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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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.

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!

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).

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 my mother, Alice Antwi. She grew up in Kumasi, Ghana. She describes herself as someone who went “with the flow” of fashion which, for many Ghanaians at that time, meant Western fashion. But back then, she told me, you wore whatever you had at the time. It is not like how it is here in the U.S. You can’t just decide to wear wedges and buy them whenever you want. Maxi dresses, mini dresses, and midi dresses were all in style. My mom also wore traditional prints and head wraps. She had a lot of her clothes made for her. She looked at catalogues and found a pattern that she liked. Then she purchased fabric - often colorful fabric because she likes colorful things. She then took the fabric to a tailor who made the dress for her.

She didn’t have much to say about this particular outfit in the photo above except, “We wore headgear all the time. It is part of our dressing.” This photo was taken in 1975 in Ankofol when she was a nursing student doing a rotation at a psychiatric hospital - just 5 years before she moved to the U.S.

Submitted by Ama Kyere (Ellicott City, MD).

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?

This is our mother, Valerie Petersen, wearing a red dress made by our maternal grandmother, Beryl Chambers. The photo was taken in San Francisco in the late 1970s.

Submitted by Marissa Petersen-Coleman and Allyson Petersen (Chicago, IL).

This is our aunt, Sonya Chambers, wearing a green gown she made . The photo was taken in Miami in 1974.

Submitted by Marissa Petersen-Coleman and Allyson Petersen (Chicago, IL).

This is my mom, Wei-Kuo Liang, in a Lane Crawford jumpsuit at the Hilton Hawaii hotel beach, 1970.

Submitted by Gracie O (Phoenix, Arizona).

This is our aunt, Beverly Bevans with her new husband in New York City in October 3, 1970. Our maternal grandmother, Beryl Chambers, made the dress as well as all the bridesmaids’ dresses by hand in about five months.

Submitted by Marissa Petersen-Coleman and Allyson Petersen (Chicago, IL).

This is our mother, Valerie Petersen, in New York City in August 1970 wearing a fashion-forward knee-length wedding dress handmade by our maternal grandmother, Beryl Chambers.

Submitted by Marissa Petersen-Coleman and Allyson Petersen (Chicago, IL).

Model Darine Stern (1947-1994) was the first Black woman to appear by herself on a Playboy cover (October 1971). Stern went on to be represented by the high-profile Ford agency and had, by all accounts, a good career.

**Jean Bell was the first Black woman to ever appear on a Playboy cover but she shared it with four other models (January 1970).

Our maternal grandmother, Beryl Chambers (upper right, next to the bride, in a beautiful coral dress that she made), immigrated to New York in 1959 from St. Andrew’s, Jamaica. As a single mother of five, our grandmother made a living for her family as a seamstress in New York City. She sewed garments for President Nixon’s wife, Patricia Nixon, and Julie Newmar (the original Catwoman). Unfortunately, she lost her eyesight in the late 1980s and has not been able to sew since.

This photo was taken during our aunt Beverly’s wedding in October 1970 in New York City. My grandmother sewed all of these dresses including the bridesmaid dresses within five months of each other!

Although my grandmother lost her eyesight her design legacy lives on with us and our cousins. A handful of us work as fashion and jewelry designers and attribute much of our influence to our grandmother.

Submitted by Marissa Petersen-Coleman and Allyson Petersen (Chicago, IL).

These are my maternal grandparents, Teddy and Olive Dimayuga. The photo was taken on a family vacation in Baguio, Philippines between 1972-73. At the time my grandparents had recently moved back to the Philippines from England, where my grandfather had been temporarily assigned for his job. It was in England that my grandpa grew the ‘stache and got really into wearing tweed, so I guess Baguio’s cool climate provided a good excuse for him to get it back out of his closet. When I asked my grandmother where she got her clothes, she waved off the question. ‘Oh, somewhere. It’s just a t-shirt and bell bottoms.’ Simple, but fly is fly. My grandparents immigrated to the United States in 1998 or ‘99, and shipped over many of their possessions from the house in Paranaque, Manila where they’d lived for decades. A few years ago, they moved in with my parents, so I’ve been able to find some lovely photos and have slowly started archiving them.

Submitted by Yael Villafranca (San Francisco, CA)

This is my mom, Wei-Kuo Liang, at the Tokyo World’s Fair (1970). Her coat is from Woolworth’s and she’s wearing a floral shift dress underneath. 

Submitted by Gracie O (Phoenix, Arizona).