menu

‘Of Another Fashion’ Intends To Remedy Historical Amnesia

‘Of Another Fashion’ Intends To Remedy Historical Amnesia
culture

PSFK spoke with Minh-Ha T. Pham, who created 'Of Another Fashion', a blog highlighting the fashion histories of women of color in the U.S.

Kyana Gordon
  • 28 january 2011

One obvious feature is common among the smiling faces gracing the covers of major style magazines. This fact, though not surprising, presents a very narrow view by marketing fashion primarily through the bodies of white women. You’d think a historical account of fashion would provide a more accurate and inclusive representation, but even major exhibitions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s, American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity fail to provide a truly diverse perspective. As you can imagine, discovering Of Another Fashion was a breath of fresh air because the blog presents the overlooked histories of women of color by providing an array of gems from various archives. PSFK spoke with Minh-Ha T. Pham, Of Another Fashion‘s creator to discuss her project.

It’s pretty apparent among major fashion magazine covers and pages that women of color are scarce. Besides wanting to tell these “other stories,” what were your hopes in launching the Of Another Fashion Tumblr?

It’s true that the glossies continue to be glaringly white and while this is an issue that I’ve discussed at length in my other blog, Threadbared (co-authored with Mimi Nguyen), Of Another Fashion is only indirectly concerned with this problem.

The exhibition and the blog are more specifically responses to the curatorial and critical neglect of the sartorial histories of women of color. When you consider written fashion histories and fashion museum exhibitions, women of color – if they appear at all in these sites – are visually or discursively represented in so-called ethnic costumes. An exhibition depicting the fashions of the Roaring ’20s or the Swinging ’60s, for example, is unlikely to show women of color in flapper dresses or miniskirts. But why not? Not only were non-white women living in the U.S. throughout its entire history, they were just as influenced by fashion as white women. But you’d never know this if you only looked to major fashion exhibitions and magazines for your history.

Of Another Fashion intends to remedy this historical amnesia. By highlighting the fashion histories of women of color in the U.S., the exhibition and the blog are reminders that the history of American fashion, and indeed the history of America, includes women of color and that glamour, beauty, and style-consciousness are not the exclusive properties or concerns of white women.

As an academic, your interests lie at the intersection of fashion, gender, and digital media. Do you think the evolution of new media has allowed for better ways to archive forgotten histories?

I love this question – thank you for asking it! Yes, absolutely this project would have been extremely difficult to undertake (if not impossible) without new media. While Of Another Fashion is clearly a historical project, it’s also fundamentally a social media project. Without the technologies, skills, and values associated with WordPress, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Disqus, crowdsourcing, reposting, relinking, and photosharing, Of Another Fashion would not exist.

Please share some of your most treasured discoveries among the professional photographs, magazine articles and advertisements, retail packaging, rare and out-of-print books and magazines, and many archives you have scoured?

Where do I begin? There’s so much, and I know we’ve only just scratched the surface! I love some of the vintage beauty and fashion ads I’ve found. They’re really wonderful illustrations of historical ideas about beauty, femininity, and modernity. Some of these ideas seem quaint but some are still with us today – for better and for worse. I also love the family photos that have been sent to me. You wouldn’t believe how many family albums owned by the children and grandchildren of immigrants, refugees, interned Japanese Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans are filled with stylish moms, aunts, grandmothers, and cousins!

But probably the greatest discovery I’ve made so far in this curatorial project is the richness of minoritized fashion and glamour cultures that, though they existed in the margins of the U.S. cultural consciousness, have also thrived there. In my academic life, in my research on the digital fashion media complex, I’ve read a lot of fashion histories and a lot of fashion theory. And yet it was only through working on Of Another Fashion that I learned about L’tanya Griffin, a model and the first African American designer to have had an exclusive contract with a Hollywood studio in the 1950s, or about Remonia Jacobsen or Jewel Gilham, two very well established Native American fashion designers in the 1970s or about the fashion model Charlotte “Fabulous” Stribling who was Harlem’s It girl in the 1950s. I also didn’t know that fashion shows were popular activities in Japanese internment camps during World War II or that the Harlem Institute of Fashion even existed!

