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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We found this when we were going through my grandma’s photos (after she passed away on April 29, 2012 at the age of 98). It’s taken in Los Angeles. I forgot about this photo but it’s one of my favorites. It was taken in the 1930s and the dress was likely made by my grandma, like a lot of her clothes.
Submitted by Cheryl Motoyama (Santa Ana, California).

We found this when we were going through my grandma’s photos (after she passed away on April 29, 2012 at the age of 98). It’s taken in Los Angeles. I forgot about this photo but it’s one of my favorites. It was taken in the 1930s and the dress was likely made by my grandma, like a lot of her clothes.

Submitted by Cheryl Motoyama (Santa Ana, California).

It’s 1956 in San Francisco and this is my grandmother, Encar Villanueva. She’s standing next my grandfather’s cadillac. Today, my grandmother or lola (in Tagalog) lives in a nursing home in San Francisco in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. But when this photo was taken, her personality was very strong. Because she was the eldest of her sisters and a stay-at-home mother raising two boys, she definitely was the disciplinarian in the home. (My grandpa was often overseas working as a cook for the US Navy).  Although Lola was opinionated and religious, she always knew how to have a good time and throw a great party. She often had her friends over for food, dancing, and praying the rosary - like any good Filipino Catholic.

Her style was always on-trend. In all her pictures with her girlfriends, church friends, relatives, grandma Encar always stood out. She was never scared of wearing bright colors and accessorizing her outfits with jewelry, bright purses or shoes. As a child I remember going through closets (seven closets to be exact) of her clothes, jewelry, shoes, coats and purses. I still have a number of things of hers to this day. She had impeccable style.

In 2011, I wrote a play about my grandmother and have performed it several times as a one woman show called Forgetting the Details.

Submitted by Nicole Maxali (San Francisco, CA)

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 is a picture of my grandmother, Sachiko Hamilton (R)at age 15 and her cousin. It was taken in Japan in July 1944. Several years later, she would meet her first husband, Ernest Ford, Sr. (an African American man), at an army base in Japan. They married soon after and she immigrated to Detroit where she was a seamstress. She worked for Chrysler for 30 years sewing automobile seats together. 

I’m assuming the stamp on the picture above is the name of the photographer. She made the dress that she was wearing - most of the clothing that she made had patterns on them.

Submitted by Chanel Hamilton (Ann Arbor, MI)

These two Asian American dancers are performing at San Francisco’s premiere nightclub in the 1930s called Forbidden City. While the club was Chinese-themed, the performers themselves were not all Chinese American. Some were Japanese American and Filipino American. (Click the “Forbidden City” tag at the bottom to see more.)

Less than a decade after this photo was taken, all of the Japanese American performers would be interned under Executive Order 9066. To see more internment photos, click on the “1940s” tag or the “Japanese American” tag - note: internment images will include both these tags. 

Source: Museum of Performance and Design, Performing Arts Library, University of California

I recently posted this photo on my own blog and thought it was a nice fit for Of Another Fashion as well. I found the photo on the Internet but unfortunately my inquiries about the woman pictured or the date haven’t been successful. Judging by her bike and clothing I’d guess this was taken in the 1940s.

Submitted by Zoë Leverant (San Francisco, CA).

Curator’s note: I stand corrected. What I thought was a stand for a stationary bike is, in fact, a kickstand - as readers as well as the donor of the photo have pointed out to me. But my point remains, riding a bike in a mid-length pencil skirt? A great example of the mutual non-exclusivity of fashion and fitness.

More from the donor: Also that’s just a kickstand on the back wheel -  many of them were double-sided and very sturdy back in the day. Judging by the brake cabling, fenders, rear rack and front lamp, she was definitely on her way to ride.

This is a photo of my mother, Bonnie Sterritt, in the summer of 1981.  Born in Burma, and then raised in England, she moved to America with my father a year or two before this photo was taken at an outdoor wedding reception in Aiken, South Carolina.  I love my fashionable brown mother, unable to hide her feelings about the Budweiser in her hand.

Submitted by Merrill Sterritt (Brooklyn, NY).

This is Linda Herr’s senior portrait from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, California, 1942.

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).

This is a portrait photograph of my great grandparents, Kakujiro and Uno Ishizaki taken in Los Angeles in the early 1920s. My mom thinks it was probably taken for their anniversary and that it was most likely sent back to Japan to either her parents or his parents.

Submitted by Cheryl Motoyama (Santa Ana, California).

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.

This is a photo of my mother, Yuriko Naito Winfrey Smith (left), in her early 20s in Tokyo (ca. early 1940s). She can’t remember the name of the woman she’s standing with. My mother made the outfit she’s wearing without the guidance of a pattern. That’s why the sleeves don’t fit her shoulders. She’s always been a topnotch tailor and made all the clothes my sister and I wore as kids. My mother is also an artist (painter), woodcarver, quilt maker and she loves to cook. Besides making fresh tofu every week, she also bakes bread.

I had so many photos of my mother in Japan throughout the 1950s looking glamorous and beautifully fashionable. But my sister allowed my footlocker filled with family albums to sit in her flooded basement so many of our photos (including my baby pictures of me in Japan) were destroyed.

Submitted by Yayoi Winfrey (Seattle, WA).

In many ways, this photo of the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Wong, taken at the Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, California, is hardly noteworthy. We’ve all seen wedding photos like this one. However, that this wedding took place on June 1, 1920 is historically astonishing. In 1920, the U.S. was in the middle of the anti-Asian exclusion era that officially began in 1882 and ended in 1965. The exclusion of female Asian immigrants in 1875 with the Page Act makes this wedding photo all the more unlikely. It is clear from their fashionable attire (tuxedos and au courant tea-length dresses) that the Wongs had relative social and economic privilege compared to most other Chinese in the U.S. at the time.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

I think this photo was taken in 1933 for my grandmother Alice Ishizaki’s 20th birthday (far left). In Japan, when people turn 20, they’re considered adults and so you mark the occasion with formal photos. My mom told me that these photos would be passed out to your friends - much like today with the wallet-sized school photos. LOL! I guess girls have always exchanged photos with their friends!

With her in the photo are her sister Betty Ishizaki (my great-aunt), her father Kakujiro Ishizaki (my great grandfather) and her mother Uno Ishizaki (my great grandmother, seated). The photo was taken in a studio in Los Angeles.

My grandmother got married shortly after this photo was taken, wearing the same kimono but also with a magnolia in her hair.

Submitted by Cheryl Motoyama (Santa Ana, California).

In the 1950s, about 10 years after Japanese Americans were released from internment camps, there was something of a renaissance of Japanese American fashion especially in California. Designers like Kow Kaneko, Sadohara, and Ryie Yoshizawa (see here and here) had their own labels, their own shops, and solo fashion shows. Although they used mostly Japanese American models like Michi Kumamoto, Mary Kitano, and Lily Shitara, it appears that their clientele was mostly white. According to the Japanese American National Museum, Yoshizawa also opened the Modern School of Fashion. (To see more posts of fashion models, click the “models” tag below.)

In this photo, fashion designer and store owner Kow Kaneko presents her designs to a white client in her store in Pasadena, California (25 November 1955).

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