The Love, Politics, and Fashions of Edith Windsor

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Edith Windsor was a fashionable woman who understood color, proportion, and the power of a flipped bob. When describing her style, Edith sounds like a Hollywood actress or a Manhattan socialite, but she was more than just another pretty face. Edith used her fashionable appearance to fight against discrimination towards LGBTQIA Americans and normalize the face of same-sex marriage.

A Fashionable Lady, A Fashionable Couple

Edith came from a working-class background, attended Temple University, and worked a career in computer programing. She found success in the field despite it being in a heavily male industry and worked her way to the role of Senior Programmer. Early in her adult life, Edith followed tradition by marrying a man, but the relationship didn’t last due to her accepting her sexuality. She later found a partner in Thea Spyer, a Dutch immigrant who worked as a psychologist.

Edith’s famous relationship with Thea began after an encounter at a party. Their connection was so intense that when dancing, Edith tore a hole in her stockings. Together they continued their careers and had the opportunity to travel the world, which the couple documented through photography. Through this, people viewing the photographs have been able to see the love and joy between the couple. What’s also apparent is the couple’s sense of dress. In a famous picture of them sitting in The Cloisters both of the women appear fashionable, but differ in styles. Thea’s look is masculine by way of a pair of slate-colored slacks and jacket that is worn with loafers. Edith’s style is feminine and young. In the photograph, she wears a white turtleneck, a green wool coat, and a pair of high water jeans that are accented with white chunky socks and tennis shoes. Her hair is full and curled at the ends, which frames a bright red lip.

Throughout their relationship, Thea favored clean lines and classically male silhouettes. She often wore suits or button-ups shirts with slacks. Edith opted for colorful and ladylike looks, like wrap dresses, strings of pearls, and oversized sunglasses. Their opposing yet defined styles continued throughout their relationship until Thea’s death in 2009.

First Comes Love and Then Comes Marriage

The expectations of women’s clothing during the mid-19th century were to appear feminine. This related to the social standing of American females at the time, who were expected to be cisgender and straight with a mission in life to marry a man and produce children. Having a career was discouraged and virtually impossible for those who also wanted a family. For lesbians, marriage was not recognized in United States law and was considered suspicious behavior. Because of this, Edith and Thea were forced to hide their engagement in 1967. Instead of a ring, Edith wore a diamond circular engagement brooch that wouldn’t cause attention from her co-workers. The couple eventually married in Canada in 2007.

After years of activism, Edith became an American icon in 2013 when she won a Supreme Court case that demanded same-sex marriages in the United States to be federally recognized in relation to benefits and rights. This was inspired by a hefty tax bill that Edith was required to pay shortly after Thea’s death, which was caused due to their marriage not being federally recognized.

As a result of her bravery, Edith made numerous appearances in both gay and mainstream media. She no longer had to hide her identity, instead, she was expected to embrace it. She often appeared in public in a t-shirt that read “Nobody knows I’m a lesbian.” And of course, she accented this shirt with her signature blonde bob and a string of pearls.

An American (Style) Icon

Edith lived a fascinating eighty-eight years. It was filled with challenging stereotypes by being her most authentic self, whether it was through her clothing or her relationships. She was a brave, daring, and smart woman who happened to be fabulous. For more on Edith’s mission and her life, visit



An Ao Dai and A Jumpsuit: The Fashions of Dang Tuyet Mai

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The third and final subject of Vietnamese First Ladies Fashion, Đặng Tuyết Mai, was not the wife of a President, but that of a Prime Minister, and later, Vice President. A stylish figure photographed during the Vietnam War, Mai’s clothing choices mirrored the style of another political wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Both chose clean lines in stylish late-1960s and early-1970s silhouettes that complimented their youthful, but confident, beauty.

Early Life

Đặng Tuyết Mai’s was born in 1942 to an academic family in Bac Ninh, and later, Hanoi. In the 1950s, she became one of the first air hostesses of Air Vietnam Airlines. An Air Vietnam stewardess wore an Ao Dai, matching cap, and high heels which honored Vietnam’s heritage while referencing Western fashion.

In 1964, she married Vietnam Air Force Chief of Staff Nguyễn Cao Kỳ. Despite his military occupation, Kỳ was known for his penchant for flash. In 1965, the couple was photographed wearing matching military jumpsuits, which was a visual sign of solidarity with military troops. Đặng Tuyết Mai wore her jumpsuit with a chin-length bob, oversized-square eyeglasses, and a leather handbag.

