EXHIBITION ANNOUNCEMENT: Of Another Fashion: Claiming America through Dress 

At the end of a previous post about the Black Fashion Museum, I hinted about curating a different kind of fashion exhibition, one that explores the fashion histories of women of color and in relation to women of color. (See too Mimi’s amazing posts categorized under “Vintage Politics”!) Since then, I’ve been working on making this exhibition a real thing (with great help from the amazing Sarah Scaturro, a Threadbared reader and textile conservator who also blogs at Exhibiting Fashion). We have a long way to go before realizing this much-needed and groundbreaking exhibition but nonetheless, I’m over the moon about finally being able to announce the project!

Howard University flappers at a football game, 1920s

The description of the project is below as well as a call for donations to the exhibition. Please forward or link this to any group or individual you think might have objects that would enhance this exhibition. And to our blogger friends, please consider cross-posting or linking to this post on your blogs. (Thank you, Jezebel for syndicating this announcement!) We will continue to shape the direction of the exhibition as we collect pieces so donors will play a key role in its conceptualization.

By the way, the images you see here are just some of the really cool visual and textual sartorial ephemera I’ve already found! Want to see more? Go to the top right corner of this page (right below our header) and click on How to Contribute to “Of Another Fashion“. Be part of this amazing exhibition!

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Of Another Fashion: Claiming America through Dress

So much of the African American experience is stashed in basements and attics. So writes fashion journalist Robin Givhan in her recent article about the Black Fashion Museum Collection’s move to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. For Givhan, the new home of this “treasure-trove of garments designed and worn by African Americans over the course of generations” at the Smithsonian Institution secures the preservation of a “hidden history . . . in danger of being washed away by the enormity of another Katrina or even a trifling family rift.”

Of Another Fashion seeks to find these hidden histories stashed in the basements and attics, in the backs of closets, and in lesser-known personal and institutional archives of and about women of color. These histories are not only kept hidden due to the informal and often inadequate practices of preservation by ordinary people; instead, it is the official cultural archives such as museums and libraries that have played a significant and profound role in keeping hidden the sartorial histories of racially minoritized women.

Recent fashion exhibitions in New York City have included “Night and Day” and “Fashion and Politics” (both at the Museum at FIT); “American Woman, Fashioning a National Identity” (Costume Institute); and “American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection” (Brooklyn Museum). While these exhibitions focus on the convergence of fashion, nationalism, and collective memory, their emphases on formal politics, designer fashion, and eveningwear implicitly privilege dominant styles of dress and womanhood and tacitly inscribe Americanness with bourgeois white femininity. If racial, gender, sexual, class, and language barriers have historically shaped and limited the achievements and life chances of non-White and working women, then traditional museum exhibitions that emphasize the styles of bourgeois white womanhood to the exclusion of Other women collude in the ongoing marginalization and erasure of the lives and material cultural histories of minoritized American women.

Dancers from San Francisco nightclub Forbidden City, backstage 1950

Of Another Fashion is a critical intervention into traditional understandings of fashion history, histories of “American” womanhood, and official memory practices. The exhibition seeks to critically explore the creative, cultural and political ways in which racially minoritized women in the U.S. have employed practices of dress and beauty to claim Americanness. Through highlighting garments, accessories, photographs, videos and texts, Of Another Fashion does more than rediscover a hidden past; this groundbreaking exhibition reimagines our understanding of and relationship to the past. In providing a glimpse of the sartorial ephemera of women of color’s material cultural histories, this exhibition commemorates lives and experiences too often considered not important enough to save or to study.

** Contributing to the Exhibition **

We are looking for donations that will enhance the breadth and depth of this exhibition. Items we are interested include, but are not limited to:

  • Handmade, store-bought, or altered garments and accessories. Please note that garments do not need to be in perfect condition. The life of the garment is important to us!
  • Family or vintage photographs featuring women of color in fashionable looks
  • Newspaper and magazine articles and advertisements targeting women of color. Original prints are useful.
  • Other sartorial ephemera, such as accessories, packaging, cosmetics etc.

Please provide as much information as possible about the objects—for example, who made or designed them, who wore them, where they were used and how and why they were passed down to you. It is especially helpful if you send photographs of the pieces for consideration since we cannot accept all the objects offered to the collection.

The goal of this exhibition is to honor the life and memories of your treasures. Our fashion and textiles museum expert will make sure your items are well cared for and returned to you in as good or, when possible, better condition. The condition of your garment will determine the method of display—we will not display or store your objects in a manner that can cause further harm. You will be listed as a donor and items will be returned to you or otherwise disposed of in accordance with the donor’s wishes.

If you have or know of material, visual, and textual objects that you believe we should consider, please contact us at threadbared.75@gmail.com. (Include “Of Another Fashion” in the subject line.)

