Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Your Blues Ain't Like Mine

Have you ever been in a mood that leads you to vent about something in a public (yet private) forum, and afterwards when you return to read the comments, one statement in particular rubs you the wrong way because the person is throwing shade and trying to make you feel bad for even sharing your silly little "problem" in a space where EVERYBODY else comes to share their drama?

No? Just me I guess.

The Hub and I had an argument last night, and because I had reached the summit of Mt. Annoying Husband, I shared my perspective on our dispute to an online group. I needed to vent. Afterwards, I went back on Mom-duty and spent the next hour trying to wear down a restless Toddlersaurus who is going through pacifier withdrawal). I was not online to read any comments on my post, but I saw them this morning, and for the most part, I think it was understood that I was merely venting.

There were a few comments that are best categorized as "go easy on him sister-girl because at least he is trying," and as I have learned in the past 16 years of marriage, everybody gives men who appear to be doing more than molting into the couch the benefit of the doubt. He gives you a bowling ball for your birthday with his name engraved on it, and you are supposed to be grateful that he gave you a present. And I am quite clear that no man has ever said to another "go easy on her bro, those monthly hormones can be brutal"...but I digress. I took the ribbing and even laughed at myself for being as upset. And as one sister urged, I am willing to pick a better battle.

But then one sister hit me with the single mom response, which in translation is "suck it up because I've got real problems, you spoiled bitch."

And that is why I don't share. That is why I keep a lot of my anger and irritations to myself.

I am also vexed because I feel that there is an inherent, unspoken rule that married women don't get to complain about their lives unless they are in an abusive relationship. Or if their spouse is unfaithful. Or if they are on the verge of ending a bad marriage. Or if an in-law oversteps or intrudes. Otherwise, our issues are small. Insignificant. Petty. Unworthy of even being mentioned in a space where folks come to vent regularly about baby daddies, ungrateful children, and karmic revenge on the other woman.

OK, I might be in my feelings; after all, it was just one chick with issues. In a public forum where I posted to solicit empathy, she had none to offer. And I get that because the single mom life is no walk in the park. I have no idea, but I have some insight as a family law attorney. And as a caregiver to a chronically ill parent. And as stay at home mother with no immediate family to step in to provide assistance, not even in an emergency.

And as a woman who would never judge another woman for being a single parent. Or a working mother. Or a stay at home mother with children in school. Or a older adoptive parent. Or a non-parent. Or a married woman with no children by choice. See, all of us have our own issues that make life a challenge. I have my basket of daily bullshit, and you have yours. It would just be nice if every now and then, I could pour some of that bs down the drain and not feel bad about wanting to lighten my load.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Busy Black Woman's Day Off

In case you had not been following along on the Facebook page, I took an impromptu solo trip to New York City this weekend. And it was fabulous! It was exactly what I needed...my first Momcation!

I wish I could offer advice on what to do, but I literally just went with my gut after a friend texted to offer me the other bed in her hotel room. Everything happened in a matter of minutes: I had texted her and another friend to invite them to see a play with me in DC on Sunday, they both declined, then she texted me back to ask if I was game to join her in NYC. I told her that I needed to sleep on her offer...but honestly, I went to bed with a plan already in mind.

I needed this break. I needed to escape from the Toddler, who has been extra clingy. I needed to get away from the Hub, who hasn't been very attentive. I needed some space from my Dad, who has been my Dad (and who needs to get away himself, so that is my next grand scheme). I needed a reprieve from everything that has been stressing me, wearing me down, tiring me out, and generally stretching me towards the breaking point.

So I woke up and said yes, I just need to buy tickets.

I should have packed my rolling suitcase. I should have brought a warmer scarf. I didn't need that empty water bottle that I never used. I'm glad that I remembered to grab an umbrella. I think I need to rethink all of these toiletries. And maybe get a new toiletry bag. So glad that I changed my mind about taking a dress. I've seen every episode of Law and Order. I think every coffee shop burns their coffee like Starbucks.

I read A Wrinkle in Time on the bus ride and now I can't wait to see the movie. I went to see Black Panther and have developed a serious girl crush on Danai Gurira. I generally end up walking at least two blocks in the wrong direction whenever I am in New York. I'm glad my friend and I got to hang out for at least an hour. I don't know how I spent $30 on every meal...

I saw the actor who portrayed Chief O'Brien from Star Trek: TNG in Times Square. No one really dresses for the theater, which is a shame. If you can afford to get the better seats, it is always worth doing so. I am so glad that I decided to see Once on This Island. That clerk at the Walgreens who suggested that I might need a lint roller was right. I haven't been downstairs to the food court at Union Station in twenty years. Chik-fil-A is pretty much everywhere.

And of course I came home Saturday to a living room cluttered with every toy the Toddler owns. Of course the Hub hadn't combed her hair in two days. Of course I still need to do at least three loads of laundry. Of course I need to remind my Dad that we have tickets to visit the Blacksonian this week. Of course I have a lot of writing that I need to get done.

