Supreme Styles

Everyone knows where Nawab is.  A lot of students live or know someone who lives behind Big Lots.  Some students used to go to the Plan 9 in that shopping center, though it’s closed now.  Lots of people have discovered Rita’s after finding Sno-to-Go closed on Sundays.  The occasional adventurous student might check out the CHKD thrift store. Everyone knows this place.  It’s right near the Bloom in the center of town—so why does it look so run-down and sad?  The answer, of course, has to do with the types of business that operate there.  In addition to the shops mentioned, there’s a laundromat, a Subway, a barber, a tailor, and a dingy fabric store.  These aren’t exactly high-income businesses.  One place interested me in particular—it’s newer than all the other shops and it caught my eye with its excellent name: Supreme Styles.

Supreme Styles took over the space Plan 9 Music used to occupy.  I hadn’t been in the store before but I’d seen their window displays when I stopped into Subway this summer.  They had a bunch of printed T-shirts and hair accessories hanging up—not exactly anything I needed, but any place with a name like Supreme Styles sounds pretty cool and I’d made a note to myself to go back when I had time.  I didn’t think I’d buy anything, because Styles means hair, usually, and I don’t need much for mine, and the shop window made it fairly clear that it was black-owned and -oriented—which meant that there might not be much there for me, a white girl not terribly interested in fashion.  Plus there’s always the fear of looking lost and out of place when you enter a cultural milieu not your own.  I’m interested in the multicultural communities of Williamsburg, though, so I wanted to see about Supreme Styles and its identity and place here.

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I finally visited.  It’s kind of what I expected—half black-oriented beauty supply store, half clothing and accessories.  It’s not a large space, but it didn’t seem cramped.  There weren’t any other patrons in the store—just the man behind the cash register.  He greeted us briefly.  There was some gospel music playing quietly in the background.  I looked around at the inventory. Up front they had tons of hair products, aimed at black women and men, and all kinds of hair accessories, from extensions to nets and caps to clips and all sorts of other adornments.  Wigs sat on little mannequin heads on a shelf that ran around the front half of the store. The Boyfriend (who, I should note, is black) got excited when he saw some of the hair products.  He said at one point he and his mom definitely had just about all of them in their bathroom at home, and he remembered his dad putting the same pomade in his hair when he was little.  I thought about my hair history and except for one inexpertly-executed dreadlocks adventure in 12th grade, I’d never used anything besides shampoo and conditioner, and mousse for a couple weeks when I didn’t know what to do with my too-short hair.  I’d only gone into beauty supply stores when I needed blue and pink and purple hair dye in high school—so that made me feel a bit out of my element (the element of minimal hair care?).

There were a few shelves of inexpensive makeup, in far more vivid colors than I’m used to seeing in CVS and Target cosmetics aisles—eyeshadow, lipstick, and nail polish in bright pinks, greens, and blues, and lots of iridescent gold tones.  There were also several racks of inexpensive jewelry—some bangle bracelets but mostly earrings, big silver and gold hoops and colorful, chunky plastic beads.  I found a pair of hot-pink hoops I liked and decided I could spend $1.50 on them.

The front two-thirds of the store contain all the hair & body care products, makeup, and jewelry. The back third is for the clothing.  It’s mostly shirts, but they do sell some pants, and I did see some shoes for sale as well. There were some button-up shirts from brands like Blac Label, but most of the shirts are graphic-printed t-shirts. The jeans I saw were dark blue and had intricate white stitching on the back—although I didn’t note the brands. Many of the clothing items had Williamsburg or Virginia printed or represented on them somehow—although they didn’t look like something you’d buy at the college bookstore. More bright colors and fewer clean-looking fonts (and they didn’t cost outrageous amounts of money).

The counter runs along the store to the right as you walk in.  Part of it is a large display case that contains presumably the more expensive items: hats, jewelry (some thick chains, pendants, and earrings), and patches.  To the right of the register was a big display of perfumes, all different colors in identical cylindrical bottles with handmade labels. Next to that was a spinning rack of diamond studs (but I’m inferring here that if they were real diamonds they’d be in the display case under the counter). Behind the counter were some more hats.  Most of them said “VA” and some had the shape of the state stitched on.  Also behind the counter is a TV monitor showing all the security camera feeds.

When we’d been in there a few minutes, the man behind the register asked if we lived here. We told him we’re William and Mary students, and he told us if we are part of organizations that need t-shirts printed up, we should let him know.  We asked if it was a slow day, since we were in there about fifteen or twenty minutes and hadn’t seen anyone else come in.  He said he’d had a lot of business that morning—people had been waiting outside when he got there to open the store.  I paid for my earrings and we left.

I was a little uncomfortable when we first came into the store.  I am white and it’s not a store geared towards white people—I’ve never really dealt with many racial issues growing up in a rural white town, so it’s surprising to walk into a business and suddenly become acutely aware of race.  It was never something I had to be aware of, because everyone else was white.  So when I go in places like Supreme Styles, I have a moment of “ah! I’m white!” where I’m used to not thinking about it.  But I felt protected because I had The Boy with me, because he’s black and familiar with some of the merchandise here, so I felt like that was my justification for coming in—even though I’m the one who wanted to come in the first place.  But that’s a little silly. Like the man at the register would judge me for coming in without some evidence of connection to a black person—of course not. They sell all kinds of soap in there too (for cheap!), and everybody needs soap. The man who works there isn’t going to look askance at me if I come in by myself sometime—who knows, maybe he’ll remember me and we’ll have a conversation.  Though the store serves the black community of Williamsburg, strengthening ties through local identification (hats printed with “VA”–hmm, I’d like to explore clothing as a statement of local belonging), it’s not barred to people who aren’t among the black community, and it’s a good exercise to push your comfort levels from time to time.


About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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