Ladies' Pages: African American Women's Magazines and the Culture That Made Them

By Noliwe M. Rooks | Go to book overview

3
To Make a Lady Black
and Bid Her Sing
Clothes, Class, and Color

I will not be able to attend, I only have one traveling dress with me
and I am afraid the others may have seen me in the rest already. One
must be prepared for social functions on an occasion like this meet-
ing…. Clothes are an important part of a woman after all.

Josephine Bruce, 1904

When we reached her house she winked and said softly as she
opened the car door that her only disappointment with younger
women like myself was that we never wore hats and gloves. But
again, she sighed, she was sure it was because we had never been
servants. To Aunt Marie, those of us who never had to “show or
prove” that we were real women—ladies—seemed to have “forgot-
ten the art altogether.”

From Living in, Living Out

Is it possible to see silence? Can an unspoken history of violence and brutality find a language in the swish of a skirt gently caressing an ankle? For the generation of African American women discussed in the previous chapter, the embrace of fashion as a strategy for combating the cultural assumptions about their supposed lack of character loudly answered yes to these questions.1 In the glare of a full-length cultural mirror held firmly in place by societal structures, stereotypes, and assumptions, fashion came to

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