This weekend was my grown up version of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, without the creepy principal or the gang of co-conspirators. It was just me doing what I wanted and living for the moment. It was me confronting my anxieties about watching life from the sidelines. It was a reminder that the fearless me who moved to New Orleans sight unseen; who was determined to go to the '96 Olympics and did; and who got by in Brussels with a smile and vague memories of high school French, is still here. That determined younger woman has more responsibilities now, but her ultimate responsibility must be to take care of herself so that she can live to be an even more determined older woman.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Black in Fashion - Part II

New York Fashion Week ended a few days ago, as did the BBW Black in Fashion series, and if you would allow me a moment of self-congratulatory indulgence, this was quite an amazing roller coaster ride! I had no idea that I would get so immersed in this topic, and after seven days I've barely scratched the surface of with respect to history and current information. If you missed any of the posts to the Facebook page, please take a look at the index post, and read this epilogue for additional information that didn't make the initial series.

First Ladies and Fashion
I was initially intrigued by the connection between Elizabeth Keckley and Ann Lowe, dressmaker/designers to two historic First Ladies, but it took a while before I fully recognized how pivotal that relationship could be in terms of influencing the career of a specific designer or even a particular trend. For Elizabeth Keckley, her influence on the fashions of the time is unclear, but her client base and livelihood depended a great deal on her friendship with Mary Todd Lincoln (which apparently became strained after Keckley published her memoirs). Ann Lowe's design business did not lack for well-heeled clients, which is why it is not too surprising to learn that after she designed the wedding dress for Jacqueline Kennedy, they maintained a relationship for many years afterward.

The inclusion of Michelle Obama in this series evolved from a mere mention of her choice to wear a specific contemporary designer to a full-fledged recognition of her role as a key fashion influencer. While a few of her predecessors could be similarly appreciated for their style (Nancy Reagan comes to mind), with the exception of Jacqueline Kennedy, I was unable to verify if previous First Ladies in the modern era specifically sought to patronize black designers. Interestingly, on the fifth day of this series, the Obamas unveiled their official portraits, rendered by two promising young African American artists which is consistent with other choices they made to highlight the work of lesser known American artists of color during his term. It is no surprise then, that as one of the most photographed women in the world, Michelle Obama has launched and revived the careers of several contemporary designers.

Black Fashion Venues
My initial intent was to acknowledge the historic importance of ESSENCE and EBONY magazines, two black publications that played substantial roles in providing showcases for black designers and models. As I researched other subtopics and realized that this effort was expanding, I remembered the all-Black issue of VOGUE Italia. This ground-breaking issue was the brainchild of its late editor, Franca Sozzani and was published in July 2008 at a moment when there had been a noticeable decline in the number of black models featured in major fashion publications and on runways. (And I need to note that no mainstream American publication has undertaken a similar effort; however, GLAMOUR magazine has been working to promote more content created by women in its publication.)

The Italian VOGUE in Black issue was announced and planned prior to the death of designer Yves Saint Laurent, who passed a month before its publication. We must pay homage to him because he was one of the first major designers to use models of color in his shows and his friendship with Eunice Johnson meant that his creations were among the first by a major designer to be included in the EBONY Fashion Fair. It cannot be overstated how the example and influence of one white designer helped to change an industry--it was Laurent who helped to launch Naomi Campbell's career as a supermodel.

A fair amount of credit should be given to reality television for creating new venues for black designers and models. Of course that means giving props to both Project Runway and America's Next Top Model for demonstrating the importance of diversity and inclusion in the industry. In the series, I highlighted three black designers from PR who performed well and made their mark but it also provided an opportunity for models as well. ANTM featured a fair number of black models in each cycle, including winners Eva Marcille (3), Naima Mora (4), Danielle Evans (6), Saleisha Stowers (9), Teyona Anderson (12), and Krista White (14). Several of those winners have gone on to become successful working models, including a few who crossed over to the catwalk for the designers from PR.

Fashion Influencers
For years, Andre Leon Talley was the black fashion overlord, with few peers. Since his retirement, others have ascended to high places, so the job of discovering and mentoring more promising young talent no longer rests with one lone influencer, but among several. While we tend to look to the editors at mainstream publications to declare what is in and what is out, social media will continue to serve as a venue for fashion bloggers whose voices and perspectives are both immediate and current.

I am also hopeful that advocates like Bethann Hardison will continue to speak out about the lack of diversity in the industry until it is no longer a need. Because if models are merely the hangers for displaying the art, then it should not take headlines or alternative campaigns to shame designers into using black models. And it should be noted that while the series recognized the historic and iconic black models from the past, there are many fresh faces out there who deserve attention and opportunities to shine.

I did not focus on cosmetics because that is a topic that should (and might) be its own series. Iman, Tyra Banks, and Pat McGrath have their own cosmetics lines which demonstrates how integral makeup is to the fashion industry--not just as looks that are created for the runway, but also for what gets advertised to consumers. Black women historically had limited makeup options,which is why a legacy brand like Fashion Fair and now a contemporary brand like Fenty Beauty are so revolutionary. The existence of those brands has influenced mainstream companies to expand their offerings in order to cultivate black women as customers.