Fashion Sense

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As the Prime Minister’s wife, Đặng Tuyết Mai was photographed wearing both Western and Vietnamese fashions. When in Western attire, she chose elegant eveningwear ensembles, like cap-sleeved ball gowns accented with a hand fan or a sleeveless dress with panels over black trousers. For daywear, she was photographed wearing sophisticated French ensembles that embraced texture and color.


Image via Life by way of Elle Vietnam

She also wore Aio Dais, which connected her sense of style to national pride. Her ensembles included a beige, pastel floral silk gown and a pink and white piece with a strand of pearls. Her hair was styled in a sweeping bob or bouffant, and her eyes were lined in thick, pointed eyeliner with rose petal lipstick.

As she aged, Mai’s style became expensive with daring flair. She showed more skin in tight-fitting dresses and displayed brightly colored jewels, all while keeping a well-coiffed face and hair. Before her death in 2016, she was photographed looking ageless in a black bikini and gold accessories.

For more on Vietnamese fashion, visit these articles of Madame Nhu and Nam Phuong.

Policing Female Swimwear Is Nothing New

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In 2016, a wave of French mayors created bans of “burqinis” or full body swimwear popularly worn by conservative Muslims. The offense was that the garment displayed overt religiosity. Women caught wearing the illegal clothing where punished with fines and were subject to public ridicule. This ruling has since been overturned in French courts, but it reflects a public unease towards how and what women wear for a swim.

This incident of policing female bodies while at the beach is nothing new. The most recent ban on women’s swimwear resembles what occurred in America during the early 20th century. Instead of swimming in full head and body coverings, women were arrested and fined for revealing too much skin.

Policing The Beach

In the early 20th century, a proper ‘bathing gown’ was made from wool with a full, knee-length skirt and stockings. It was not the most practical or fashionable way to swim, so some women sought more stylish alternatives. What many selected were one-piece maillots that had a scoop neckline, sleeveless or short sleeves, shortened leg coverings, and reduced volume at the legs and waists. These stylish statements were controversial because the suits’ designs went against indecency laws in the United States. As a result, police (or sometimes called Sheriffettes) monitored the length of a female’s suit bottoms and tops at beaches and swimming establishments. Like with the burqinis, harassment towards women wearing these suits was socially accepted. If found ‘guilty,’ women were fined and forcibly arrested. A famous photograph taken at a Chicago beach in 1922 shows how brutal policing was towards these women.

The social acceptance of maillots began to grow in the late 1920s and has resulted in being the norm for many countries. The movement towards acceptance is credited to Australian professional swimmer and celebrity Annette Kellerman.

The Venus Of The South Seas

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One of the most famous women of her time, Kellerman is credited for inventing and popularizing the ‘one-piece swimming costume for women.’ This form of swimwear is noted as the first suit to allow women to swim freely for the first time in centuries.

Born in New South Wales, Australia in 1887, Kellerman was a vaudevillian, movie star, and professional athlete. According to Christine Schmidt, Kellerman was a modern woman who, “grew up in Australia with relative freedom from social constraints, learning to swim, dive, and publicly compete in body-baring swimsuits.” In 1905 Kellerman invented a one-piece swimming costume with cap sleeves and shorts, which was based on men’s swimsuits of that time, and was less cumbersome than the regulated wool swimming costume. For swimmers not yet ready to display all of this skin, Kellerman also offered a modesty panel that covered the lower waist and thighs.

Kellerman’s swimsuit gained national attention in 1907 when, after training for a promotional event and wearing her one-piece swimsuit, she was arrested for indecency. As like the incidents mentioned above, Kellerman’s arrest occurred in the United States, specifically Boston. When she went to trial, the judge, “accepted her arguments in favour of swimming as healthy exercise and against cumbersome bathing suits, provided she wore a robe until she entered the water.” Kellerman ignored the robe ruling and continued to wear and sell her swimsuits. Today, her swimsuit can be seen on view at the exhibit, “Million Dollar Mermaid: Annette Kellerman” at the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, New South Wales, Australia.

Suiting Up With Acceptance

If history is any indication, the policing of women’s swimwear in the Western world is a waste of government resources. Rather, energy would be better spent supporting women to wear what makes them comfortable, showing skin or not, when taking a dip or swimming a lap.

Zuzu Angel, The Rebel Of Brazilian Fashion


Image via © Acervo Instituto Zuzu Angel

Brazilian fashion designer Zuzu Angel used fashion to rebel against a corrupt government in response to the mysterious disappearance, and later death, of her son Stuart Angel. Frustrated by the lack of information that was given to her by the Brazilian government, Angel decided to voice the injustice by redesigning her 1972 fashion collection with morbid images.


