A Gay Man's Guide To The Fashions Of 'Sparkle'

By: Daniel Villarreal

Sparkle, the musical film that hits theaters today, features a many talented voices but also some great men's fashions taken directly from Motown's heyday.

The film takes place from 1950s Harlem to 1968 Detroit, but forget what you know about 1950s greasers and the 1960s hippies—the men of Sparkle shine with an impeccable fashion sense that shows just how hip the old days were.

Their wardrobe palette forgoes the era's tacky Ivy League and Hawaiian casual wear as well as the soul-deadening dark suits that typified business attire and incorporates both color and cool cuts that white Americans only adapted after blacks in Motown and Harlem had made them cool.

After all, the men of Motown and the Apollo Theater represented the entertainment industry and all its allure, even if its dashing exterior hid an underbelly of greed, gangsters and abuse at times.

In the film, actor Derek Luke plays Stix, a music manager who begins dating Sparkle (Jordin Sparks). And though his character is young, he dresses a bit more conservatively than some of the film's flashier characters.

He wears well-tailored single breasted business suits with narrow lapels, a white dress shirt and skinny tie underneath.

Tailored suits actually were quite modern during the early 60s, a style imported from the mods of 'Swinging London' with their love of sleek, slim and smart-fitting garments. Italians perfected the style and popularized shining fabrics that became de rigeur for fashionable men including the Rat Pack.

Stix's striped golden-green tie was also fashion forward for the time as bright colors in men's clothing didn't really catch until just before the 1967 Summer of Love. By that time wide ties as large as five inches across had become popular (tacky though they are).

Nonetheless, Stix's skinny tie reveals an underlying progressive streak that hints at his deeper sense of style—fun, yet perpetually ready to do business.

Mike Epps portrays, Satin, an abusive cokehead whose stand-up acts involve mocking black people, a schitck that his audiences have grown to appreciate less and less. Remember, this film takes place during the height of the civil rights era, a time when black Americans sought to empower themselves from racist oppression through a bold ethnic identity and political strength cumulatively called "Black Power."

So it's telling that Satin sports conked hair (that is, hair that has been chemically straightened as to resemble caucasian hair). Even the real-life Malcolm X conked his hair. But he soon found that it fried his natural hair and reeked of disempowerment—after all, why would a strong black man want to imitate his historic oppressors?

No. The new black 'do was all about the afro, which both men and women wore in different ways to wild and liberating effect.

Satin also rocks a devilish beard, perhaps foreshadowing his ill deeds. Beards (especially on younger men) became quite fashionable during the early 60s, eventually giving way to the mutton-chop sideburns and long hair that typify the androgynous flower children and glam rockers that subsisted well into the 70s.

But his preference of tuxedoes is perhaps most telling. As an ambitious man who keeps up a sophisticated and formal appearance in the face of personal failure, his tired face, askew bow tie and faux fur coat lapels render his refined facade all the more unconvincing.

Meanwhile, Cee Lo Green plays Black, a snazzy lounge singer who performs "I'm A Man" with a rarely seen head full of hair and furry goatee. Both actually look pretty good on him as they help frame his full-bodied face and lend character to a celeb better known for his voice.

True to his lounge persona, Black imitates the look of Motown performance groups such as The Temptations and The Four Tops—a shiny, red, fabric coat with silk lapels, cuffs and a single gold button at the waistline.

Flamboyant? Yes. Alluring? Yes.

And last, but certainly not least doe-eyed Omari Hardwick (with his handsome beard and chiseled jaw) plays Levi, a childhood friend of the Williams sisters. He appears in dark colors—in a black turtleneck, beret and charcoal coat—looking more like a beatnik poet than a funeral attendee.

The guy looks good. But then again, black has always been in style, which is why every new fashion fad inevitably gets called "the new black."