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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Last month, The Sartorialist (Scott Schuman) relaunched his Vintage Photo series. The first series was constructed as a contest with a Celine inspiration book as the end-prize. The prize for the current series is less material: inclusion on his wildly popular blog. So far, he’s posted eight photos. This one, posted this past Saturday, is the first one featuring a person of color (more about this at the end of the post).

I was thrilled to see this photo submitted by a reader named Tejal. I love that her grandmother’s primary fashion accessory is a camera, pointed outward. The two-way looking between her camera and the camera photographing her produces a circuit of looking in which she is both the object and subject of photography. Her knowing smile, almost a smirk really, suggests that she probably just snapped a photo of the photographer photographing her. Aha! Who’s taking a photo of who?
(Tejal, please consider contributing to Of Another Fashion!)

Caption from The Sartorialist: This is a photo of my very elegant grandmother, Sushila Rao, posing with her new camera in India, where she was born and raised. It was probably taken sometime in the 1940s. She’s wearing a tailored, white linen suit and flat, brown leather sandals, which make her look so strong despite the fact that she’s very petite. It was very daring of her to be out and about in menswear back then, rather than a traditional sari!

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There are many possible reasons for the racial disparity we’re seeing in The Sartorialist’s Vintage Photo series (in the last series, only 3 of 33 photos included people of color). Some of these reasons may have to do with the racial makeup of his readership and connected to that, the exodus of many of his former readers of color who have been put off by the ways he has discursively and visually represented nonwhite people in his blog in the past. (See my co-blogger Mimi Nguyen’s brilliant take down of his representation of blackness on our research blog, Threadbared.) Finally, the racial disparity might also have to do with the narrowness of his criteria for what counts as “fashion”.

While Of Another Fashion requires more work than I first imagined it would take to maintain it - researching archives, reaching out to potential contributors/museum professionals/publishers/funding sources, and editing the blog text and images, etc. (all of this, on top of my other professional and personal responsibilities) - the ongoing absence of people of color in mainstream fashion histories serves as an important reminder to me. It is precisely this curatorial and historical neglect of women of color in fashion - an industry and culture whose images saturate our everyday lives - that is the reason I began Of Another Fashion and why I hope to be able to expand it online and through other media outlets. That said, please do contribute photos and encourage others to contribute as well!