"It’s easy to take glamour for granted."
June 26, 2014 5:50 PM   Subscribe

Black Glamour Power - a Collectors Weekly interview with Nichelle Gainer of Vintage Black Glamour (previously): "A lot of people think of vintage black pictures as either civil-rights photos or black ladies at church, or maybe sharecroppers picking in the cotton fields and sweating from the hard work. That’s fine. Those are our pictures. But that shouldn’t be the only image of us. It’s nice to see a black woman who is not sweating in the field, but glistening from all this bling, like Josephine Baker, dripping in diamonds. Sometimes you want to see that. Why not? It’s easy to take glamour for granted. You can be a white woman, and you can care less about Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich, and that’s fine. But you know what? Black women haven’t had the same option."

"...I feel like Vintage Black Glamour expands the definition of glamour, and that was always my intention. For example, I put Judge Jane Bolin on my site. She’s very popular, the first black woman appointed to a bench in New York State. She was on the bench until she was 70, the mandatory retirement age. People would say she’s attractive, but she wasn’t a movie star or even glamorous dresser. However, the nature of a black woman judge in the 1930s or ’40s is glamorous to me.

To me, glamour is when you’re able to operate in the world with a certain level of dignity. So that applies whether they’re leaders in civil rights, literature, or art."

Messy Nessy Chic - A Dedication to Vintage Black Glamour: “The book presents historic photographs of famous actors, dancers, writers and entertainers who worked in the 20th-century entertainment business, but who rarely appeared in the same publications as their white counterparts."

Washington Post - ‘Vintage Black Glamour’ assures a spot in history for early black celebrity: "Gainer deftly illustrates the racial politics that determined so much about their careers through her collection of carefully curated historic images of the black creative class."

Nichelle Gainer's blog - 55 Secret Street

Vintage Black Glamour on Tumblr - Pinterest - Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
posted by flex (12 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Also of interest (to the general topic) is this NPR piece - The Ebony Fashion Fair: Changing History On The Catwalk
posted by flex at 6:06 PM on June 26, 2014

I follow a general interest vintage tumblr that I'm pretty sure reblogs posts from Vintage Black Glamour. I know not all blogs are book deals in the making, but I'm not sorry to see this one turn into a book. The photos are gorgeous.

(Also the comment about judges being glamorous reminds me of Ladypockets, being discussed down the front page somewhere.)
posted by immlass at 6:17 PM on June 26, 2014

The photos are beautiful and the interview is fascinating. Great stuff.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:23 PM on June 26, 2014

You can be a white woman, and you can care less about Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich, and that’s fine. But you know what? Black women haven’t had the same option.

If you grew up with holes in your zapatos/ You'd celebrate the minute you was having dough.
posted by spaltavian at 6:36 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

These are really cool, thanks! It's super exciting to see images of glamor and possibilities; I think, as she says, it's really easy to pigeonhole Black experiences from the Civil Rights era and before and seeing these pictures full of beautiful, glamorous, successful people feels satisfying and hopeful. Also, that photo of Florence Mills is the first I feel like I've really understood the appeal of the flapper style.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:56 PM on June 26, 2014

Added to my feeds, thank you! I admire the work and drive that goes into finding and curating this so well. This is like realising that the view you have of the past is one narrow illuminated slice, and having lightbulbs turn on and go, oh yes, here are all the other people and the room is full. I'm working on a project about 1940s Singapore and one nice part has been looking at old photographs from the era and noticing how even in dire circumstances, people were wearing great clothes and styling their hair. And because there are so many cultures happening, there's a heady mix of clothes and traditions. Damnit, now I want a tumblr of Vintage Singapore Fashion.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:36 PM on June 26, 2014

Thing that seems obvious that I should have known given my love for the show Girlfriends: Tracee Ellis Ross (aka Joan) is the daughter of Diana Ross. !!!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:40 PM on June 26, 2014

Fantastic! Thank you so much.
posted by rtha at 8:41 PM on June 26, 2014

mandymanwasregistered, I LOVE GIRLFRIENDS TOO. Nobody understands!

Thanks for this post, flex. Look at Josephine Baker looking all fabulous.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:22 PM on June 26, 2014

As a middle-class, middle-aged, anglo-saxon, white-male, my own sensibilities have been relentlessly indoctrinated by marketing and culture to basically dismiss this specific kind of human beauty. I'd like to think that I'm smarter than that, but posts like this are a big reason why I come here.

Thanks so much for this post.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:24 PM on June 26, 2014

That picture of Harry Belafonte and MLK is fantastic.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:09 AM on June 27, 2014

LOVED IT. I love Vintage Black Glamour, been following the Tumblr forever. I'm having a bit of a "being a woman of color is awesome" moment, personally - my dysphoria isn't acting up for once and I started dating another WOC - so seeing black women being celebrated in this way is so very lovely. I'm Latina, for the record.

There was a link in the main FPP interview to another excellent CW article, Singing the Lesbian Blues in 1920s Harlem. Don't miss the links to other recommended reading at the bottom.

Queer themes in African American nightlife and music run so deeply and so far back, it's such a shame that people think Macklemore painting rap as a homophobic monolith is progress. It's not just Cakes da Killa and Le1f refuting that slander against black music; it's Little Richard performing "Tutti Frutti, good booty" in drag, it's Ma Rainey singing a song about women dating women called "The Boy in the Boat" (three guesses what that title is referring to). It's over a hundred years of black musicians celebrating their homosexuality through music, despite sometimes negative reactions.

Sorry, I know this is only tangentially connected to the subject on hand, but it's so fascinating to me! If you're interested as well, I highly recommend reading Queer Bronzeville,"The history of African American gays and lesbians on Chicago's South Side." The navigation/design is a little messy, don't miss the links to Part 2, Part 3, etc on each page.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:02 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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