Of Another Fashion

An alternative archive of the not-quite-hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of U.S. women of color

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Our family does not keep much, nor do we keep in touch much. But my mom and I have tried our best to determine the dates and names of family photographs. 

This is my grandma, who passed away in January 2011. My grandma sewed almost all her clothing. She also worked in the famous I Magnin and Bullocks stores, which is where she bought her clothes if she did not make them herself. Here she is as a teenager in the late 1940s. She is wearing, probably, a store bought dress. The photograph was taken in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Submitted by N. D. (Los Angeles, CA).

I bought this photo in 2008 or 2009 in a vintage shop in Newark, Delaware. There’s an inscription on the bottom right where the ink has mostly rubbed off.  But by tilting the photo, I was able to read the imprint left by the pen: “To a Lovely Aunt, Love Rita.” I have no idea who the original owner of the photograph is. There was no other identifying information and the shop owner told me this photo was part of a larger box of photos purchased in a lot sale.

I think it’s an amazing photo that should be shared.

Submitted by Renee Ormsbee (Newark, DE).

Such a lovely pose! The woman in the photo is not identified, unfortunately, but the photo was taken by the legendary Addison Scurlock (ca. 1930).

This is a photo of my grandmother, Nancy Green, during a visit to Detroit to see her sister and brother-in-law.  She says it was taken sometime in the late 1940s in a park.  I can’t say for sure but, knowing my grandmother, she bought the dress.  Sewing has never been in her skillset. She’s 90 now. 

Submitted by Precious J. Green (Atlanta, GA).

I found this photograph when I went to my local post office to drop off some mail. As I was checking my p.o. box like I always do, I saw this sitting on the counter.  Before I picked it up, I looked around and waited for a few minutes to see if anyone would come back for it, but no one did. This means, unfortunately, I have no identifying information for the photo but for someone as obsessed with old photographs as I am, this one’s just awesome.

Submitted by Eden Hemming (Tulsa, OK).

**Curator’s note: While there’s no identifying information, this photograph screams 1970s funk to me - from the woman’s Afro, halter top, and platform shoes to the little boy’s driving hat (perhaps a Kangol?). Also, it’s heartbreaking to me that this gorgeous photo was lost in the juggle of  everyday errands - if anyone recognizes the subjects in the photo, please let them (and me) know!

The lunch counter is a vexed symbol in U.S. cultural history. It is at once a key site of struggle against everyday and institutional racial segregation and a romanticized site of many hopes where young lovers share milkshakes and budding ingenues are “discovered” (e.g., the myth of Lana Turner). Because there’s no identifying information that I could find for the photo above, it draws, in some way, on both histories for me. But for the flower in her hair, the woman in the foreground of the photo in the skirt suit might be a career woman having a quick read during her lunch break. The hair accessory, though, suggests something more glamorous. I’m going to guess that the photo was taken somewhere in the northern part of the country in an already integrated lunch counter since from their clothes, it doesn’t appear that this photo was taken in the post-Civil Rights era.

There are so many found online photos like this one that deserve more consideration. I hope that by posting them here, the hive mind of the Internet will be able to fill in the missing details. If you know the who, where, and when of this photo, please let me know!

Many thanks to Whitney Wyckoff for the wonderful piece on Of Another Fashion in NPR’s Picture Show!! I’m honored NPR has chosen to spotlight us in its photo blog!

For those of you who are just being introduced to Of Another Fashion now, please note that at its heart, this is a crowdsourced project. I’m looking to the Internet community to help create this alternative history of fashion and women of color. See here for information on how/what to donate.

Also, that fabulous photograph of the Howard University flappers is the work of the amazing Scurlock Studio. See here for more on this illustrious family art team and business.

This is Linda Herr’s senior portrait from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, California, 1942.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

This is my mother Alice Antwi. A photographer came to her father’s house in Kumasi and took this photo of her standing on the porch (ca. 1975). She’s wearing an afro wig.

Submitted by Ama Kyere (Ellicott City, MD).

Friends Enriqueta “Rikki” Caceres (L) and Alice Gonzalez Morales (R) in San Pedro, California wearing dresses that hint at the swing dresses that will become so popular in the 1940s. The photo was taken in 1935.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

As a general rule, it’s not the clothes but rather the relationship between the clothes, the woman, and the social context that is centralized in OF ANOTHER FASHION. But while this dress is displayed on a dress form rather than a person, the background story of the dress is so amazing and so relevant that I decided to include it in this archive.

From the National Museum of African American History and Culture website:

Though Rosa Parks is best known for her role as a civil-rights activist, the Alabama native also worked as a talented seamstress at the Montgomery Fair Department Store. She was on her way home from work on December 1, 1955, when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. That very day, she had been sewing the dress above.

There’s very little known about this photo taken in 1959 by the Kirksey Photo Studio but what I love about it is the bride’s eyeglasses. Today, more often than not, contact lenses replace eyeglasses during formal events - it was a happy surprise to find them here.

Credit: Anacostia Community Museum, Percival Bryan Collection

Several blogs have posted this photo but, as far as I can tell, there’s no identifying information. I’m posting it here for the same reasons everyone else has posted it - it’s a wonderful photo! But please do let me know if you know anything about it.

Friends Concha Galindo, Henrietta Valencia and Fortunata Valencia, on a one day trip to Santa Barbara 1920.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

Antonia Ordóñez on left and Guadalupe Juarez-Ordóñez, sitting on a half moon prop for novelty photos at the Santa Monica Pier. 1920 Their expressions suggest that this photo wasn’t their idea.