Thursday, June 2, 2011

Flying the Friendly Skies

A while back, I was turned on to a great tumblr called Of Another Fashion, which chronicles the fashion of American women of color.  Today, because they apparently love me and want me to be happy, they posted this stunning shot:
How awesome is that?  I am such a sucker for all those old school aviation shots - I'm nearly driven to weeping by the badass Virgin Air ads that have been running - and this one is so lovely and fun.  The Of Another Fashion folks explain that this is from an upcoming book, which I will definitely be buying.  You can get more information and a link to purchase the book by clicking through to the tumblr.

I love the idea of Of Another Fashion, because as much as I love fashion, I can't, as someone concerned with equality, ignore the blinding whiteness of it all, paired with some of the more blatant tokenism available in pop culture.  The only upside to this is that while white, mainstream fashion has toodled along, so too has the vibrant fashion of women of color, under the radar far enough to preserve some of the ethnic and cultural influences that white fashion with its voracious appetite for change and innovation has cast aside.  This tumblr does a beautiful job at finding that undercurrent and holding it up to the light, and it is spectacular. 

When I talk with male friends of mine about feminism, I often note that misogyny hurts men as well as women.  The reinforcement of gender roles binds men into the "manly" role just as tightly as women are tied to their "feminine" role, whereas feminism in its end stage would release both genders from these ties and allow people to live as they are.  I think there's a correlative property in racism, and it is particularly evident here.  Racism's overwhelming nature puts race above ethnic and cultural qualities; there is no monolithic "white" except in terms of political and social understanding, but fashion, as well as other cultural fora, have been made to pretend that that political monolith exists in those contexts as well.  There are designers and models from every ancestry, yet more often than not, those varied shades of "white" have been bound up in what we consider the mainstream.  In a way, the excision of people of color from mainstream fashion has allowed them a diversity in fashion that the mainstream does not permit.  This to me is yet another sad aspect of racism - it prohibits all of us from being simply as we are.  Hopefully, blogs like Of Another Fashion will highlight the diversity in fashion and culture to the benefit of us all. 

Grandma and Grandad in Seville, Spain
I also have a soft spot for everyday fashion because of my grandmother, Elizabeth Schmeck Brown, who besides being an awesome lady, is a remarkable woman who has made a life of studying fashion and textiles.  There is a gallery named after her at Cornell, where she went to school.  She just recently sold her WILD historical clothing collection to one of her colleagues, but previously, it took up about half of the second floor of her house, absolutely packed in.  Her cataloging skills are worth a special mention.  When I got married, she sent me her blue wedding garters, which were boxed with a note that read:
"Elizabeth Logan Schmeck's Blue Wedding Garters - July 29, 1944 - made by her mother, Pansy Logan Schmeck at her marriage that day to Walter Daniel Brown at Sage Chapel, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York"
These were accompanied by the world's cutest letter, explaining that the garters were to go to my sister when the appropriate time came, and talking a little bit about meeting and falling in love with Grandad.  They met in January and got married in July, and her letter closed with "When your grandfather died, we had been married 47 years. It lasted."  Doesn't that just slay you?  "It lasted." 

Being able to talk about fashion and its role in society and everyday life with Grandma was hugely formative for me, and some of those conversations have pointed me down my academic path, where hopefully I will be writing my dissertation on the role of clothing and the body in political development.  How we present ourselves and clothe ourselves is rife with meaning, and it's important that we preserve these meanings across all boundaries.

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