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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The Daily News titled this photograph “Mexican American Female Gang” when it ran the photo in 1942 but the systematic criminalization of Mexicans in the 1940s as a justification for racially-motivated attacks (especially directed at zoot suiters) makes me a little wary of the title. In any case, these women seem so utterly cool to me. They’ve been arrested and are sitting in a police station when this photo was taken but look at the nonchalant, almost bored, expression of Frances Silva on the upper left and the raised defiant chin of Josephine Gonzales on the bottom left, as well as the cavalier pose of Lorena Encina on the bottom right in her baggy zoot suit pants and perfect hair. The other two women on the bench are Juanita Gonzales and D. Barrios. These sister-friends (consider the protective gesture of Encina’s elbow on Barrios’ leg) are such badasses, all of them.

These nine women are members of The Covered Wagon Whist Club. If anyone has any information on this club, I’d love to hear about it. The exact date of the photo is not known but the Smithsonian lists the date as 1930-1940.

Credit: Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

These two women are posing at Disneyland in 1956. The women with the corsage is identified as Isabel Varges from Colombia, and she’s the Godmother of the other woman’s daughter (unidentified). I haven’t been to Disneyland in at least 20 years but I doubt the park gets very many visitors wearing corsages. Style!

3 years ago 56 notes

Tagged with:  #Latina  #1950s

This is my mom, Alice Antwi. Her older sister, an air hostess, gave her this lacey see-through mini dress. She’s also wearing a baseball cap, which was a very popular accessory at the time. This photograph was taken in 1974 at her father’s house in Kumasi, Ghana.

Submitted by Ama Kyere (Ellicott City, MD).

This is Dolores Tejeda (20 years old) of Oxnard, California - the winner of the Southland’s Latin-American colony beauty contest. Her title is La Reina de Churubusco IX. She was chosen from 12 finalists in a contest held in conjunction with the ninth annual Black and White Ball.

The photograph was originally published in The Los Angeles Times on 7 September 1948.

This photograph titled “Picnic group, Highland Beach, Md / 1931” shows 21 girls from the local YWCA sitting in and on what has been identified as a 1929 Packard Model 633 8-cylinder Rumble Seat Roadster. I assume that the man wearing the dress shirt and tie in the background is the adult chaperone. Notice the variety of hats some of the older girls are wearing - they’re using fashion to distinguish themselves from the younger girls in pigtails and swim caps. (Is that a sombrero on the girl sitting at the back of the car?)

Credit: Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posting to say, WOOOHOOOOO!! Of Another Fashion now has more than 10,000 followers!! (10,054, to be exact - for now.) I’m ecstatic to discover that so many people care about a more inclusive history of fashion.

A wonderful birthday morning, indeed!

Some of the most stunning photographs in Of Another Fashion were taken by Addison Scurlock who the Smithsonian described as “among the very best of 20th century photographers." He and his sons, Robert and George Scurlock (pictured above in the 1950s in the Scurlock Studio) produced nearly a century’s worth of photos capturing the social life of Washington D.C.’s Black middle class from 1904 to 1994 - many of which are preserved at the Smithsonian. To view some of these photos, click on the tag “Scurlock Studio” at the bottom of this post.

In 2009, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture presented an exhibition of the Scurlock photographs called "The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise." Excerpts from a Washington Post review follows below:

The Scurlock men loved beauty. A dad and two sons, they prowled this city with their Graflex cameras, pointing and clicking from morning into the deep night. Through their cameras, the world looked sweet, even lush.

Never mind that a good amount of their work was done from the 1920s through the 1950s, when much of black America was enduring a daily harshness.

Addison, the dad, started it all, taking pictures over on U Street, hanging out with jazz folk at night and swearing to naysayers he could make a go of it. He imagined a photographer’s life could put food on the table.

It took guts for a black man to dream the way Addison Scurlock did. The Harlem Renaissance hadn’t exploded yet when he began to capture a swirling world of Washington men in long coats and fedoras, women in silk and fur. He and his two sons, Robert and George, wanted to capture the way sunlight landed on their subjects. They introduced the viewer to the joy their subjects - actors, musicians, socialites, artists - had in simply being alive.

The Scurlock exhibition highlights more than 100 black-and-white photographs that were taken when the world was very different for people of color. It was a world where reports of lynchings were in the daily newspapers, along with “coon” ads for minstrel shows.

“In some ways what amazes me about the Scurlocks,” says Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and a Scurlock historian, “is, how do people believe something when they shouldn’t believe it? There was nothing that told Addison Scurlock he could counter the stereotypical elements in black life at the time. But he countered it.”

Washingtonians have doubtless seen a bootleg print here and there of a Scurlock image in local storefronts, but the original prints are so textured and detailed that sepia music swirls about the subjects and their surroundings. Bunch believes the exhibition will not only cement the Scurlock legacy, but also spread it to a national audience.

These Mexican American women are on a YWCA outing in 1944. They’re posing in a mountain stream. I’m especially loving the individualist on the far left standing ankle deep in the stream, in trousers and a sweater.

But please note too that the woman in the makeshift two-piece bathing suit, second from the right (her bottoms are most likely shorts that she’s bunched up to reveal as much leg as possible), is ahead of her time. Dominant fashion histories credit French engineer Louis Réard with the invention of the bikini in 1946 and 19 year-old Parisian model Micheline Bernardini as the first to pose in a bikini - both events took place two years after this photo was taken.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

This fashion daredevil in white pants at a Los Angeles area beach is Jesusita (ca. 1926). That roller coaster in the background makes me think she’s at Venice Beach, just off the boardwalk.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

This is my grandmother in the 1960s. Here she appears to be the very picture of composure, her high-collared, close-fitting shift dress and closed-toe shoes are in contrast with the barely clad beachgoers in the water behind her. This was probably taken very soon before she and my grandfather emigrated from Taiwan to move to California, where she still lives.

What is amazing to me about this photograph is that I know almost nothing about her life before she moved to the LA/Orange County (California) area. It’s a time rarely spoken about directly in my family, and only occasionally alluded to in a manner that I imagine might be shared among many immigrants to the U.S. In fact, this photo is one of the first glimpses I have ever had into my grandmother’s youth. I came across it accidentally only days ago in a photo hunt for her 90th birthday. I do know that in the decades after this photograph was taken, she and my grandfather became restaurant owners and real estate developers in Orange County. She has actually lived longer in the U.S. than she has outside of it.

Submitted by Yeesheen Yang (San Diego, CA).

Looking so cool on a warm summer day in Greenwood, Mississippi (ca. 1950s). Unfortunately, there’s no identifying information attached to this photo.

Marylou Martinez and Mary Puga (standing left to right) are preparing to go out on the town with their friends (ca. 1964). All are donning classic 1960s bouffants.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

This woman is buying ice cream for children from a truck in Natchitoches, Louisiana (ca. 1940). From the looks of her hat, her dress, and the general elegance of all the people in the photo, my guess is that this photo was taken after church. Everyone seems to be in their Sunday Best. (Notice the man in the hat and three-piece suit and the children’s clothes, which are clearly not play clothes.)

Source: Farm Security Administration Collection. The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Because my parents had a traditional Ghanaian marriage that was not recognized by the U.S., my mom Alice Antwi needed this marriage certificate to be able to get a visa so that she could move to the US with her husband, my father Sampson Kyere. She wore this dress on the day she went to the court to obtain the marriage certificate (August 1980). She told me she chose to wear this dress because she did not have too many available and it was already there. The hat was a hat she typically wore to church. 

Submitted by Ama Kyere (Ellicott City, MD).