Vintage Black Glamour: Beauty Queens And Literary Ladies Who Came Before Beyoncé

This isn't just black Marilyns with high reblog potential.
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This isn't just black Marilyns with high reblog potential.

Take the picture of

Beyoncé on the cover of Time in a swimsuit.

I saw that, and I wasn’t upset because it’s Beyoncé. She probably gave them that picture. She sat for that. Beyoncé could have easily said, “You know what, I want to wear an evening gown.” Or “I want to wear jeans and a T-shirt.” She’s not some puppet. She is participating in her image creation.

Sixty years ago, though, Beyoncé would have just been in the black newspapers. And of course, because of the limits of photo-imaging technology in old newspapers, you don’t see as many photos as you do today. Today, a photo almost always accompanies an article. In the magazines, a photo traditionally accompanies the article. In the past, the most flattering, dignified pictures would be in the Ebonys and the Jets. Lena Horne might be in Life magazine, but she was not in Mademoiselle, Vogue, or Glamour 60 years ago. Now you have Rihanna and Beyoncé on the covers of those magazines.

Collectors Weekly has published a fantastic interview with Nichelle Gainer, former magazine writer and mastermind of a new coffee table tome celebrating the unsung heroes of black glamour. Or at least their unsung outfits.

Vintage Black Glamour, out in September, was inspired by old photographs of one of her aunts, who competed in black beauty pageants in the ’50s when negro women were still prohibited from entering Miss America. What started as a fictional novel about pageant life then shifted focus to real-life stories as Gainer started posting all the images she found online. (First on Facebook and Tumblr, but the Black Vintage Glamour Instagram account is the most stylish Instagram account you’re not currently following.)

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding social media accounts that reblog found vintage images. Gainer, however, pulls not just from Getty and Corbis but from old issues of Ebony and Jet. She also provides a little factually correct context. An example: “Josephine Baker, known as the “Ebony Venus,” and Russian-born French ballet star Serge Lifar, the “Bronze Apollo,” dance on the Lido beach in Venice, Italy in the 1930s. (Via Hotel des Ventes, Geneve)”

My favorite part is that she doesn’t just post black Marilyns with high reblog potential. “To me, glamour is when you’re able to operate in the world with a certain level of dignity,” Gainer says. “So that applies whether they’re leaders in civil rights, literature, or art. I’m so excited Lorraine Hansberry’s in my book, next to Maya Angelou. Look at Althea Gibson, the tennis player, who was photographed by Carl Van Vechten in the 1950s.”

Read the full interview on Collectors Weekly and see a few of our favorite pictures from your new favorite Instagram account below. (Gainer is planning to release a men’s version of the book next.)

Reprinted with permission from Styleite. Want more?

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