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We can’t stop thinking about the amazingly chic wardrobe created for the film Black Panther. Where did the inspiration for those looks come from? We admit, we’re kind of obsessed with this movie, in no small part because it’s so stylish. Costume designer and Academy Award winner Ruth E. Carter has achieved a first, at least for us: a super-hero movie wardrobe that makes us want to shop the outfits. Wakanda style rocks – but where exactly did it come from? We went looking, and here’s our curated list of 10 of the best non-fiction books to read to learn about the Afro-futuristic inspiration and the history behind the costume design and stellar fashion statements from the movie Black Panther.

10 Books on the Design History of the Fashion in Black Panther

We were stunned by some of the gorgeous dresses, capes and jewelry created for Black Panther. Especially the ones worn by Princess Shuri, her mother the Queen, and master spy Nakia. We’d never seen anything quite like them. They were an incredible mash-up of ancient African tradition and modern Western silhouettes. And those earrings worn by the Queen? Are you kidding us? Think the clean modern lines of Calvin Klein crossed with the attitude of Yeezy and sprinkled with the elegant polish of vintage Dior, and you might come close. We basically wanted to buy everything these characters wore.

Sadly, that’s not an option (although it really should be).

Best books to learn about the Afrofuturistic inspiration behind the design history of the stellar fashion and costumes of the movie Black Panther. Photo Courtesy the studio.

Even though we can’t add them to our closets, we still wanted to understand the stories behind the costumes. The words “inspired by Africa,” and “Afro-futuristic” didn’t really tell us what we needed to know. We wanted the inside story on the culture and history of style and dress in the African diaspora. So we set out for our favorite bookstore in New York, Rizzoli, and the experts there guided us to 10 must-read books that will help all of us get smarter about African fashion and design. And also about how street style, hip-hop and African-American culture are influenced by, and in turn influence, the creations coming out of the motherland.

Best books to learn about the Afrofuturistic inspiration behind the designs of the stellar fashion and costumes of the movie Black Panther.

Best books to learn about the Afrofuturistic inspiration behind the designs of the stellar fashion and costumes of the movie Black Panther. Photo Courtesy the studio.

10 Books on the Design History and Origins of the Fashion in Black Panther

This is our recommended reading list if you want to better understand the nuances of Wakanda style, starting with African textiles and going all the way through the stories of current black fashion icons.

1. African Textiles: The Karun Thakar Collection by Duncan Clarke, Bernhard Gardi, and Frieder Sorbe.

This is a fascinating journey through the private collection of Karun Thakar, widely considered to be one of the best collections of woven textiles in the world. The collection includes rare pieces from Central, Northern, and West Africa. Weavings from Ghana, Nigeria, and the Ivory Coast. Embroideries, veils, and haiks from Morocco and Tunisia. And raffia fabrics from Congo. The book provides a broad and deep exploration of the history of textiles on the African continent. Organized by region, each piece is photographed in a way that highlights the colors, patterns, and skill with which it was created. It’s a splendid way to immerse yourself in the craftsmanship and artistry of African fabrics.

BUY NOW – $249.00.

2. Fashion Cities Africa, edited by Hannah Azieb Pool.

In a searing 2012 op-ed piece, Hannah Azieb Pool took Western fashion designers to task for their so-called “African-inspired” clothing. “Dear Fashion,” she wrote, “Africa is a continent, not a country. Can you imagine anyone describing a fashion trend as ‘European-inspired?’ Of course not. It’s meaningless.

In this book she sets out to correct the misconceptions, providing context for contemporary African fashion design and demonstrating its depth and breadth. She delves into four key fashion communities on the continent: Nairobi, Lagos, Casablanca, and Johannesburg. There are interviews with designers, stylists, and commentators in each city. And street-style images to illustrate various ideas.

BUY NOW – $28.50.

3. African Catwalk by Per-Anders Pettersson.

In this appropriately vibrant purple hardcover collection, photographer Per-Anders Pettersson documents the emerging African fashion industry from 2010 to 2015. He visited sixteen countries and attended more than forty fashion events to explore the rich origins and trajectory of the industry. He takes us inside Fashion Weeks in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola, Nigeria, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, and Ghana, and interviews influential African designers, including Duro Olowu, David Tlale, Gavin Rajah, Thula Sindi, Taibo Bacar, Deola Sagoe, Folake, and Lisa Folawiyo.

