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Re-Imagining James Dean in Rebel without a Cause

In the third episode of Re-Imagining: Movie Icons, The Africa Channel and Vanichi reimagines the youthful rebelliousness of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.

The James Dean Style

Americans in the fifties were obsessed with Hollywood glamour and luxury fashion. By way of James Dean movies, this trend made James Dean’s pioneer style of American basics both iconic and rebellious.

Unlike the elaborate and bulky design of Hollywood couture, the James Dean look was a stylish blend of American swagger, ruggedness, and classic basics like the white t-shirt, a beaten leather jacket, and denim jeans (mostly Levi’s and Lee 101 Riders).  Apart from its ruggedness, the James Dean look is youthful, aloof, and undeniably beautiful.

In the movie, James Dean, otherwise known as Joseph James DeAngelo, acts as troubled teenager Jim Stark. The movie was one of the first movies to accurately portray real-life frustrations that youths from dysfunctional families experience. In this movie, Dean pairs his signature white t-shirt and denim jeans with a vibrant red blouson jacket. This jacket added an energetic and frustrated vibe to his already restless and rebellious style.

James Dean’s tragic death at age 24 made his Hollywood fame brief but intense. It also immortalized his iconic look of the cool teenager restless with youthful energy.

His life was a tribute to his famous quote, “dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”

The Model: Jim Stark

Elijah Allan-Blitz was the reimagination of James Dean bad boy look in a dashiki shirt, denim, and leather jacket. He wanted to recreate the African youth “pushing against something and rebelling with or without a cause.”

what if movie icons wore african james dean vanichi

Re-Imagining James Dean

In this look, Elijah wears a dashiki shirt, an African fashion piece with a strong voice against racism. The Dashiki is a loose colorful embroidered garment that originates from West Africa. The Dashiki is coined from the Yoruba word danshiki which means the loose-fitting pullover worn for comfort during the heat. Dashiki is also coined from the Hausa word dan ciki, meaning underneath, a clothing worn underneath large robes by Hausa men. In Ghana and Congo, it is called Angelina.

The Dashiki is in some ways similar to the American white t-shirt. It is basic, durable and comfortable for the hot humid climate in Africa. And like the white t-shirt, the Dashiki is commonly worn with denims.

The Dashiki is worn by African Americans and Africans in the diaspora to symbolize their freedom from racism, mainstream fashion and western norms. The vibrant colors, looseness and bold designs on the print is a way of rebelling against the status quo and identify with African roots and heritage.

All 10 episodes, plus a bonus overview, are currently available on The Africa and Demand Africa.