We’ve been told multiple times that if we just pull up our pants and dress a little better, racism won’t be such a problem. And being a person who loves to help, I thought what better way to help, than to give you sartorial inspiration from the 1950s? A civil rights fashion mood board if you will. After all, the 1950s-60s were a time of tumultuous social climate, with segregation, Jim Crow Laws, voter suppression laws and just giving black folks a hard time in general you know? You’ve already heard MLK’s “I have a dream” speech, or heard about black inventors or circulated Rosa Parks pictures. But did anybody tell you that their fashion choice totally helped with the racism situation? Well it did. Scroll on so I can show you exactly how your fashion choices will help us dismantle racism. Plus who doesn’t just love vintage. You can recycle fashion just like we recycle racism. Scroll on.
1) Ruby Bridges
Let’s start with little Ruby Bridges. When I read her story in high school, my first thought was, who made her outfit? I mean look at the adorableness of that little A-line dress with the little bow in the front, white socks in her little flats, the white cardigan and the white flower to match. I mean I know it’s distracting to see the US Marshals escorting her to school because white people were protesting desegregation and threatening her life, but try and forget that so you can focus on her cute little outfit. It’s just so adorable!
2) Elizabeth Eckford
If taking fashion inspiration from a little girl feels a little wrong, don’t worry I got you. Let’s get with the high school crowd. The young girl you see below was 15 year old Elizabeth Eckford, heading to Little Rock High School in Arkansas following desegregation. You can’t tell from this picture, but she was being harrassed by a crowd of nearly 200 people, telling her to go back to Africa, and threatening to lynch her.She recalls being terrified out of her mind and praying to get home safely, but you can’t tell that from this picture though right? She is giving you face! Y’all, when I tell you that this outfit is giving me life, ugh. the perfectly coiffed hair, the shades, the A-line skirt with the the button up shirt tucked in. Yaaassss. I’m all about it. I mean, sure she asked the national guard (which you can picture in the back on the left) for help and they turned her away, but at least she was dressed to the T ammaright?
3) Martin Luther King Jr.
Fellas, don’t feel left out. I got fashion inspiration for you too. Let’s take a look at our favorite black historical figure, good ol’ MLK. Everybody who wants to promote supposed “love and unity” in the face oppression, just knows Martin Luther King Jr. is the go-to guy for quotes you know? So yeah you like to quote him to counter a black lives matter post, but I think you should take it a step further and be inspired by his sartorial choices as well. Y’all know King Jr. was always decked out in a suit when fighting racism, and in this picture he sure did not disappoint. Fedoras get a bad rep nowadays, but Dr King, sure pulled it off though didn’t he? MLK was arrested multiple times in his lifetime, but I bet you he never got cuffed for lack of style though.
4) Gloria Richardson
Someone told me that fashion is constantly recycled, and this picture is proof isn’t it. The woman is the awesome high wasted pants and button up shirt is Gloria Richardson, a.k.a Glorious Gloria. She earned that nickname for her unapologetic and tireless activism against racism, but I’m thinking it should probably have been for her sense of style. She is giving me activism chic here. Stylish and practical. This picture was taken during a peaceful protest in Cambridge against economic inequality. That national guard soldier was about to hit her with that Bayonet when she pushed it away. Fearless woman right there. Whether trying to stab her with a Bayonet or trying to catch her with a bad outfit, Glorious Gloria couldn’t be caught off guard. I mean check out the look on her face. Hashtag you tried it. Hashtag I ain’t the one. Hashtag Stay woke.
5) Colored Entrance
Last but not least, let’s cheer up with a colored (pun intended) picture. I have no idea who this lady and her child are, but their outfits are on point aren’t they? White heels are hard to pull off but this lady makes it look so effortless, matching it with her white clutch and earrings. I want the entire outfit. You would think that being dressed so well would allow them to not have to use the colored entrance, yet here they are. I could have sworn dressing better was totally key to dismantling racism. I’m sure after this picture was taken, someone came with a certificate saying “congratulations! You slay with this outfit and we no longer see color, so you can sit with us”.
So there you have it folks, good looking, stylish black people from the civil rights era.
Countless times we’ve heard the argument that dressing a certain way and adopting a certain behavior was the key to dismantling racism. This is a visual representation of the absurdity of that argument, and an invitation to get honest about the fact that our sartorial choices haven’t, aren’t, and will never save us. Martin Luther King was assassinated decked out in suit and tie, Emmet Hill was lynched wearing slacks and a button up, black protesters wearing their Sunday best and peacefully protesting has dogs sent out after them, were hosed down, were harassed verbally and physically. Never was there a moment of respite in which one person was told, “oh wait, I like your outfit. you’re good people go home, racism is over”. Nah.
But important to note though, black people’s ability to stay fabulous while pushing back against racism is one that I’ve always admired. Because it is another dimension of resilience, to being able to look good in the face of oppression. It is so easy for spirits to be broken, to let ourselves be dehumanized by the cruelty of racism, and to let ourselves be defined only by the daily battle of surviving white supremacy. The ability to put on lipstick, get decked out in our finest clothes and march for our basic human rights, is a sort of defiance that that I admire. This is an ode to black resilience, how we manage to stay fabulous and fierce in the face of oppression. I have always been in love with our ability to live boldly and fight oppression with a swagger that perhaps enrages our oppressors even more, because they can’t believe they haven’t managed to suffocate our spirit. There is so much beauty in our unapologetic resistance.
Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog "The Dear Body Project". She knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is, "How can I live in a way that makes room for you too"? She writes to examine, to heal, to redeem.