Together, these ads, family photos, events, and individuals are all part of the rich texture of U.S. fashion history that most fashion scholars and feminist cultural historians barely know. And what is revealed through Of Another Fashion has implications for our understanding not just of fashion history, but also our understanding of women whose everyday lives and fantasies (since we’re talking about fashion) are too often considered not important enough to document or study.

Your blog is a great reference for historians, fashionistas, and all women. Any interest in developing this idea further into an anthology of sorts?

I’m an academic by training so I’m always imagining new book projects. I’ve been having fantasies about doing a book on the Harlem Institute of Fashion. I’m appalled that there’s no book on it yet! (The one that exists is full of xeroxed newspaper clippings and low-res images that are about the Institute but isn’t really a sustained study of it.) Of Another Fashion is only a first step in really understanding these histories so it would make a lot of sense for scholars to build on this project. I don’t have any definite plans at the moment though.

This project is so huge in and of itself. I’m just focused on collecting as much material for the blog and the exhibition as possible (getting the public involved is crucial!), finding a suitable venue and funding for the exhibition, and getting a strong and dynamic list of scholars for the lecture series. This, all while finishing my book on gender, race, and labor in the digital fashion media complex!

Of Another Fashion

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

2nd Photo Credit: Presented to Of Another Fashion by private donor

culture
Trending

DIY Kit Lets You Build Your Own Wooden Bike, Boat Or Caravan

Design & Architecture
Culture Today

Messaging Add-On Helps You Correct Your Friends’ Bad Grammar

An iMessage sticker pack will help you copyedit text messages

Automotive Today

Mercedes-Benz Introduces A New Electric Mobility Brand

The separate entity aims to simplify the identification of Mercedes EV products to customers

Trending

Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Mobile Today

Tinder’s New Feature Makes Swiping A Group Effort

The dating app wants to democratize its gestural interaction by buying in to the social polling trend pervasive among millennials

Related Expert

Ariel Waldman

Space Exploration, Education, Science, Technology

Syndicated Today

Autonomous Garbage Drone Prevents Trash From Reaching Deep Ocean

The solar-powered WasteShark collects refuse closer to the source: the harbor

Automotive Today

Aston Martin Reveals Its Own Luxury Powerboat

The sleek AM37 echoes styling elements from the British brand's sports cars

Advertising Today

An Escort Website Fights Violence Against Sex Workers

The advocacy campaign from McCann aims uncover the human toll of the exploitative industry

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed Yesterday

Digital Design Expert: Mobile First Is Dead, Think Mobile Native

Brian Cooper, chief creative officer of OLIVER Group UK, explains how some brands are still playing catch-up to new technology

PSFK Labs Yesterday

The 10 Steps To Discover, Hire, Develop Your Next Leader

PSFK's Future of Work report outlines key steps in the employee development path to empower next-gen leaders

Culture Today

LIFE Magazine Relaunches In Pure VR

The general interest periodical, which ceased publication in 2000, has turned into a portal for virtual reality content

Mobile Today

Reorder This Detox Drink With A Simple Text Message

Dirty Lemon is streamlining its communication by letting customers place orders, ask product questions and request help exclusively through chat

Op-Ed Today

The Future Of The American Workforce Requires Unbundling College Education

President of JetBlue Technology Ventures: developing corporate education programs for non-traditional students

Retail Today

Gilt’s Pop-Up House Is The Kind Of Store You’ll Want To Live In

The New York City townhouse plays host to the latest in retail inspiration, curation, and lifestyle activation (and some libations, too)

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

Mobile Today

Registering To Vote Is Now Just A Text Away

A new bot aims to mobilize underrepresented groups this election season through SMS and Facebook Messenger

Africa Today

Virtual Reality Game Gives Lessons About Emergency Birth Care

LIFE is a serious tool that takes advantage of new technology to help save lives

Luxury Today

Shoe Repair Has Moved Onto Your Phone

Cobbler Concierge is an on-demand service to get your footwear fixed online

No search results found.