In 1967, my mom, Wei-Kuo Liang, accompanied her parents on a visit to her brother in boot camp at Hualien, Taiwan. My grandfather took her photo in front of the ivory bridge. She’s wearing a pleated yellowy green empire waist silk dress with gold heels.
My Wisconsin-born father, Dick Smith, took a job for IT&T in the early ’60s which sent him to Puerto Rico. He met my mom, Elsie Feliciano, there. They fell in love, had my sister, and then after a few years he moved them back to Wisconsin.
This photo of my parents (before they were married, around 1961) was taken at the San Juan Caribe Hilton during a Nat King Cole concert. When I saw it, as a child, it was the first time that I had any inkling that my mom had a previous life and was something other than just “my mom”. I remember feeling like this glamorous women couldn’t possibly be the same one that tucks me in at night. I didn’t realize she had so much style and elegance until I was older. Now that she’s gone, I treasure it even more and think about the life she left behind and the life she would have ahead of her. How resilient were our mothers! Mine left a beautiful tropical island and became a wife and stay-at-home mom in a small town in northern Wisconsin!
She told me that my dad bought her the whole outfit for the concert, from earrings to shoes. Oh, I wish I could see those shoes! The gorgeous dress, the beads, the purse, and those legs (!!!!), even my dad’s skinny tie - they just ooze cocktail cool. Why don’t we dress like this anymore?
Submitted by Michelle Smith-Grage (Rhinelander, Wisconsin).
This photo was taken (ca. 1928) during a summer that my grandmother spent in Bayonne, NJ working for college money and living with her maternal grandmother and cousins. The family was from Statesville, NC. One sister and her husband migrated to Bayonne around World War I, and several siblings and their mother later followed. My grandmother, who died last year at age 101, had wonderful memories of the summers she spent visiting her family in New Jersey. This photo includes cousins Jay McNeely (1906-??), unknown, Ardeanur Smith Hart (1903-1996), my grandmother Margaret Colvert Allen (1908-2010), and Wardenur Houser Jones (1913-1941).
This is a stunning photograph of a fashion show at Tule Lake Relocation Center in Newell, California in September 1942. It was one of the most popular events held at this camp on Labor Day. The large audience appreciated the dressmaking and tailoring skills involved in these shows.
I’m absolutely floored that there were fashion shows in this internment camp - also known as No No Camp - often considered one of the most controversial of the camps because it was where many Japanese Americans were sent who refused to answer (or answered incorrectly) loyalty questionnaires. The entire premise of the loyalty questionnaire was flawed - most of the Japanese sent to internment camps were U.S. citizens who never lived in Japan - but there were two questions, in particular, that were especially controversial.
"Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?"
"Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the US from any attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power, or organization?"
Many Japanese Americans felt that these questions were ridiculous. First, having just been stripped of their rights by Executive Order 9066, they didn’t feel like they could defend this government. Second, they didn’t know how to forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor when they had none in the first place.
Photo by Francis Stewart, from the Calisphere archive.
This is a makeshift beauty salon at the Japanese American internment camp called Camp Amache or Granada Relocation Center in Colorado. Like many other internment camps, Camp Amache was built on an Indian reservation. In other words, the government’s forcible relocation of 120,000 Japanese American citizens and legal residents from the West Coast depended in great measure on the displacement of Native Americans from the interior U.S. (The Poston camp in Arizona was overseen by the Office of Indian Affairs, now the Bureau of Indian Affairs.) World War II is just one of the many moments in U.S. history in which Asian American and Native American histories are mutually shaped and deeply interconnected.
The film Passing Poston: An American Story (on the Poston internment camp in Arizona) explores the cross-genealogies of Japanese American and Native American histories a bit.
“In assembling a collection of women of color’s sartorial ephemera, the aim of this project is twofold. I hope OF ANOTHER FASHION helps ameliorate the curatorial neglect of women of color’s fashion histories. I also hope that a collection of personal objects and memories will produce an alternative mode of historical knowledge that is based not simply on an archive of facts (dates, designers, design styles, etc.) but rather, to adapt a phrase from Ann Cvetkovich, an archive of feelings.”—To read more about why there’s a need for this digital history project, see my guest blog post for Etsy!
Mabel Robinson (R), a go-go dancer on the NBC musical variety television show, Hullaballoo (1965-1966). She went on to become assistant choreographer for the Sammy Davis, Jr. Show. (Ebony magazine, April 1966)
It’s unclear whether these women are simply fans of the pioneering Black-oriented radio station WANN (a 1000-watt daytime station based in Annapolis, Maryland) or if they were hired to promote Hoppy Adams' popular radio show. Either way, this works really well as a publicity photo.
