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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At the turn of the 20th century, very few Chinese people but especially Chinese women thanks to the Page Act of 1875 were in the United States. Chinese Exclusion Acts prohibiting most Chinese from immigrating (beginning in 1882 and then expanding through the mid 20th century to exclude most other Asians) had the intended effect of severely decreasing the population of Chinese Americans. Laws like the Page Act that specifically barred female Asian immigrants made it nearly impossible for those Chinese who were born in the U.S. or Chinese who had immigrated before 1882 to have families. This was the first and only time in U.S. history that a racial group was singled out for immigration exclusion.

Amelia Lee, pictured above, was a racial and gender minority in 1910 when this photo was taken. It’s likely from her age, name, fashionable clothes, and the studio portrait that she was born in the U.S. to a relatively well-to-do family.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

When I showed my grandmother Alice Ishizaki this photo (ca. 1918), she started laughing really hard because of the giant bow on her head. She’s about 5 years old in this photo. “That is so awful. That’s the worst hair style I ever had. Look at that bow. Horrible!” She’s posing with her parents, my great grandparents. My grandmother, Uno Ishizaki, mostly made her own clothes and likely made the outfit she’s wearing. The photo was taken in Oakland, California.

Submitted by Cheryl Motoyama (Santa Ana, California).

I love that these two young African American women in matching outfits have personalized their looks with different accessories. (Virginia, 1910)

From the Library of Congress

This portrait (ca. 1913) was taken at Palmer’s Photography Studio, a Black-owned business in Galveston, Texas. Standing are Dora Dolly Sanders (L) and Johnnie Mae Dolly (R), daughters of Rita Dolly (seated). I don’t know much about the clothing except that Rita (my great grandmother) and Johnnie Mae are wearing taffeta while Dora’s dress is made of cotton. Johnnie Mae was known for being very stylish in her younger years (as you can see from the boots and hat) while Dora was considered to be more plain in her style. Here, they’re wearing their Sunday Best.

These were poor but really proud people who really stuck together and took care of each other. All the children lived within blocks of Rita in Galveston and Rita lived within a few blocks of her mother, Julia Dolly (my great, great grandmother).

Many thanks to Halifu Osumare for sharing this family photo.