Photo History: The Fashions Of Women Of Color

In the past hundred years, trendy American women have worn everything from flapper dresses to bobby socks to bell-bottom jeans. But when we're talking about the history of fashion, Minh-Ha T. Pham, a visual arts and fashion scholar at Cornell University, says there's something — or someone — we often leave out: women of color.

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    A North Carolina woman waits for a ride to church. "The date of the photograph is 1940, but the tilt of that hat is forever," blog curator Minh-Ha T. Pham writes.
    Photos via "Of Another Fashion"
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    A group of Mexican-American flappers stand in a Southern California park in 1925.
    Photos via "Of Another Fashion"
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    This 1966 photo is of Pham's mom when she lived in Vietnam. "In her red cigarette pants, black ballet flats, and her Vuarnet cat-eye sunglasses, she looks every bit like a glamorous starlet on holiday," Pham writes. The clothing came from her mother's sister, who was studying abroad in the U.S. at the time. Pham says she hopes to focus in her blog on women whose stories don't often get told — women like her mom.
    Photos via "Of Another Fashion"
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    This photograph is from a 1977 fashion show by students in the Traditional Techniques course at the Institute of American Indian Arts. The dress that the girl is wearing is a modern adaptation inspired by woodlands Indian floral beadwork.
    IAIA Archives/Photos via "Of Another Fashion"
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    This photograph was taken by Ansel Adams at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California, where Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II. A woman identified as Riye Yoshizawa is in a dressmaking class. According to "Of Another Fashion," she later helped open the Modern School of Fashion in Southern California.
    Photos via "Of Another Fashion"
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    This photo of Gibson Girl Bessie Henderson was likely taken in 1908 or 1909, according to her great-granddaughter, who submitted the photo. The submitter said Henderson's arms are darkened from working in the sun, but she would have shielded her face with a bonnet or straw hat.
    Photos via "Of Another Fashion"
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    Six Howard University students watch a football game in the 1920s.
    Photos via "Of Another Fashion"
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    Chicagoans wait for a ride to church in their Sunday best, 1941.
    Photos via "Of Another Fashion"
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    Another Ansel Adams photo shows girls in biology class at the Manzanar internment camp.
    Photos via "Of Another Fashion"

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Enter Pham's blog, "Of Another Fashion." There, Pham features old photographs of African-American, Native-American, Asian-American and Latin-American women — and the clothes they wore. Many of the pictures are submitted by readers and include stories about the women in them.

"In general, I'm trying to put together a collection of photos and stories that ... will illustrate the rich and complex texture of ... women of color — who have been both shaped by and shape American fashion in different ways," she says over email.

"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."

"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." Ama Kyere via "Of Another Fashion" hide caption

itoggle caption Ama Kyere via "Of Another Fashion"

Pham got the inspiration for her blog after reading a Washington Post article featuring Lois Alexander Lane, who founded the Black Fashion Museum in the 1970s.

"As an academic, I've read a good amount of fashion histories and yet never encountered anything about Lane or her legacy," Pham says. And neither had Pham's friends, many of whom studied fashion. It inspired her to delve into the fashion histories of minorities in America.

The scope of Pham's blog is broad: It includes pictures of women of color throughout the 20th century in high fashion, mass-market items and hand-me-downs alike. She also features women abroad, including her mom, whose personal style is influenced by American movies and magazines.

A woman wears pants and wields a gun in the 1920s. i i

A woman wears pants and wields a gun in the 1920s. Los Angeles Public Library via "Of Another Fashion" hide caption

itoggle caption Los Angeles Public Library via "Of Another Fashion"
A woman wears pants and wields a gun in the 1920s.

A woman wears pants and wields a gun in the 1920s.

Los Angeles Public Library via "Of Another Fashion"

But the photo that has gotten the most attention on her site isn't of some midcentury fashionista: It's a picture of a Mexican-American woman wearing pants, a button-down shirt, a tie — and holding a pistol. This, during the 1920s, the era of the flapper.

"This woman's decision to dress not in the flapper style but in pants in the 1920s is not only a fashion choice but a very brave choice because it bucks gender norms and expectations," she says.

Pham adds, "For me, this makes her all the more fashionable."

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