Gangster Party: Paisley Prints

There was not a time in my entire childhood where I didn't have to wear a uniform. Whether it was my private Christian preschool or my magnet high school, I was always forced to wear white polo shirts and black or navy khakis with some nuances depending on the school. Not because these high performance institutions I attended's focus wasn't on education. Sure, that was part of it. But uniforms for Black and Brown children in the 80s, 90s and 2000s in the Greater Los Angeles area was for our own safety. If you're not a native Angeleno or at all familiar with gang culture then I know you have to be asking yourself some of the same questions my friends from other U.S. cities were asking me my freshman year of college. The most apparent being, "But you guys were kids and presumably not gang members? Why would that have effected you?" These are innocent inquiries that, in retrospect, seem so asinine to think this was a thing that I lived through. However, for us it was just a part of our every day lives. 

  Photos by Ashley Nguyen

Photos by Ashley Nguyen

I remember so badly wanting to wear the color red. When I was in middle school, I was somehow able to convince my parents buy me a bright red Blackhawks hockey jersey for free dress day at school. I was so excited to pair it with my brand new Fila's and Pelle Pelle jeans. When I arrived at Curtiss the next day, I might as well have been wearing a scarlet letter on my chest. I was immediately met with puzzling gazes and whispers from my classmates. Before I even reached my morning hang out spot with friends, an administrator grabbed me and escorted me to the principal's office. They called my mother to bring me a change of clothes, explaining that it wasn't safe for me to wear that particular color. Even in this Black suburban neighborhood which had apparently been the territory of an Eastcoast crip gang.  

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On the flip side, I had a gun pulled on me at a high school party for wearing powder blue Timberland boots in Compton. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life that as a native African American Angeleno, I'd so oddly expected to eventually happen. It's insane to think that I could have lost my life over wearing a color like so many young people have before and after me in the streets of LA. 

While gangs are still a thing, I'm happy to know that the tide has changed dramatically for kids today. Speaking at my high school regularly and talking to my nephews, it doesn't seem to be as prominent and dangerous as it once was. Students are pretty much free to wearing what they'd like without fear of death. Gangster rap had changed too and we have rappers like Nipsey Hussle and YG from rival gangs who promote unity and entrepreneurship to the youth. My brothers at Trap Kitchen, also rival gang members started a successful business together and show kids what can happen when you put petty differences to the side and unite for a common goal. 

Gangster attire has also taken on another persona in the mainstream. Bandanas and paisley prints are now being used by high fashion designers and stylist. Dickie's newest collection can found on sites like ASOS. Katy Perry and the Kardashians are wearing gold grills and gaudy jewelry. 

This is my homage to something that's very much a part of my culture with my own spin on it. Paisley print shirt, gold grill from the Slauson swapmeet, cropped chinos and Fenty Pumas. Gangster. 

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