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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In 1966, after studying at the University of Hawaii for two years, my mom Sumiko Carroll (née Namihira) went back to Tokyo, intending to enroll in a Japanese university. However, soon after returning home, she read a 2-line ad in the Japan Times (an English language newspaper), seeking flight attendants for Northwest Orient Airlines. Mom says, “I didn’t think I would get the job. I went mostly because I wanted to see who else would show up, but when I got there with my resumé, I was the only one there!” What followed were 5 days of tests, a different subject for each day, including English and math. “On the last day was an interview for the three of us who passed. We were told to pack and prepare to fly to Minnesota in two weeks for training.

After working for Northwest Orient for a year, Mom was hired by Pan American World Airways. Pan Am intended to compete with Japan Airlines carrying an ever-increasing number of Japanese travelers. The hiring was done in Tokyo, although Mom was based in Honolulu. She says the Asian flight attendants of Northwest Airlines worked the Asian routes only but Pan Am opened up the world to them. Mom says when she read “Northwest is hiring stewardesses. Bring resume,” she was under the height requirement, over the weight limit, and so plain! That was back when they hired the most beautiful girls, just gorgeous, most of them looked like models. But I was fluent in both English and Japanese, and that’s why they hired me.” Personally, I think they also hired her because Mom had a reputation for working hard - her nickname was “Little Tiger.”

Mom is seated in the center. From left to right, the other women are Motoko Hanyū, Hisako Kobayashi, Kyoko Ōtake, and Miyako Kuroda.

Today, my mom is a member of World Wings International. She also contributed a photo and a memory written on a 3”x5” index card to the Airborne Dreams exhibit, and recently read Christine Yano’s book of the same name. 

Submitted by MK Carroll (Honolulu, HI).

Click here and here for more photos from Airborne Dreams.

This fabulous woman is my paternal grandmother, Minerva Turner (1924- 1992). She owned her own hair salon/”wig clinic” in Chicago in the ’60s, and this hair piece is one of her many amazing creations. I’m pretty sure she made the coat as well. She was fiercely Independent - much to the dismay of two of her husbands, both of whom wound up divorcing her and taking the kids. My mother told me that my father, also deceased, told her that it was because they wanted a wife that would stay at home, but she refused to give up her dream of being a self-supporting business owner. He followed in her footsteps and became a hairstylist. I’ve also been told that on a major shopping trip to New York after her business took off, she was denied entry into the high-end shops because they didn’t “serve her kind.” She had a hard life, but she never gave up on her dream, her style, or her hard partying ways. I am so incredibly proud of her.

Submitted by Ariel Wolf (New York, NY)

This gorgeous photo of a 1963 Harlem fashion show is one of the many images on display at the soon-to-open exhibition, Posing Beauty In African American Culture which has been traveling throughout the country over the last year or so. The exhibition is curated by Deborah Willis, Professor and Chair of the Photography and Imaging Department at NYU. Willis’ work is amazing and this exhibition looks fabulous - if you’re in the Los Angeles area, do check it out. If you’re not in the area and can’t wait for the exhibition to open near you, you can buy the  book by the same name. The New York Times raves:

With “Posing Beauty,” Willis has for­ever changed the conversation about beauty in American life. After centuries of exclusion and segregation in which African-­American beauty existed on the margins of the culture, Willis offers readers a thoughtful and nuanced consideration of the relationship of beauty and power. She invites us to marvel at the glamour and elegance contained in the photographs, and in the process instructs us on how to expand the definition of beauty within our national imagination.

To expand the definition of beauty within our national imagination. An exhibition after my own heart.

Photo credits: Top photo by Leonard Freed taken in 1963, bottom photo “Harlem, 1970” by Anthony Barboza.

You might not expect to find the fashion history of women of color in a book about the early days of the NASA space program in the 1950s and 1960s written by an architecture professor. But if Of Another Fashion has taught us anything it’s that the fashion history of women of color pervades nearly every part of U.S. history and that - unfortunately - it has often been made invisible even when it has been absolutely central to the most spectacular (by that I mean, full of spectacles or hypervisible) historical moments.

Consider this image in Nicholas de Monchaux’s new book, Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo (MIT Press 2011). A young Black woman named Hazel Fellows is seen here sewing a part of a spacesuit like the one Neil Armstrong would wear to walk on the moon for the first time in 1969. The previously unseen but highly skilled labors of women of color - learned in part as a result of a complex set of both economic and social necessity as well as desire - are brought to critical and historical light in this amazing photograph. Such seamstresses (employed by Playtex, the company we now associate mostly with bras) are, as one person put it, "the unsung heroes of the early space program."

Many thanks to Shane Landrum for cluing me to the above link!

This is my grandma in a 1964 Hollywood club. She’s wearing one of the many dresses she made. She passed away January 2011.

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

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).

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 is an incredibly flirty Yolanda Pinedo giving the photographer a glimpse of her petticoat. Her short hair and pose suggest that she was a fashion daredevil. The photo was taken in San Fernando, California in 1960.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

This impromptu photo taken after a flight was grounded due to a snowstorm shows a Nisei stewardess (as they were called then) posing in a jet engine (ca. 1968). It’s another photo from Christine Yano’s new book on the history of Nisei stewardesses called Airborne Dreams (Duke University Press, 2011). Yano argues that “Japanese American (and later other Asian and Asian American) stewardesses [as they were called in the 1950s] gave Pan Am the ‘look’ of exotic cosmopolitanism” while at the same time gave Asian American women “tremendous exposure to a larger world far beyond their local upbringing. Working for Pan Am as a flight attendant became an education for these women in cosmopolitanism and gendered service.”

The book is available for purchase now.

A short clip of the San Diego History Center’s latest exhibition, "Portrait of a Proud Community: Norman Baynard’s Logan Heights, 1939-1985." It’s an amazing photo exhibition of a Black community in San Diego, California that’s being co-created with the public. Sound familiar?

In 1965, when my jet-setting aunt was returning to Viet Nam from her year abroad in the U.S., she stopped over in Japan and bought my mom (her younger sister) this Seiko watch. The watch and her Sears-bought outfit secured the title of “fashion plate” for my mom among her classmates.

Part of the reason why I love this photo - besides the fact that it’s so incongruous with who my mom is, a nonviolent anti-gun lady - is that it reminds me of this photo of Madame Nhu, another gun-toting Vietnamese woman. (Nhu, it should be noted, was not so averse to violence).

This is Mexican American Estela Gomez, at a beach probably somewhere in Southern California, 1963.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

This photograph came to me by way of another Twitter lead. This amazing woman (check out her almost equally amazing topper!) is Virginia–born activist Ella Baker (1903–1986) who served as an NAACP field representative and founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference before cofounding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. In 1964, the SNCC helped create Freedom Summer, an effort to focus national attention on Mississippi’s racism and to register black voters.

Credit: Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

This photo shows designer Iris Teragawa (seated) with an Asian American fashion model in California. It’s difficult to tell in this picture but the the model, wearing a suit with four pocket flaps, is standing next to a winter white Christmas tree. (7 December 1961).

Photograph by Toyo Miyatake, from the Rafu Shimpo collection at the Japanese American National Museum.

Nisei Week Princess Betty Taira in a white sleeveless, drop waist dress with a pleated skirt and sailor neckline. She’s receiving a donation from Mr. Omatsu of Downtown Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL) at Toyo Miyatake Studio in Los Angeles, California in August 1963.

Photograph by Toyo Miyatake, from the Rafu Shimpo collection at the Japanese American National Museum.