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 woman - displaying swagger before it became a trendy term! - is a model in a fashion show at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee (ca 1985).

Credit: State Library and Archives of Florida; The Deborah Thomas Collection

This is my grandma in the mid to late 1950s in Chicago. She’s wearing store-bought clothes, probably purchased from either I Magnin or Bullocks department stores, where she worked. My grandma passed away in January 2011.

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

These women, all wearing sporty trousers, are on a YWCA outing in 1944.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

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!

The Daily News titled this photograph “Mexican American Female Gang” when it ran the photo in 1942 but the systematic criminalization of Mexicans in the 1940s as a justification for racially-motivated attacks (especially directed at zoot suiters) makes me a little wary of the title. In any case, these women seem so utterly cool to me. They’ve been arrested and are sitting in a police station when this photo was taken but look at the nonchalant, almost bored, expression of Frances Silva on the upper left and the raised defiant chin of Josephine Gonzales on the bottom left, as well as the cavalier pose of Lorena Encina on the bottom right in her baggy zoot suit pants and perfect hair. The other two women on the bench are Juanita Gonzales and D. Barrios. These sister-friends (consider the protective gesture of Encina’s elbow on Barrios’ leg) are such badasses, all of them.

These Mexican American women are on a YWCA outing in 1944. They’re posing in a mountain stream. I’m especially loving the individualist on the far left standing ankle deep in the stream, in trousers and a sweater.

But please note too that the woman in the makeshift two-piece bathing suit, second from the right (her bottoms are most likely shorts that she’s bunched up to reveal as much leg as possible), is ahead of her time. Dominant fashion histories credit French engineer Louis Réard with the invention of the bikini in 1946 and 19 year-old Parisian model Micheline Bernardini as the first to pose in a bikini - both events took place two years after this photo was taken.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

This fashion daredevil in white pants at a Los Angeles area beach is Jesusita (ca. 1926). That roller coaster in the background makes me think she’s at Venice Beach, just off the boardwalk.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

Of Another Fashion is committed to the fashion histories of ordinary women so I haven’t posted many photos of actors but I couldn’t resist posting this one of Eartha Kitt (who replaced Julie Newmar as Catwoman) looking uncharacteristically unglamorous but still beautiful in a white cotton top, denim shorts, and flip flops in August 1952 - a quintessential New York City summer scene.

This photo and several others were taken by Gordon Parks, who would later go on to direct the blaxploitation classic Shaft (1971) and co-found Essence magazine.  Parks was also the first African American photographer to work for LIFE magazine.

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!

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).

In the early 1940s, my grandmother Hattie Henderson Ricks worked in a factory in Wilson, North Carolina that manufactured tents for the war effort. Her first job was tying broken thread and respooling it on bobbins. Women, with their smaller hands, were preferred for this task, though it often resulted in lacerated fingers. This photo, in which she wears her work “uniform” of dungarees, plaid shirt, and oxfords, was taken during this period.

The donor, Lisa Y. Henderson (Atlanta, GA), interviewed her paternal grandmother in Philadelphia on March 11, 1998, while they were looking at a box of pictures. An excerpt of the interview follows below:

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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)

Not all women in the 1920s were flappers. This California-based Chicana gunslinger in pants, button down shirt, and tie is Maria Alatorre (ca. 1925). I love photos like this because they’re visual evidence of the wide range of femininities that have always existed.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

Pictured here is Helen Soto on a motorcycle in Los Angeles, California (ca. 1952). It’s unclear whether or not the bike is hers.

Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

The name of the woman is not known but the photograph was taken by Walter Wataru Muramoto (1915-1984), an amateur photographer from Redondo Beach, California.

Muramoto, a nisei, learned photography from his father who was professionally trained in Japan. While interned at Rohwer internment camp with his family from 1942 to 1945, Muramoto became known as the unofficial camp photographer. He was often asked to photograph events and people in camp with the camera he had borrowed from a Buddhist reverend. The collection consists of over 300 loose prints that document daily life at the Arkansas camp.