The radio station began broadcasting in 1948 and hired Adams in 1952 where he remained for 30 years.
This is my mom. In her red cigarette pants, black ballet flats, and her Vuarnet cat-eye sunglasses, she looks every bit like a glamorous starlet on holiday. The entire outfit (minus the accessories) was gifted to my mom from her more cosmopolitan older sister, who had just returned home after spending a year studying abroad in the U.S. The outfit came from Sear’s, a brand my mom then knew only through the catalogs circulating in Viet Nam. In this photo, taken in 1966, she’s sitting next to the Song Ba river while on a college field trip to the highlands of Viet Nam.
Even more than her clothes, I love her hair in this picture: its length (hard to see on that rock but it falls almost to her waist) and the bangs swept casually to the side. It’s so Françoise Hardy! My mom hasn’t worn her hair long in at least 25 years but when I look at photos of her with long hair, I feel utterly connected to her.
Some people inherit their mothers’ nose or eyes; I got my mom’s hair: impossibly thick, heavy, and straight. I’ve never been to a salon in which the hairstylist didn’t call over at least one other stylist to feel my hair. The texture of my hair means that I’m limited in the ways that I can style it (no pixie cuts for me) but its strength and, yes, obstinancy reminds me every day that I am my mother’s daughter.
Twenty-five days after giving birth to my older brother, mom jetted off to Paris in a red wool jumpsuit. Her purse is from Tangiers. “It looks like very nice leather,” she tells me, “but red dye came off in your hand. Oh! and the bottom compartment held shoes.” It’s December 1971 and she’s in Paris here.
Many thanks to Gracie O for sharing this photo of her mom, Wei-Kuo Liang.
My good friend Teresa Limon (ca. 1956), was born in New Mexico to a New Mexican native and a Mexican immigrant. As a young woman, she packed fruit in Santa Barbara, California but later moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where she became and remains active in local politics, particularly concerning Chicano/Latino issues of social justice.
I love that this photograph captures her characteristically wide smile but what I love most is the position of her hand offering the slightest attempt at a pose.
A model takes the catwalk in maybe the best capri pants I’ve ever seen at the 47th Anniversary of the NAACP Banquet and Fashion Show in the El Cortez Hotel in San Diego, California. (The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. 13 April 1956)
A model takes the catwalk in a coat and hat at the 47th Anniversary of the NAACP Banquet and Fashion Show in the El Cortez Hotel in San Diego, California. (The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. 13 April 1956)
Models posing in front of the El Cortez Hotel in San Diego, California at the 47th Anniversary of the NAACP Banquet and Fashion Show. (The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. 13 April 1956)
An officer inspects the luggage of this smiling Japanese American woman wearing a cardigan and cross at the Santa Anita Park assembly center where she will be processed for internment. Among the items confiscated were cameras. Japanese Americans were not allowed to visually document their own lives in the camps but were subject to white American photographers, some of whom like Dorothea Lange were commissioned by the government via the War Relocation Authority.
N.B: Toyo Miyatake famously smuggled in a lens and built a camera while interned at Manzanar. A documentary of his life during internment was recently produced called Toyo’s Camera.
From the Library of Congress’ Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information Collection (April 1942). Photographer unknown.
These three Japanese American women are just arriving to Lone Pine, California (May 1942, photographer unknown). They’re walking to a bus that will take them to Manzanar internment camp. There is so much to love about this photograph: the saddle shoes and socks combination, the headscarf, the wide-legged trousers, and, oh yes, the suitcases (including that makeup case!). More striking, still, are the huge smiles.
"For the camera, you smile": Feeling Political
The first time I saw photographs of my family at Camp Pendleton (a refugee camp for Southeast Asians following the Viet Nam War), I was really confused by how happy everyone looked. Though Southeast Asian refugees were definitely not “interned” at these refugee camps, national politics and geopolitical forces compelled them to leave their homes in much the same way Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes. So why did everyone look so happy? When I was about 10, my mom explained it this way: “Of course we were sad and worried but - for the camera, you smile.”
Many of the Japanese American internees photographed by Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange must have felt the same way. According to Sue Kunitomi Embrey the chair of the Manzanar Committee, Adams hoped to capture the despair of camp life in order to stir some public sympathy for Japanese Americans but was frustrated by all the primping and posing Japanese Americans did when he was photographing. (Recall that internees were not permitted to bring cameras of their own into the camps).
