The Fashion Statements of Coretta Scott King

Throughout her life and advocacy, Coretta Scott King was known for her calm demeanor and well-dressed attire. In high-stressed situations, she always kept her grace, all while in days suits that were popular during the late 1950s and early 1960s. She emphasized her ladylike style with curled hair, a well-manicured face, and a striking hat. Coretta’s style was not only a sign of her good taste, but it also signified that an African American woman could be well-dressed despite the social, political, and economic hardships placed on Black Americans.

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King was born in a rural town in Alabama and studied under a scholarship at the New England Conservatory in Boston. There she studied singing and met the man who would change her life, Martin Luther King, Jr. Their dates consisted of conversations about race and politics, and although she wanted to have a career in singing, she gave it up to marry him.

About their early life, Coretta is quoted, “After we married, we moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Before long, we found ourselves in the middle of the Montgomery bus boycott. As the boycott continued, I had a growing sense that I was involved in something so much greater than myself, something of profound historic importance.” This catapulted Coretta into a role that was a combination of First Lady and civil rights advocate. While in this role, she understood the importance of appearance in correlation to one’s character and social position, especially in the formal days of the mid-twentieth century.

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For her 1953 marriage to MLK Jr., Coretta wore a cap-sleeved, A-Line gown made from lace and tulle with a matching veil and set of fingerless gloves. When in the iconic March on Selma, Coretta stood out against the crowd in a coral-colored suit set, which was a visual statement. She appeared as a proper and professional woman of her time, which was a direct comment to the prejudice against Black Americans.“I feel like she definitely related to Jackie O. When you see her in that orange suit in that final march, she felt like she was the First Lady of the march. No one else is really dressed like that.” said costume designer Ruth Carter about recreating Coretta’s style for the film, Selma. “ She really wanted people to know that she cared, and that she was there in the foreground in support of the movement.”

The icon always accessorized her ladylike looks with eye-catching hats, like a white beret at a candlelight vigil for her husband or a black feathered piece she wore in 1964. She always wore some type of adornment around her neck, whether it was a string of pearls or a brooch. Her clothing was never too tight and always pulled away from the body, like when she wore a satin frock with Ed Sullivan.

Her fashion choices were feminine, yet strong. She wore all of her accessories and colorful outfits with an unapologetically graceful ease. Instead of being a figure that was defined by her style, Coretta Scott King used fashion as a form of self-expression and educational tool.

Tennis, Fashion, and the 1970s

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The relationship between fashion and tennis seems like a relatively new phenomenon. However, this duo has been working together for decades. One significant moment occurred in the 1970s when a wave of feminism infused with the game. What resulted was a fashion moment that gave female players the opportunity to showcase their personal style.

The Rules of The Game

Although a centuries-old game, women gained the right to play competitively in 1884. Their experience in competitive tennis was still complicated even after winning the right to play. While they competed in physically demanding matches, women earned less and were required to cover their bodies in long sleeves and skirts. And if that wasn’t enough, they were expected to maintain a slim and feminine shape.

By the 1970s, things were changing for women in tennis. In 1973 tennis player Billie Jean King created the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), an organization that provides touring opportunities and advocating for females in the sport. Some of the early accomplishments of the organization include the creation of a tour for female players and demanding better pay that is comparable to what their male peers receive. The beginnings of the WTA occurred with second-wave feminism in the United States, which embraced women’s sexuality and equality. Also influencing society was disco music. Fashion was taken over with short hemlines and tight clothing, which was often worn by dancers when grooving to fast-paced music in crowded nightclubs.

Female tennis dress reflected America’s disco culture by revealing more skin than ever. It began during the Mod-era 1960s when tennis skirts rose above the knee. Lengths intensified in the 70s, with skirts meeting at mid-thigh, which revealed full bottoms during play. In 1976, player Chris Evert embraced this trend by wearing frilly pink bottoms underneath her skirt while playing a match. Every move she made, a sliver of ruffles peaked out. This was quite a change from the long pleated skirts of their early 20th century sisters.

Chris Evert was a tennis darling in the 1970s. She began her career in her teens and quickly became an ‘It Girl’ in the tennis world. Her clothing choices reflected this role with thigh-grazing dresses in graphic patterns and a youthful ponytail parted in the middle. As she won and became a powerful force on the court, she wore custom-made dresses by fashion designer Ted Tinling. Tinling was an English fashion designer who dressed some of the most popular female players in tennis. To wear a custom designed Tinling meant that a player was the best of the best.

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Another Tinling wearer was Billie Jean King. King famously wore a Tinling piece for her ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match with Bobby Riggs. King was known for her aggressive play, which required practicality in her sportswear. However, she accented her short white dresses with fashion touches like pointed collars, pleated skirts, and graphic patterns.

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Although older than many of her tennis competitors, amateur player Renée Richards had the “tennis look.” Tall with high cheekbones and gorgeous chestnut brown hair, Richards had beauty and excellent athletic skills. As a Yale graduate, a prominent ophthalmologist, winner of a singles title, and coach to Czech tennis player Martina Navratilova, one would think Richards had it all.

