As far back as I can remember I have always had a love of fashion. All fashion: the good, the bad, and the awful. Fashion in my opinion has always been less about clothes (even though my chosen profession is that of designer) and more about style & attitude. For me style has always been far more democratic than fashion.

I was born in the ‘60s and my family was very Black middle class. Our mode of living was not extravagant, but we lived extravagantly through our style. Early on I was inundated with style, from my mother’s ever evolving looks to my grandmother’s steadfast devotion to her Chanel-influenced Kimberly Knit suits.

For us back to school shopping took on the importance of the couture shows in Paris. My mother would pre-shop the stores for trends and direction, put items on hold for us, and then we would go in for fittings. If we liked a certain style particularly well, say a shirt or pants, she would not just buy us the one but one in every colorway or pattern. Clothing had importance for us, an importance not dictated by a designer label; it was more about what you wanted to wear and when you wanted to wear it. We had outfits for school. We had outfits for picnics. We had outfits for church. We had outfits for holidays.

My parents were very social. I would sit in anticipation to see my mom’s new formal dress or which of my dad’s tuxedos would be chosen for the evening. Yes we had more than one, he had several from a ‘60s Sutach-embroidered shawl collared style to a ‘70s Cranberry velvet two-button with grosgrain trim (think Tom Ford’s Gucci collection fall 1999. Dad too was always dapper and the epitome of fashion. The unexpected was a given in our house and change was imperative.

This evolution is very apparent in my grade school photos. Kindergarten through fifth grade, from Star Trek to Layered Prep, Nehru to Hippie, my changing style was celebrated, never discouraged. I recently discovered this early rebellious celebration of style not to be uncommon among my peers in fashion. This revelation was the genesis of this photographic journey.

I invited over 100 fashion insiders, outsiders, and beautiful people to share their personal photos. Style is so subjective. If you ask 100 people what style is, you’ll get 100 different points of view. The result of their submissions, The Way We Wore: Black Style Then, is a unique review of fashion and moreover personal style.

Text by Michael McCollom