BUY NOW $44.56.

4. The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora by Carol Tulloch.

The Birth of Cool investigates the role of dress in the creation and assertion of black identity. From the gardenia corsage worn by Billie Holiday to the work-wear of female African-Jamaican market traders, through to the home-dressmaking of black Britons in the 1960s, and the meaning of a polo-neck jumper as depicted in a 1934 self-portrait by African-American artist Malvin Gray Johnson, this study looks at the ways in which the diaspora experience is expressed through self-image. Images and interviews from Britain, Jamaica, South Africa, and the US explore how personal style statements reflect issues of racial and cultural difference, and illustrate how style and dress both initiate and confirm change, and expresses identity and resistance in black culture.

BUY NOW – $34.95.

5. Vintage Black Glamour by Nichelle Gainer. 

Vintage Black Glamour showcases a trove of historic photographs of black female actors, dancers, writers and musicians who worked in the 20th-century entertainment business – some well-known, but most overlooked by the mainstream press of the day. Style icons like Lena Horne are showcased here, along with many names at risk of being lost to history. The beauty, strength and elegance of these talented women is timeless and inspiring.

BUY NOW – $70.00.

6. Vintage Black Glamour: Gentlemen’s Quarters by Nichelle Gainer.

Gentleman’s Quarters is the companion to the author’s first book. This time, men are the focus, led by the always supremely elegant and regal Sidney Poitier.

BUY NOW – $99.31

7. How to Slay: Inspirations from the Queens & Kings of Black Style by Constance C. R. White.

One of the few surveys of black style and fashion to date, this is a comprehensive overview of African-American style through the twentieth century, focusing on the last thirty-five years. Through striking images of icons like Josephine Baker, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Miles Davis, Rihanna and Pharrell Williams, the cultural underpinnings of black style influences become clear. From hats to hair, the importance of attitude, the use of color, ’60s style, and the influence of Africa and the Caribbean, this is both a scholarly work and style primer, and absolutely fascinating.

BUY NOW – $38.02.

8. Russell Westbrook: Style Drivers by Russell Westbrook.

design history Black Panther

Written by the two-time NBA All-Star MVP, Style Drivers focuses not on sports but on sartorial experimentation and style influences. Westbrook describes how he uses style as a psychological weapon, and issues a rallying cry to be fearless and confident in fashion and in life. Its a cool modern exploration of what it means to be stylish.

BUY NOW – $22.98.

9. Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style by Shantrelle P. Lewis.

design history Black Panther

Lewis is a U.S.-based curator and researcher specializing in diasporic aesthetics and the survival and evolution of African traditions. (And can we just say, we love the title of this book?) In her work, Lewis describes her chosen subjects as “high-styled rebels.” They’re black men with a penchant for color and refined fashion, both new and vintage. These dapper gents have had real influence on mainstream looks, redefining what it means to be black, masculine, and fashionable. While it might seem totally of this moment, we learn that black dandyism is not new. It originated in Enlightenment England’s slave culture, and has continued for generations in black cultures around the world.

BUY NOW – $20.00.

10. Disguise: Masks and Global African Art by Pamela McClusky and Erika Dalya Massaquoi.

design history Black Panther

This is the perfect bookend to a reading list about a black super-hero. It’s a fascinating overview that explores how themes related to masking and disguise in the past have transitioned into the modern era. The reasons behind the longevity of masquerades. And how disguises offer ways to disrupt and re-imagine reality. With masks prominent on runways for several shows for Fall-Winter 2018, this book is newly relevant for both cinematic and real-life purposes.

BUY NOW – $37.08.

Books on the Design History and Origins of the Fashion in Black Panther

There you have it — ten books that will educate and inspire on the topic of the fashion influences of Africa, Afro-futurism and the people of the African Diaspora in the Oscar-winning costumes and fashion in the movie Black Panther. Happy reading! #WakandaForever.

Pamela Thomas-Graham

Pamela Thomas-Graham is the Founder & CEO of Dandelion Chandelier. She serves on the boards of several tech companies, and was previously a senior executive in finance, media and fashion, and a partner at McKinsey & Co.