Fly Girls and Fresh Princes

A style supercut of the freshest early-'90s fashion

In the 14th episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air our hero Will Smith finds himself bored with his new private school uniform. He discovers that the lining of his blazer is far more interesting and, in my earliest childhood memory of watching the show, flips it inside out. Throughout the entire run of the show, Will never shies away from flamboyant clothing. It compliments his personality perfectly: his candor, his confidence, and his insistence on never entirely fitting into his new surroundings.

This supercut celebrates the vibrant colours and vivid patterns of the wardrobes seen in films and TV shows between 1989 and 1992: Do the Right Thing, White Men Can’t Jump, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and In Living Color. The influence of grunge had not yet taken hold of popular culture, and I’m sad that we couldn’t have staved it off for a little longer. I prefer Wesley Snipes’s low tanks and cycling hats in White Men Can’t Jump to muddy flannels and ripped jeans any day of the week.

Another reason to savour this era was the abundance of Rosie Perez. In White Men Can’t Jump she made hoop earrings work for any occasion, be it rollerblading in Venice Beach or fulfilling her dream of appearing on Jeopardy! She introduced boxing gloves as a fashion accessory in the opening credits of Do the Right Thing. Her style influence no doubt extended to the Fly Girls of In Living Color, where she was the choreographer for the first four seasons. It’s a Herculean task to pick just one favourite look, but the lime green scarf with the floral print dress holds a special place in my heart.

So travel back with me to a fresher, more fly era. A time of scrunchies, spandex, and suspenders. When people wore their personalities not just on their sleeves, but on their knuckle rings as well.

video and text // Daniel Reis
title design // Jackie Hudson

Today’s Forecast – Hot!

It’s 1989 and it is hot. Spike Lee’s third feature film is a terracotta-hued, slice of life character piece, set on the hottest day of the year—and the heat is getting to just about everyone. With a score that tips its hat to Porgy and Bess, and a camera that wanders languidly up and down a Bed-Stuy Brooklyn block, Do the Right Thing chronicles a day in the life of a cast of characters that reaches Altman levels of eccentricity. From brownstone stoops to the pizza parlour, bodegas and the streets themselves, a story evolves out of questions of race, rights, and expression. What does it take for a man to take a stand? How does a misunderstanding at a neighbourhood pizzeria end in a riot?

Exasperated with typical Hollywood depictions of race relations, Lee sought to fill the void with a more honest rendering. Inspired by the tragic events of the Howard Beach Incident in 1986 and the rise of Afrocentric activism in hip-hop, Lee hit the zeitgeist with his brash sense of humour, interspersing violence with empathy.

From the moment Rosie Perez dances her heart out to “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy (a song that swims through the film like one that you can’t get out of your head) during the title sequence in all her fearless fly girl glory, decked out in red, white, and blue, you know you’re in for a visual assault on the American Dream. Lee’s camera follows Mookie (played by Spike Lee) as he ambles, indifferent, in a Jackie Robinson jersey on his delivery runs for “Sal’s Famous Pizzeria.” A fight breaks out between Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) and a Larry Bird-jersey clad John Savage over a pair of scuffed Air Jordans. There’s Radio Raheem’s (Bill Nunn) ‘Love/Hate’ rings and the parable that comes with them, Mother Sister’s (Ruby Dee) caftans, DJ Love Daddy’s (Samuel L. Jackson) parade of hats that are as relevant as his commentary, and Jade’s (Joie Lee) effortless charm in her belted dresses; the neighbourhood is brimming with style. Prolific costume designer Ruth E. Carter developed a visual feast that has aged incredibly well, despite being, for all intensive purposes, a very timely film. Watching Do The Right Thing now, after all that has happened since then, is just as relevant and fearless as it ever was.

text and screencaps by Cayley James