While I don’t take lightly this decision to include photographs of internment life (or refugee life) in this fashion archive, I’ve decided to include some that depict not only the rich fashion sensibilities of Japanese American women in the 1940s but also a style of strength and resistance often captured in the best fashion photographs. Rather than glossing over the ugly realities of racism that led to this serious infraction of civil rights, I hope that images of smiling and fashion-conscious Japanese American women like the three here adds to and deepens our appreciation of the small acts of feeling, creativity, and resistance that happen everyday in spite of huge limitations.
In an act as seemingly trivial and trite as smiling for the camera, these women interrupt and take some control of the historical, political, and visual frames through which they’re being viewed. And in this way, these kinds of photographs exemplify precisely the goals at the heart of this alternative archive: to present an alternative mode of historical knowledge that is based not simply on an archive of facts (e.g., dates, designers, and design styles) but rather - to adapt a phrase from the queer performance scholar Ann Cvetkovich - one based on an archive of feelings.
Jessica Metcalfe (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) was kind of enough to send me the entire six-page pamphlet released by the Department of the Interior in the 1970s featuring fashions from the eponymous label of designer Remonia Jacobsen (Otoe and Iowa Indian).
“While standards of beauty and style are not universal, you’d be surprised at how many overlaps and interconnections there are in the fashion histories of women across racial differences.”—For more about the interconnections of race, gender, and fashion, read my interview with Alyson Mance (of AOL’s Black Voices on Style news website).
This hairstyle, dubbed the “Freedom Burst,” is another look featured in the Jones’ All About the Natural book published by Clairol, Inc. (1971). The “bursts” are created by two separate cornrow braids beginning from above each eyebrow and braided back.
For many years, this unknown woman was mistakenly identified as the illustrious writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. Her actual name is still not known but her hat and her smile are clearly fabulous. (1935)
When my mom, Wei-Kuo Liang, was in her twenties, she was a stewardess for China Airlines. This allowed her the freedom to see the world and undoubtedly expanded her life, and fashion horizons. She was always bold and fearless, especially for her day, which is why she’s an inspiration to me.She’s a fiercely independent woman and I think it shows through her clothes. I try to emulate her courageousness and have been known to take a few fashion risks myself. (I constantly chide her for not saving her clothes for the daughter she never knew she would have.) My mom has taught me to take no prisoners and to be strong. She is, hands down, the most influential person in my life.
In this photo, she’s 26 years old and visiting the Hoover Dam en route to Las Vegas (1970). My mom’s wearing a mini red dress with little green and gold flower print and red/gold shoes and sunglasses from New York. There’s a blue silk scarf in her hair. She tells me that my grandmother stressed the importance of not bending over in this dress.
Let one thousand more bonnets like this one bloom! This woman, photographed by famed French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, was a participant in the legendary Harlem Easter Parade (1947). I’ve been staring at her Easter bonnet for weeks now and thought I’d finally share it here. (I wouldn’t mind getting a better look at the man behind her either. His pinstripe suit looks impeccable.)
Here I am with my mom, Shukla Reyes, in homemade matching outfits (ca. 1978). She made so many matching outfits for us from patterns bought at Woolworth’s that I don’t remember how many we had. My mother was extremely fashionable - she had furs, leopard print coats, blazers - she was always dressed to perfection. As a young woman, she moved from India to London for beauty school where she was spotted by a director making a movie about the Bengali riots called A Private Enterprise (1974). She thought she might become an actress but that didn’t work out. Instead, she moved to California and married my dad.
Instead of buying me new clothes, she passed her clothes on to me. And that was embarrassing when all I wanted was a Guess denim skirt. I’ve inherited most of her clothes and her style. Because of my mother and her dressmaking skills and personal style, I thrift and avoid trends and labels except for designer shoes (which were my mom’s weakness too). I’ve adopted her carefree, thrifting attitude - I still sew things up to fit me.
Many thanks to Rani Neutill for sharing this sweet photo and story of her mom.
Photographs like this make me feel really lazy about my own hair. Sitting from left to right are Kiyo Yoshida, Lillian Watkatsuki, and Yoshiko Yamasaki. These high school girls are in a biology class in the Manzanar internment camp - look at that gravity-defying hair pouf on Yamasaki!
Photographed by Ansel Adams, 1943. From the Library of Congress