However, Richards became one of the most controversial figures in 1970s tennis because she was trans. Nearly forgotten today, Richards was one of the first transgendered persons to become a public figure in sports. She was outed after she won a chance to compete in the U.S. Open in 1976 and once the secret was revealed, Richards was seen as a threat. Many claimed that her strength would be too overpowering against female competitors. Instead of hiding, Richards embraced and accentuated her appearance. She always sported gold hoop earrings, mini dresses, and after noticing players wearing crosses, Richards added a mezuzah necklace to her wardrobe to display her Jewish faith.

Despite these three women having different experiences on the court, they all wore apparel that showcased a sense of style. They are a prime example of how a sports player can use stylistic cues to display their personal taste or objection to unfair sexist rules. This tradition of fashionable apparel in tennis continues today, especially with the outfits of Venus and Serena Williams. Instead of it being a distraction, which some officials claim, this form of clothing gives a sense of personality and insight. Some would say it is the perfect match.

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.

Christian Lacroix’s Aristocratic Muse

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Marie Seznec was known as the couture client liaison for Christian Lacroix, but she had another role that was just as important, one of a grey-haired muse. “I found my first grey hair when I was just 14,” she said. “ All my family had grey hair; my parents, grandparents, my brothers and sisters. Because I was the youngest of a family of five I wasn’t shocked at all.”

Born and raised in Brittany, Seznec’s first introduction to the industry was through her family’s boutique. “I loved fashion and I liked staring into the store’s windows,” Seznec said. “Although my parents worked in the fashion business, they were also artists. My father drew all the time, and my mother embroidered.”

After childhood, Seznec went to study fashion at Studio Bercot. While as a student, she was spotted by an editor of Elle France. This editor had her photographed for the magazine’s 1982 December issue, which attracted the modeling agency, Marilyn.

Speaking about her qualifications as a model, Seznec said, “At 5’-6” I wasn’t very tall compared to other models in the ‘80s who were at least 5’-8”. Today you have to be 6 feet!”

Her grey hair paired with her youthful, beautiful face attracted high-end designers, and she found work with Thierry Mugler, Hermes, and Yohji Yamamoto. Her unique look even caught the attention of Christian Lacroix, then at the couture house Jean Patou.

The first time she appeared on a Patou runway, Lacroix ordered hairdresser Alexandre de Paris to make Seznec into a modern-day Madame de Pompadour, which was later recreated for the cover of W.

A friendship between Lacroix and Seznec traveled from his time at Patou to his own personal couture line. She worked as both a fit and fashion model for the house and was an essential part of the line’s image. She later became an ambassador for Lacroix, and even inspired him to give his in-store mannequins grey hair.

Seznec then took a break from the colorful walls of Lacroix’s salon to get married. As expected, her gown was a custom-made satin dress suit made by Lacroix. For the reception, she changed into a powder pink chiffon and taffeta ballgown that was also made by the designer. After spending some time as a married woman, she found herself back to fashion in 1994 and became the Directrice of the designer’s couture salon.

Seznec’s new position held a lot of power because it worked directly with high paying customers. To attract and maintain clients, she used her charming personality and immense knowledge about the brand, which was cultivated through years of experience. She remained in this position until 2009, and at the age of 57, Seznec sadly passed away from cancer.

Seznec’s grey hair while outfitted in Lacroix’s clothing will always be a moment of fashion history where muse and maker combined. However, what may be more important is the relationship between the designer and his trusted friend. Just like her beauty, Seznec and Lacroix’s friendship was one of a kind.

How Cicely Tyson Introduced Natural Hair To Television Audiences

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At Victoria’s Secret last annual fashion show, the American lingerie line debuted a look that had never appeared on their runway before, natural hair. Angolan model Maria Borges walked onto the runway before millions with her hair in its natural state, a short Afro-textured pixie.

This “reveal” was praised by the press, announcing it as a visual step towards accepting more diversity in fashion. However, this wasn’t the first time that a gorgeous woman revealed her natural Afro-textured hair to a watching audience. In the early 1960s, an emerging actress named Cicely Tyson used her natural hair texture to make a loud statement.

It all began when Tyson was selected to perform in a 1960s television production that, according to the actress, “dealt with the emerging African nations.” At the time, Tyson wore her hair straightened but she felt the style was improper for her character. So on the night before the first live production, Tyson went to a barbershop and asked the barber to cut her hair short and dry it to its natural state. Tyson said to Oprah’s Master Class that the barber had to sit down and take a break before he finished the look.

The next day, Tyson arrived with her hair wrapped in a headscarf, and when it was time to film, she dropped the scarf. The crew went silent. Tyson said that you could “hear a hair hit the floor.” The director then walked up to her and said, “Cicely, you cut your hair.” She sheepishly nodded her head and said, yes. He then told her that he wanted her to do it but he never knew if it was appropriate to ask her to cut it.

Tyson’s hair transformation into a short afro was a major beauty statement in the 1960s. This was a time where Black faces were rare, especially with women. If present, they were expected to look “Europeanized,” meaning they had straight hair. Tyson’s simple haircut was a major, and historical, transformation for both beauty and racial history in America. It even sparked a worldwide hair movement.

Although Borges’ hair on Victoria’s Secret runway and Tyson’s haircut in the 1960s are unrelated, the fact that the lingerie model’s hair still makes news is something to think about.