Black celebrities started cosmetics companies to fill a void, so it follows that their influence on fashion could and might become its own topic because there is no denying the symbiosis of that relationship. Black celebrities like Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge sought out designer Zelda Wynn Valdes to provide dresses for their performances and appearances, which undoubtedly enhanced her profile and her business. Celebrities themselves have turned to design to market their style to consumers, such as Rocawear by Jay Z or Sean John by Sean "Diddy" Combs, which certainly influenced the work of mainstream designers like Marc Jacobs.

Clearly, there is so much more ground to cover with respect to blacks in the fashion industry. This is merely an introduction for me into a topic that I've always found fascinating. I never assumed that blacks were not an integral part of the fashion industry; I think I just never gave it that much thought beyond the images that I saw on the pages of fashion publications. Which explains a bit why this series was such an undertaking...because it is easy to assume that other than the models and a handful of influencers, black contributors to this industry might be inaccessible to the common consumer.

I have to confess that this was one of the most challenging pieces I've written because as someone whose interest in high fashion has been limited to September issues and TV shows that rate the red carpet looks of celebrities, it is intimidating to tackle a topic so far outside of my lane. And because I did not approach this as a research project initially, I've put a lot of pressure on myself to provide a somewhat comprehensive overview. I've also decided to do my part to seek out and support more black designers (where I can, as soon as I'm confident enough to wear this to playgroup):

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Black in Fashion - Part I

What began as a simple idea for the Facebook page has now morphed into a serious multi-day project. This post serves as the introduction to and index for what will appear over the next few days on the Busy Black Woman social media platforms in honor of New York Fashion Week 2018 (February 8-14). The purpose is to highlight the contributions made by black fashion and costume designers, models, magazines, fashion critics, editors, and other influencers. 

This project began with a random tweet that I read at the beginning of the month about Ann Lowe, the woman who designed Jacqueline Bouvier's wedding dress. I vaguely knew that the dress had been designed by a black woman, but I knew nothing else about her and like most of the information that gets shared during Black History Month, I would have bypassed this as just another random piece of trivia. Yet, after I learned more about Ms. Lowe's life, I considered her connection to Elizabeth Keckley, another black woman who had worked for another First Lady a century earlier. At first I thought I would simply highlight the historic work of a few unsung black fashion designers. And then one thing led to another...

It is fortuitous that New York Fashion Week has given me a venue for sharing this information. Each day is presented as a theme, during which the following information will be shared:

February 8 - Black Designers in NYFW 2018
Cushnie et Ochs showing February 9 
Telfar Clemens showing February 9
Pyer Moss showing February 10
Laquan Smith showing February 14
Korto Momolu show was in September
Mychael Knight show was in September

February 9 - Selected Historic Black Designers
List of ten selected designers
Elizabeth Keckley - dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln
Ann Lowe - designer for Jacqueline Kennedy
Willi Smith - designer for Spiderman comics and School Daze
Patrick Kelly - women's wear designer
Stephen Burrows - current designer

February 10 - Noted Black Costume Designers
Zelda Wynn Valdes - Playboy bunny costume
Geoffrey Holder - The Wiz (Broadway)
Kara Saun - Disney's The Descendants
Ceci - Television costume designer
Ruth Foster - The Black Panther

February 11 - Venues for Showcasing Black Fashion
Ebony Fashion Fair - traveling fashion show that featured black models
ESSENCE Magazine - fashion and lifestyle magazine for black women
Black Fashion Museum - private museum that showcased designs and costumes
Project Runway - reality TV competition for designers
The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology - exhibition on black designers
Italian Vogue "All Black" Issue

February 12 - Black Cover Models
ESSENCE Magazine Covers
Beverly Johnson - model, entrepreneur, activist
B. Smith - model, entrepreneur, activist
Iman - supermodel, actress, entrepreneur
Naomi Campbell - supermodel
Tyra Banks - supermodel, actress, TV host, entrepreneur

February 13 - Black Fashion Editors and Influencers
Andre Leon Talley - former Editor-at-Large for VOGUE
Edward Enninful - current editor for BRITISH VOGUE
Robin Givhan - fashion critic at The Washington Post
Elaine Welteroth - former editor at TEEN VOGUE
Nikki Ogunnaike - Senior Fashion Editor at ELLE
Michelle Obama - former First Lady of the United States 

February 14 - More Black Fashion VIPs
Bethann Hardison - former model, entrepreneur, activist
Pat McGrath makeup artist and Beauty Editor for BRITISH VOGUE
Black Female Fashion Photographers
Ozwald Boeteng - current menswear designer
Tracy Reese - current designer
Tori Soudan - haute couture shoe designer

Friday, February 2, 2018

HBCU Just Give, Again!

I am trying new things, and as I officially re-launch my #HBCUJustGive campaign for the Founders/Charter Day season, I invite you to take a look at my video:

And just give. Every School. Every Alum. Any Amount!