Costs, in time and materials, for shipping and storing items are quite substantial. Our museum expert estimates that each object will require approximately $100 to appropriately store each object (shipping and display costs excluded). We would greatly appreciate your help toward meeting these expenses and hope that you will accompany your gift with some of the funds necessary to help us preserve it.

"Short Cut to Glamor" (about correcting the "chunky" Japanese American female body with a cute haircut) from the post-WWII Japanese American magazine, "Scene: The Pictorial Magazine" (April 1950).

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16 Comments

Filed under FASHIONING RACE, ON BEAUTY, VINTAGE POLITICS

16 responses to “EXHIBITION ANNOUNCEMENT: Of Another Fashion: Claiming America through Dress 

  1. Pingback: EXHIBITION ANNOUNCEMENT: An Other Fashion: Claiming America … | yintsang.com

  2. this is TOTALLY going to come off as a ‘zomgz what about the white folks/men’ comment and i’m sure 14 other commenters are going to take it that way and tell me i should kill myself despite the fact that the sentiment i’m trying to get across is genuinely not a ‘omg im so left out and plagued by white guilt and full of myself’ comment — but i only wish i could help somehow because this is so awesome and interesting! alas, the attics of my blue-collar polish/irish/italian immigrant grandparents are totally useless to your fantastic idea.

    • Oh no they’re not, Meg! The history of racialization in the U.S. absolutely includes your Polish and (especially) Irish grandmothers (for this exhibition, we do want to emphasize women – and even as I write that, I’m already thinking of the Chinese female immigrants who crossed U.S. borders dressed as men to evade the Page Law which prohibited Latinas and Chinese women from immigrating because they lumped them in with prostitutes and other deviant bodies). Should we get enough objects, the racialization of Irish immigrants in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century (connected directly, if contentiously, to the racialization of Chinese immigrants and African Americans in the same periods) and their sartorial practices of claiming Americanness is something we’d definitely like to consider!

      I had hoped that the phrase “racially minoritized women” would gesture towards race not merely as an identity but also as the historically situated social and legal processes of marking difference. Anyway, there it is. But yes, this exhibition is definitely about exploring the shifting meanings of race in U.S. history through fashion! (Thanks for making me clarify!)

  3. i’ll do my best to see if i can procure an image for you along with some funds! this is a really exciting project and i would love to contribute. thanks for the heads up!

  4. Hi there!
    This is such a fantastic project!
    I’ve been thinking about the fashion in my family tree, which is made up of Salvadoran and Yugoslavian immigrants. My Abuela, who came to San Francisco from San Salvador in the 1940′s, was particularly fond of red nails and lips and very fanciful cat-eye glasses. And my mother’s mother, who raised 5 kids as a single, potato-picking mama and whose Slavic lilt never left her tongue, didn’t have a lot of money for fashion, but she did have style and beauty (and some amazing little bargain style tricks) in spades. I’d love to share what I have with your project, if you are interested.
    I actually noted on my blog a few posts ago how your writing has particularly influenced me in thinking about style along these lines of personal and shared histories: http://sosilkysoround.blogspot.com/2010/06/elements-of-style.html

    xoxo,
    Gina

    • Hi Gina,
      Please DO share! It’d be best if you sent us photographs of the objects (along w/ some info) that you think are pertinent to the exhibition. Looking forward to seeing what you have!

  5. diana

    This is the best idea I’ve heard of in a long time! I only wish I had old pictures of my Native American or African American ancestors! Alas, the only vintage family pictures I have are those of wealthy white plantation owners…beautiful pictures, but definitely not very fitting for this project. :/

  6. Peneleapaí Ní Tiung (Penelope Chung)

    Good luck with this… gorgeous!
    Lookin forward to the fruits of your labour…

    Don’t leave me out of your Official Unveiling, sistah!

    with love from Ireland xoxo

  7. Great project. Both sides of my family are of Portuguese/Azorean descent; unfortunately I have very few pictures and access to info. I also grew up in an area with a high concentration of Portuguese and Cambodian immigrants. Would love to contribute, will see what I can dig up.

  8. Jean

    Holy crap, where did you get the Forbidden City picture?! My great-aunt was totally a dancer there! She has a senior citizen dance troupe now, and she still has the best legs in the family. The woman in gold sort of looks like her, but I’ll have to ask my mom for confirmation.

  9. This is a great project! And great blog! I am black and I have pictures of my grandmother at cosmotology competitions where she won a few awards in the 1960s. In one photo, her fellow hairdresser has pink hair. Hair is so important to African Americans. Would that be acceptable?

    • that sounds amazing! please do submit anything you have! once we receive a critical mass of objects, we can begin to group them together thematically. don’t forget to send any information about the donations that would help bring them to life for us!

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