Monday, May 18, 2015

On "Why Is Vintage So White?" by Emileigh of Flashback Summer

Emileigh on the blog Flashback Summer ran a conversation with some women about how white the vintage community is. She spoke to pinup goddess Angelique Noire, Candace, the creator of Black Pinup Models, Carla of Tiny Angry Crafter, Nora of Nora Finds, and the lovely Daffny of A Vintage Nerd. All the women gave thoughtful, honest answers. I'm glad this is getting out in the open, especially with the help of a white woman; it makes it harder for readers to say, "Oh, people of color are just complaining about nothing." I've gotten some crap for bringing a lot of the same issues up (I had to eventually stop reading the comments on my The Frisky/xoJane article about being one of the few black people at rockabilly events--it got a little ugly).

There is, of course, nothing wrong with white people. But when things like Confederate flags alienate people of color from subcultures that claims to celebrate the work of many black artists, it's time to ask questions. And you have to wonder why it is that there aren't many people of color at events that celebrate, say, the Jazz Age (hello, Harlem Renaissance) or at Northern Soul nights. Or how, with the tons of pinup magazines in print and online, so few feature models of color.

What's keeping people of color away?

Some thoughts from the ladies:

Emileigh: Do you have to overcome barriers or stereotypes from people outside the vintage community as you rock vintage style? Have you gotten flak from others in your racial group that don't wear vintage?

Candace: Oh my goodness, yes! Like I said the vintage/retro/pinup community has been very welcoming but anyone outside that is a pain to deal with. Especially, from my race (African-American), it’s the most difficult thing because it’s not a cool or popular thing.

Angelique: ...In spite of how easy it is for pinup magazines to get women to submit their pinup style pics without compensating them for their efforts, there are still pinup magazines that have yet to put Black Pinups on their covers. In the pinup world, any female can be an "internationally published" model because all it takes is sending your pictures to the various magazines, which is very different from what I'm accustomed to as a mainstream model. So it is a lack of effort on the magazines part to not publish a Black woman on their cover. Just like it is a lack of effort for Repro companies to lack showing diversity in the models they use...and I am not referring to the diversity of hair color or tattoo vs non-tattooed Caucasian pinups.

Carla: Well, usually if I'm all dolled up and am wearing a hat, I get asked if I'm on my way to church. I had someone call me Aunt Jemima when I was rocking one of my hair scarves on the bus. I flipped him off, and he said nothing the rest of the ride. Been there. It isinfuriating.What is wrong with people?
In my own racial group, I've gotten "Why do you want to dress like a white girl?" a lot.

Daffny: I think older gentlemen appreciate it it when a woman dresses like an old fashioned lady. I know some people find the word Lady and the phrase "Lady-like" to be a bad thing but I love it and I very much consider myself a lady.

Does there seem to be a common theme of why others of your race don't wear vintage? (This may also tie into the culture you identify with, which is often connected to race. Also, maybe there isn't a common theme! That's okay to say, too!)
Angelique: There are many Black people that wear vintage or styles based on the 1940s/50s. They don't typically frequent events catering to the vintage community, but that doesn't mean they are non-existent.
This might have a lot to do with those events not always being super welcoming (see: Confederate flags)

Candace: I think it has to do with not being brave enough to be who you are.

Carla: I've asked some of my friends why don't they want to dress vintage, and the response is usually either "I don't see anyone who looks like me doing it." , "I don't want to get teased " "Oh, my people didn't dress nice back then." And I've seen some people posting on sites 'Oh white kids who emulate that style are harkening a caricature of the past, and are erasing the struggles of PoC.'
We need to educate those people. There are tons of people that dressed nicely back then, whether they were shopping at the finest boutiques or making the clothes themselves.

Nora: What we mainly call vintage pieces are of Western style, but vintage actually encompasses a whole bunch of historical pieces whether they are vintage batik, vintage kimono, or vintage cheongsams. But what we wear nowadays are mostly American/European vintage so a lot of minorities don't feel like they can relate. My grandma grew up in Indonesia under Dutch colonization so she wore the kind of vintage we wear now. But if you are from mainland China I can understand that you don't "get" vintage. Also, Chinese people (or maybe all Asians) have this believe that new is always better, so they tend to not like the idea of wearing second hand clothes.

What other things do you feel need to be said pertaining to this issue? Is there anything else that could help readers better grasp your experience?

Daffny: I think it is important to know that not all Latinos in America are Mexican. The Mexican culture is a beautiful one but we also come from Europe, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. We come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. We have blonde hair and red hair, we come tall/slender and round/curvy, with freckles, with dark skin and pale skin. Don't judge a book by its cover. You never know who may be and so therefore I encourage you to just ask.
Interesting. I'm surprised Daffny faces this, especially living in New York where there are tons of Latinos from all over. That being said, the West Coast rockabilly is heavily Mexican and Central American, so I can see where that (harmful and annoying) assumption might come from.

This is a two-part series on Emileigh's blog. Start here.

Buy the poster here
I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the people who are trying to show the vintage community in all its diversity. For instance, the women I photographed last year at Viva who paired traditional Guatemalan blouses with vintage jeans, or Lisa Love who uses her pinup shoots to reflect her pride in her Mexican heritage. I recently started following Asian Pinup Girls on Instagram--make sure you add them. Shien Lee of Dances of Vice here in New York has thrown a few events celebrating the glamour and history of 1930s Shanghai. The Vintage Black Glamour tumblr, and now book, shares tons of unseen photos of both huge and lesser known black stars and socialites in all their glory. This year at the Viva car show, I wore an ankara skirt my friend had made for me in Lagos. There are so many ways that people are putting a decidedly less white stamp on a subculture that doesn't always see us. It's beautiful. Keep up the good work.


  1. I'm really glad this was a post you could identify with and you felt was accurate and eye-opening in some ways. I'm also REALLY glad that it was a positive that I brought it up on my blog. I won't lie, I was a little nervous about how it would be received since I am white, but I'm really glad that you took it exactly as I intended. I know people of color can get written off as overly sensitive or as complainers with chips on their shoulders if they bring things like this up, so I was hoping that if I brought it up it might give people more credibility in the eyes of some readers that may have dismissed them otherwise. (I don't LIKE that this happens, but I'll use that white privilege for good if I can help it!)
    Thanks for this post on your thoughts. It's been very encouraging to me!

    1. And you did it in exactly the right way--you let others speak. I do really appreciate your doing this. It's food for thought for all of us.

  2. I'm black and from the far less individual-minded South, where it's draining to feel like you have to defend how you prefer to dress - to your own people and everyone else. I think all pinups are beautiful, but I always end up seeking out pinups of color to see a reflection of myself. I'm happy to note they're not quite as difficult to find as they used to be.

    Thank you so, so much for posting this and illuminating a sensitive subject that's been swept into the dark (no pun intended) corners of the vintage community for so long. Brava :)

    Julia P.


Thanks so much for your comments!