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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I’m sort of expanding the scope of this project by including this photo of three young Black Nova Scotian women in their summer dresses (ca. 1955). The negative was developed and printed at Georgia Cunningham’s studio in Bridgetown.

While Of Another Fashion is a U.S. based project, there’s good reason to include these Canadians. Most Black Nova Scotians have U.S. roots. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, record numbers of Black Americans (slaves and freedmen and freedwomen) crossed the northern border to settle in Nova Scotia and Halifax, in particular.

Credit: Georgia Cunningham NSARM acc. no. 1989-433 series E no. 1

(Many thanks to Lauren at Nova Scotia Archives for cluing me to this photo!)

Karen Grigsby Bates recalls a 1973 fashion show at the Palace of Versailles in which the stars of the show were not the sartorial creations of Oscar de la Renta, Yves St. Laurent, or even Hubert de Givenchy but rather African American models including Sandi Bass. While it isn’t clear if Pat Cleveland and Bethann Hardison participated in the Palace of Versailles show, their photographs are included in the link. Below, Bethann Hardison (at left) is with Daniela Morera and Stephen Burrows at Studio 54 in 1977.

Bethann Hardison (at left with Daniela Morera and Stephen Burrows) at Studio 54 in 1977

This is a photograph of Lois K. Alexander, founder of the legendary Harlem Institute of Fashion (opened in 1966) and the Black Fashion Museum (in 1979). There should be tomes written about Alexander, the Institute, and the Museum which recently found a permanent home at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. But the paucity of academic or journalistic research devoted to them speaks to the critical and curatorial neglect of major aspects of U.S. fashion history. The initial idea for Of Another Fashion was, in fact, sparked when I learned about the Harlem Institute of Fashion and is driven, in part, by my continued astonishment that many fashion scholars, curators, and designers know nothing about it.

The only publication I’ve found that offers any details about the Institute is a book Alexander created and published called Blacks in the History of Fashion (published by the Harlem Institute of Fashion in 1982), which is no longer in print. The above image is from this book.

In an article for a local Memphis, Tennessee newspaper (12 November 1978), Alexander explains the significance of the Museum:

The Museum will change the image that black designers are newfound talent. Most of today’s designers tell me they learned to sew from their grandmothers, and that’s who I want to talk to. I want the clothes their grandmothers made.