Image via © Acervo Instituto Zuzu Angel

Angel presented her clothing with “embroidered cages over the birds, depicted cannon balls shooting angels and sewed on scrawny looking children with black doves.” Her transition to the morbid was a direct comment on the Brazilian government. “Four months ago, when I began to think about [the show], I was inspired by my country’s colourful flowers and the beautiful birds,” Angel explained. “But, then, suddenly this nightmare entered my life and the flowers lost their colour and the birds went crazy and I produced a collection with a political theme.” Angel appropriately titled the collection, International Dateline.

After the show, Angel was praised by the Brazilian public for her rebellious statement. This was a time where speaking against the government was dangerous and deadly. She continued to speak against the government until her untimely death in 1976. Angel was killed in a car accident that was believed by many to be a government hit.

Fashion Career


Image via © Acervo Instituto Zuzu Angel

Aside from her rebellious fashion collection and her own mysterious death, Angel led a successful career in Brazilian fashion. She designed gowns for Brazilian politicians’ wives and American Hollywood stars, including Joan Crawford and Kim Novak. In 1974, Bergdorf Goodman of New York picked up her line.

According to a website dedicated to the fashion designer, Angel developed one of the first introductions of pret-a-porter in the country. She also lent her talent to wedding gowns but added her personal touch. Angle incorporated hand embroidery from Ceara, a region where she grew up, Brazilian jewels, and silk rendões dyed by hand.

Rebel Woman

There have been a number of museum exhibitions and collections formed in Angel’s memory. The Itaú Cultural in São Paulo exhibited, “Occupation Zuzu: Mother of Brazilian Fashion” that was curated by art director Valdy Lopes Jn and Angel’s daughter Hildegard Angel, who founded the Instituto Zuzu Angel. The space displayed the designer’s signature colorful dresses and prints while telling her story through both a fashion and political lense.

For more on Angel’s story, exhibits, and images of her work, visit Zuzu

A Look At Shirley Chisholm’s Unapologetic Style

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As America celebrated Hillary Clinton as the first female presidential nominee for a major party, some people were quick to remind the public of the legendary Shirley Chisholm.

Chisholm got her start in politics in 1968 as the first Black Congresswoman and later was the first female of African descent to run for the United States presidency. She was not selected for the 1972 Democratic bid, but her brave run broke barriers. “She was our Moses that opened the Red Sea for us,” said the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Robert E. Williams of the politician.

Aside from making monumental firsts, Chisholm was an advocate for better education and employment opportunities for minorities, and she opposed the 1969 U.S. military draft. She was also an ardent feminist who helped influence America’s second-wave feminism movement.

William Howard, Chisholm’s former campaign treasurer, described her personality as,“ Anyone that came in contact with her, they had a feeling of a careness, and they felt that she was very much a part of each individual as she represented her district.” As she advocated for progress, Chisholm also had to deal with hate and criticism for being a Black female politician, which she battled with a clear mind and passion.

What’s also memorable about Chisholm was her political fashions. Just like her beliefs and policies, her form of dressing was unflappable.

Chisholm’s Fashion

Throughout her career, Chisholm sported a sculpted bouffant, cat-eye glasses, and ladylike suits. The politician often embraced bright colors and prints, which ranged from a classic white 1960s boxy skirt suit to a silken ensemble accessorized with a bundle of pearls. “She always wore suits, little suits…I say little suits because she was a small woman…I don’t think she wore pants,” Congresswoman Yvonne Brathwaite Burke recalled about Shirley’s wardrobe. “ I remember she always ordered her clothes. We didn’t have Internet at the time, but she always ordered them over various manufacturers.”

Throughout her time in American politics, Chisholm did not hide her femininity.  Instead, she understood and kept her own personal style despite the political and social repercussions of being a Black woman in American politics.

Three years after her death in 2008, artist Kadir Nelson painted a portrait of Chisholm. She is depicted standing in a three-quarter stance with her arms crossed and her index finger raised. This piece is noted for its display of the Congresswoman’s firm manner, but it also illustrates her colorful taste in clothing. In a similar manner to Chisholm’s style, painted is a structured 1960s suit set in a blue and white geometric pattern. Also displayed is her signature bouffant and cat-eye glasses, which added to Chisholm’s no-nonsense look.

To learn more about Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, visit her page at the History, Art, and Archives of the US House of Representatives website.