Feministing's response to the video was interesting. They looked at both Beyonce's video and the (far inferior, in my opinion) new video by Sade for "Baby Father." Their thoughts on the two:
At first both videos seemed pretty straightforward-retro to me. Some cute vintage styling choices, that's all. But given that these are two women of color are playing roles commonly associated with upper-middle-class white women (Betty Draper being the most recent reference point), I wondered: What makes me call this "retro"? I know there were certainly upper-middle-class women of color in the '50s and '60s, but this image of the happy-but-secretly-unhappy housewife is stereotypically white. By virtue of race, Beyonce and Sade are twisting that stereotype. (Granted, Beyonce is a more pin-up than straightforward homemaker -- but hey, that's transgressive, too, as pin-up girls were almost all white.)Hmm. I found this whole idea vaguely disturbing. Is it really so transgressive for a woman of color to do retro? It's quite true that the retro and vintage subculture is predominately white. But why? It's not like women of color didn't live through the eras we celebrate. And, you know, they wore clothes and did their hair. As LaToya Peterson writes on Jezebel, it's more likely that images of these women have been somehow erased from the history books. A snippet:
It is occasions like this that remind me how complete and total segregation was, and how white washed history can be. If these images are associated solely with whiteness, it's because the history of women of color has been systematically erased, deemed unworthy of inclusion in the general framework of "the way we were."Indeed, vintage fashion images of women of color in can be hard to come by. (Look at the B. Vikki Vintage blog for some great photographs.) I'll admit that it is momentarily disorienting to look at these images. I personally didn't realize how closely I associated whiteness with retro. And that's a disturbing realization for me, just as it should be for all of us who are feminist vintage-lovers.
We've talked here about the fact that the misogyny at heart of the mid-century era can be an uncomfortable paradox for the modern day feminist retro-seamstress to face. And this discomfort with the era is deepened considerably when race is brought into the discussion. The pain of the Jim Crow era coupled with the sexism at its core makes it easy to understand why the contemporary woman of color wouldn't necessarily see this as a time to be celebrated.
Can we separate the styles from the time? Lots of feminist retro-enthusiasts (myself included) seem content to be well-informed dissenters to the idea that wearing clothing of the era is equivalent with condoning the misogyny of the period. Can we say the same of race? Often the idea of choice is brought up to defend the decision to wear retro fashion: "I don't have to wear a girdle now. I have the choice, so it's feminist of me to take advantage of that choice either way." But that argument falls on its head when you consider race. Has there ever been a choice to participate in a racist culture or not? (Update: by this last comment, I only meant that women of color did not - and still don't - have the choice of whether to live in a racist society of not; they had to navigate those waters no matter what.)
So, what do you think?
Also, as a reminder: I'm looking for readers to contribute to my Op/Ed column, and I'd be especially interested in further perspectives on race and retro fashion. Please e-mail me if you're interested! Write to gertie [at] blogforbettersewing [dot] com.
Also, the whole video!