2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification: the amendment that allowed women the right to vote. To commemorate this and celebrate women in history, Emily Skidmore, associate professor of History and Affiliate Faculty member of Women and Gender studies, has come up with Tech’s Women’s History Month Lecture Series.
Every March, the plan is to have an academically-qualified keynote speaker come to campus and lecture about women in history. Then there will be additional programs and activities that follow the lecture.
Tanisha C. Ford’s lecture about her book Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion yesterday, Sept. 22, was the first of these lectures.
“I was really excited to start this lecture series in 2020,” Skidmore said. “The 100th anniversary of women being able to vote is really the heart of this lecture series, and I wanted to start it this year because it’s quite the milestone.”
However, the 19th Amendment is not the only thing Skidmore plans to cover in the upcoming lectures.
“While women voting is extremely important, I also want to focus on race and gender identity, and what it means to be a woman in the most expansive way,” she said.
Ford’s lecture was initially supposed to take place March 30 on campus, but because of the rapidly increasing COVID-19 pandemic, the lecture was forced to be postponed and moved onto Zoom.
“Though it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, we were still very grateful and excited to have Ford give her lecture any way that was possible,” Skidmore said. “She’s a very prolific scholar, and she’s written multiple academic books and has given numerous interviews over women in history and politics. She’s really at the top of her field academically and is able to translate her insight to the general public, which can be hard to do. But she nails it. That’s part of why we were so excited to have students listen to her talk about her work and what it means to her. "Dressed in Dreams" is really a memoir to the fashion of Ford’s own life and the fashion of Black women.”
In addition to 2020 being the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, there have also been multiple uprisings in both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Ford’s book is so powerful,” Skidmore said. “It highlights how history is always with us, and she makes history available to everyone. With the Coronavirus and the Civil Rights movement and the election coming up, I feel that this discussion with Ford couldn’t have been timelier. We’re very lucky to have her.”
Ford’s lecture took place over the Zoom Webinar function and was moderated by a panel of professors and Ph.D. students from Texas Tech University. These included Emily Skidmore, Stephen Chao, an administrator for the office of LGBTQIA Education and Engagement, Heidi Mims, president of Organization of Women Law Students, Carol Sumner, and Ph.D. student Sarah Louis.
The moderators asked Ford questions they had about her reasoning behind the book, and some questions from the audience were answered as well. When asked about why Ford was compelled to write the book, she took the audience all the way back to her childhood.
“I think this idea was definitely something that came to me in my upbringing at home,” Ford said. “The academy refers to it as folk knowledge, but for me it’s a very serious epistemology that what we learn in our households shape how we see ourselves and how we see the world.”
Continuing to answer the question, Ford said that it was her mother who really helped her begin to understand the way the world viewed African-Americans and how clothing “is never just a garment.”
“My mother was definitely instrumental in helping me understand who I was as a young Black girl in a space that was often hostile to black people,” she said. “So I always carried with me those early stories of her dressing me in ‘Black is beautiful’ t-shirts, or my grandmother giving me a shirt that read ‘no justice, no peace’ with all the names of Black folks who have been killed by law enforcement, or by white vigilantes. So, I was able to take all of these experiences and then write about it in a way that I think just kind of distilled it down to its core essence. What we wear typically means something.”
In the book, each chapter is a specific garment. Ford addresses the garment and the stereotypes that surround it and Black people and brings in anecdotes she has from her life or from others that tie into the garment.
“This book was a lot about pleasure; it was me doing me as a young Black girl,” she said. “I wanted each chapter to represent a garment so I could really focus on it and elaborate on it and give it the attention and love it deserves.”
When asked about what Ford wants people to take away from her book, she launched into a discussion about how the book is for young Black girls and anyone who wants to launch themselves into a Black girl’s world and culture.
“Every first sentence of every chapter is for Black girls, like I wrote that sentence for them,” she said. “Then I go back in and fill everyone else in on what I mean, but the first sentence is like this insider knowledge that we, as Black girls and nonbinary femmes hold. I really did write this book as a love letter to women and nonbinary friends in my community for us to be seen and heard, and for our history to be told, and for us to not have to fight publicly to say something like, ‘The Kardashians didn’t invent cornrows.’ It was a way to tell our story without having to defend or prove that story.”
Ford also wrote the book to help break down the stereotypes that surround Black clothes and establish them as simply ways Black people express themselves.
“Another thing that was important for me was to stop bifurcating the history of fashion and social movements to where we see queer fashion as something that’s completely separated from mainstream or straight fashion,” she said. “However, when you think about Black fashion, you can’t separate the two, but so often, the archive creates that kind of violent separation and I wanted to use my story as a way to say, ‘No, we’ve got to stop doing this.’ I just really wanted us to not have to prove who we are or whose we are and how that shows up in the clothes that we choose to adorn ourselves in.”
When asked how she chose which garments to include in her book, Ford said that the process was long and complicated, but that she felt it really made an impact.
“There were certain imperatives I had, and one was that we wanted the book to cover a certain temporal arc, so for me that was Black Power to Black Lives Matter, so it meant that I had to have garments that represented those different key moments or turns in time,” she said. “The garments I used also had to have a strong story to tell around, so it meant I had to comb through my own memories to see what my major influences around fashion at different moments were, and what garments I saw myself wearing in pictures. I also had to be able to track the garment through history and find enough historical content to be able to write convincingly as a historian around that garment.”
Ford was inspired to write the books thanks to the numerous Black magazines and culture that she considers her role models when it comes to Black fashion, and she wanted those inspirations to be represented in her book. According to Ford, another role model she has is her mother.
“I wanted to think about the visual culture in magazines what they mean to people, and that’s why you can see so many references to magazines throughout the project,” Ford said. “I think my mother is always my guiding light, and so she’s always an inspiration of sorts. She’s a major influence in this book because it explores the mother-daughter relationship and the depth of communication of that relationship.”
The night's final question asked Ford what she thought the future of Black fashion looked like, and she responded by talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and how the masks have already created a change and how people are adapting.
“Hopefully everyone will be more creative,” she said. “I’m interested to see how, but there will definitely be a response to this movement. With COVID-19, everyone wears masks, and so that diminishes the opportunities of expressing ourselves with makeup, but I’ve been seeing people finding ways to show off their personal style in other ways: through their hair and their clothing. I’ll be interested to see what kind of structural change actually comes out of this moment. I’m cautiously optimistic that perhaps we will see some kind of lasting structural change.”