Before even hearing Shi Wisdom‘s voice, she had me at her two-tone jumpsuit. I first saw the R&B songstress perform back in February. Her stage presence dazzled, both by her incredible talent as well as her vibrant style. An understated force in the Toronto music scene, she has collaborated with Drake, Kardinal Offishall, and JD Era. This past July, Shi released her debut album LVSPK. She spoke to me about her trademark look, the hypersexualization of black women, and the awesomeness that is Prince.
If you could define your style in one sentence, what would it be?
“I wear what I want, if it fits and flows.”
How did you dress as a kid?
As a kid, I bounced from really girly stuff to kind of tomboyish stuff. I didn’t have one set style. My mom has always had a dope sense of fashion and always hooked me up!
What else did your mom teach you about clothing and style?
She’s always taught me about wearing my size. She also taught me about when it’s appropriate or inappropriate to wear certain things. Those lessons have served me well throughout my life. What a woman wears and how she wears it has a great deal of influence on how she is treated. Especially being a black woman.
Mainstream hip hop has a history of ramping up the sex appeal of female musicians, to sell records or what have you. Have you experienced any pressure to look a particular way?
I’m a singer, but being a woman is the same in either genre. There’s always pressure to over-sexualize women, especially women of colour. I have no qualms with being sexy at all. My issues lie in the fucked up beauty perceptions that are continuously forced on Black women. I’m a brown-skinned, plus-sized woman. There will always be that voice from The Man that tells me to be lighter in shade and in weight. I definitely don’t counter losing a few pounds for the sake of a healthier lifestyle, but the skin lightening will NEVER happen. I’m a proud Black woman who is not afraid to be sexy, but not willing to sell my body in order to make the people hear what I have to say.
In what way does the music industry influence your look?
The music industry introduced me to consistency in style. Consistent style is a major part of branding. The more people recognize you for the little things, the better.
Is there a difference between a brand and a style?
Branding differs from style simply because a brand has to remain consistent, where style can change like the weather.
So your trademark septum ring would be part of your brand.
My horseshoe septum ring was just something I got because I loved the way it looked. At the time, I didn’t see many Black women in Toronto really rocking it, which drew me to it even more. It eventually became something that many people remembered me by. It became a part of my look. Now, it’s even a part of my logo. It’s totally me!
Is it true you may get signed on to a major label? Are you concerned about having to conform to a specific mold to sell records?
Anything is possible at the present moment in terms of signing to a major label. There are options there that I’m weighing. I’m certainly not concerned with having to conform to a specific mold to sell records. If my records don’t sell themselves, my style is not the issue at hand.
Your showy stage outfits are such a treat for fans. But how much of what you wear on stage affects your presence and mood?
The better I’m dressed, the more confident I feel. My outfits, while performing and in life in general, have a lot to do with how I feel in that moment (for the most part).
I still remember that flashy red and orange jumpsuit you wore. Where do you get all your fashion finds in Toronto? Do you ever make your own clothes?
That’s one of my favourite pieces! Love it! Unfortunately, I don’t make my own clothes. But, I will any day now. I have intentions of taking a few sewing classes.
I love thrift stores for the simple fact that what you find there, you’ll never find anywhere else. Also, the vintage stuff is made so well! Hence why those clothes stand the test of time and can still be worn today with confidence. They’re not making clothes like that anymore. They’re not making timeless clothes that last. Everything new I’ve bought likely won’t even last a year. It’s a shame, really.
You talk about taking musical inspirations from the likes of Prince, Bob Marley, and Amy Winehouse. Do you take any style inspirations from them too?
I wouldn’t say that I’m inspired by Amy or Bob’s style. Prince, though, inspires me to wear whatever I want to wear. He just did his thing and didn’t give a fuck!
OMG, Prince! He’s a fashion GAWD. What was your favourite ensemble?
It would be nearly impossible for me to pick my favourite Prince get-up. But here’s an awesome picture of him (one of many). I love what he’s wearing there!
Shi Wisdom’s Top Five Musical Style Icons
Erykah Badu > She’s totally in her own world and I love that.
Janelle Monae > She doesn’t switch it up often, but her look is classic and consistent.
Solange > Her style is colourful and playful and just UGH!
Beyonce > Always on point no matter what the outfit. She can do no wrong!
Kelly Rowland > She always wears such flattering, beautiful clothing.
photography // Brittany Lucas