions, African textile factories began producing cloth based on Dutch prototypes, called wax-print or Dutch-wax (Rovine). These textiles are now found in many parts of Africa and are supposed to elicit a feeling of national and cultural identities, which interested me because the cloths themselves weren’t even from African background, which is what seemed to be so important. 

Jidenna continues to explain how being Nigerian-American shaped his own music. He explains how he was influenced by Highlife music from Nigeria, which was the first music he heard as a child, and how he imitates the vocal delivery of that music. (Galbraith 2015) John Collins defines Highlife Music as “one of the myriad varieties of acculturated popular dance.” (Collins 1989) It is a music style that emerged from Africa and fused with Western influences. It is a ‘black and white’ fusion style.  The first popular fusion style of music was called ‘gome’ or ‘gombey’, which came out of Sierra Leone in the nineteenth century. Gombey drumming was created by slaves from West Africa who brought their musical ideas with them. (Collins)

The fashion in the video connects to class because we have spent time discussing the European rule of Africans. The classic man could represent the civilized individual that Europeans wanted to keep from being created. The European fashion sense has been altered through African fashion, which led to Jidenna’s adoption of his own fashion as a mix of the two. The fashion can also connect to Europeans because Jidenna took other generations’ clothes and made it his own, which is the same thing the people in the video seem to do, which is also similar to the fusing of African and Western-influenced music. 

There is so much more to learn about these topics. If you’re interested, more information can be found in the sources below! Thanks for reading!

Collins, John. “The Early History of West African Highlife Music.” Popular Music, vol. 8, no. 3, 1989, pp. 221–230. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/931273.

Galbraith, Alex. “Jidenna Finally Explained His Reasoning For Making ‘Classic Man’.” UPROXX, UPROXX, 12 Sept. 2015, uproxx.com/music/jidenna-classic-man-explanation/.

Mary Carol Hopkins. “Africa Today.” Africa Today, vol. 52, no. 4, 2006, pp. 130–135. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4187742.

Rovine, Victoria L. “Colonialism’s Clothing: Africa, France, and the Deployment of Fashion.” Design Issues, vol. 25, no. 3, 2009, pp. 44–61. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20627816.

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