It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Watching “Fresh Dressed,” I occasionally felt myself swept up in the nostalgia of my childhood and adolescent brushes with style. It started as soon as I recalled the Slick Rick lyric the movie may have taken its title from: “Fresh dressed like a million bucks/Threw on the Bally Shoes and the fly green socks.” Director Sacha Jenkins chronicles the evolution of urban fashion, from the designers who made it to kids like me who sought it, stole it or bought it. We were all on a quest to be “fresh,” a desire that hasn’t left me to this day. I can equate my early love for a good Kangol to my current fixation on the fedora I plan to be buried in when I die. When I know I look good, all my troubles temporarily disappear.
So this movie pressed a lot of buttons I didn’t mind having pressed. For a while, I was lulled and seduced by clip after clip of the attire I coveted as a teenager—leather outfits, Adidas suits, sneakers with fat laces. And “Fresh Dressed” touches on that feeling of worth I just described, threatening to become an intriguing inspection of the sociological effects of wearing one’s “good clothes.” It primed me for a deeper discussion on how “clothes make the man,” then disappointed me by devolving into a huge commercial for fashion designers past and present.
“Fresh Dressed” offers up every single designer who inspired a Black or brown person to go shopping on Delancey Street. The parade of fashion people seems endless. We get Kanye West representing the present with his clothing line, and Sean Combs, Karl Kani, Tommy Hilfiger and the folks behind FUBU and ECKO repping the past. Cross Colours gets mentioned, as well as older brands like Polo and Ralph Lauren (one of the talking heads—I won’t say whom—gives a hilarious shout-out to Mr. Lauren’s clothing). Granted, these brands and others that get mentioned are integral parts of the documentary’s subject as a whole, but we learn very little about how their designers created their urban styles. It’s just story after story of how this rapper wore this outfit and made this designer famous. Even in this regard, there were untapped riches to be had. I would have loved to hear a more detailed conversation about how female artists like TLC and Yo-Yo commandeered the male-dominated clothing lines to carve out a place of freshness for the ladies.
Occasionally, a moment of rare insight finds its way through the marketing noise, such as when we hear how a slave’s “Sunday Best” church attire was used to judge how good his life supposedly was on the plantation; or when rappers like Kid ‘n Play and Big Daddy Kane discuss the dangers of getting “vicked” for your clothing and footwear. There’s also a helpful discussion about how folks could identify what part of New York City you hailed from based on your ensemble, and a brief mention of how street art and tagging influenced the artwork people painted on their pants and denim jackets.