Dec 17

African Fashion Models In The 1960s – A Real-Life Princess


While doing research on my previous posts for Black History Month,Princess, barrister, model which included looking for African fashion models in the 1960s, I stumbled upon an image of Princess Elizabeth of Toro. When I dug deeper, I soon realised that she has led a full and active life both before and after being in front of the camera and on the catwalk.

The Princess really was born into royalty, and already had a successful career in law by the time she entered the modelling scene.

This post will talk about this fascinating figure whose life could so easily be a novel in itself!

A woman of many firsts

Princess Elizabeth Christobel Edith Bagaaya Akiiki of Toro was born in 1936 in the Kingdom of Toro. This was and still is located in the south-west of Uganda.

After spending the bulk of her education privately schooled in Uganda, she was sent to Sherbourn School for Girls in Dorset. She was the sole black student there.

A year later, the Princess was accepted into Gorton College, part of the University of Cambridge, to study law, politics and history. She was only the third African woman in the institution’s history to be accepted, as well as the first woman from Uganda.

In 1965, three years after graduating from Cambridge with a law degree, the Princess became the first woman from East Africa to be admitted into the English legal profession as a barrister. By this time, she had been given the title and office of Batebe (Princess Royal) after the death of her father Rukidi III of Toro.

Life in front of the camera

Princess Elizabeth had returned to Uganda and become the first woman to be called to the country’s bar in 1966 by the time her modelling career began. Princess Margaret (sister to Queen Elizabeth II) invited her to come to London to model in a charity fashion catwalk show. This was a fortuitous event, given the dangerous political climate of the time.

This resulted in the Batebe’s new career taking off. She was photographed by David Bailey and Patrick (later Lord) Lichfield for magazines such as Vogue in the UK and US. She was also signed up to The Peter Lumley Agency in London – the top modelling agency in the city.

Princess Elizabeth was friends with the ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn, who introduced her to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She then arranged a meeting between Diana Vreeland, editor of American Vogue, and the British ambassador to the US Lord Harlech.

As a result, Vreeland invited the Batebe to New York to model for Vogue. This resulted in the first ever photoshoot for the magazine that featured a black model, in the summer 1969 edition.

Princess Elizabeth then signed to the Ford Model Agency in New York, and became the first black woman to appear on the front cover of the November 1969 edition of Harper’s Bazaar. She didn’t even know she’d be on the cover until she walked past the newsagents and saw the magazine!

Despite the success she enjoyed as a model in the UK and the US, the Princess saw modelling as only a means to an end. The real purpose of it for her was to promote black culture and to give an image of black women as elegant and beautiful.

Work after modelling

The Princess returned to Uganda in 1971. She took the lead role in theGracing the silver screen film Things Fall Apart, which was filmed entirely in Nigeria. The film, also called Bullfrog in the Sun, was based upon two books written by the eminent Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe.

In 1974, she was briefly appointed as Uganda’s minister for foreign affairs by the self-declared president General Idi Amin. In 1975, she fled the dictator’s brutal regime for London (via Kenya and Venice) and remained in exile until the country’s first democratic elections in 1979.

Princess Elizabeth, along with her future husband Prince Wilberforce Nyabongo, returned to London in 1980 where they married the year after.

There was even a role in a second film – Sheena (in 1984). In the movie, the Princess played a shaman within the tribe that the orphaned main character is brought up in.

In 1986, the Batebe was appointed as ambassador to the United States, a post she held until 1988. After her husband was killed in a plane crash that year, she began to devote more of her time to charity work and the guardianship of the current Toro monarch Rukidi IV, who is also her nephew.

She also found time to write and publish her autobiography in 1988 – Elizabeth of Toro: The Odyssey of an African Princess.

The Princess is now Uganda’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, thus continuing her role as an international diplomat.


WOW!! Princess Elizabeth of Toro is such a fascinating person to find out more about! With careers in law and international relations both before and after modelling, she has so much more substance than the stereotypical ‘dolly bird’ model you’d expect to find in the 1960s.

Please share this post with your friends on social media!

(Other sources – Princess Elizabeth of ToroElizabeth Bagaya – Princess Who Stole The Heart Of The West)

Dec 17

Winter Coats And Jackets For Women

(Affiliate Disclosure: Go Go Sixties is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.)


Winter coats and jackets for women are what this post is all about today. This sudden drop in temperature we’ve been having in the North of England gave me the cue for me to start talking about them. I also know that Christmas is only 24 days away!!

I’ll talk about what people wore as winter coats and jackets in the 1960s, from the beginning of the decade to the end. Afterwards, there’ll be a look at how some of these fashion trends for winter outerwear can still be seen in the shops today.

The early 1960s

Coats and jackets in furs such as leopard and sable harked back to the glamour of the 1930s and 1940s in Hollywood. Warm they may have been, but the real thing was way too expensive for the average purse (not to mention the poor animal being killed just for their fur to be worn…) Synthetic versions were worn by most.

The pea-jacket/fisherman jacket silhouette was created by Yves Saint Laurent in 1962, and the double-breasted shape with the slashed side pockets became the Coat of the Year the following year.

Capes were in vogue too – cape coats, capes with hoods, capes attached to matching coats…it was all about the cape in 1963!

The mid 1960s

Wet-look PVC coats were big by the middle of the decade. These would be perfect for the mild and wet winters we’ve been getting in the UK over the past several years.

A more leftfield style is the snakeskin biker-style jacket. In 1966, Ossie Clark found a stockpile of snakeskin in a disused warehouse and created them in a close-fitting style. These were to be worn with culottes or with the midi skirt that designers was just beginning to introduce.

In the meantime, the genuine articles were being worn by rockers (who were rivals of the mods).

More unusually, long black leather coats were sometimes worn by mods and more avant-garde arty types.

The late 1960s

Afghan coats were popularised by the hippie movement. Developed from the sheepskin overcoats worn by people living in the Ghazni province of the country, this type of coat is perfect for cold and chilly winters.

Ankle-length coats were in by 1969. These were often worn with very short skirts. From a practical point of view, at least you could bend over or down while wearing the coat!

Velvet was a particular favourite fabric – luxe, and ideal for wearing on a special evening (or day or night) out. Wider lapels (a hint of what was to come in the 1970s) popped up too.

All in all, winter coats by then were wool and just above knee length. With a slimmer fit than in previous years, they featured Peter Pan collars and big chunky buttons. Big checks and geometric prints kept the look young.

Inspired by then

Swing coats like this one that can be found today are, I feel, inspired by the spirit of the sixties.

Mod-style parkas are still about today, and have become a staple each winter. Before, they were great-looking and practical for riding on scooters – now the fur trim on the hood works wonders for keeping chilly winds away from your face!

The military look has become another classic coat style – appearing in the early to mid sixties and most popularised by Gerald McCann, this boxy look keeps turning up again and again on today’s High Street.


If you love keeping warm while out this winter, the 1960s brings up an abundant selection of styles and fashions to suit you.

A fake fur in leopard print gives that glamorous vibe of the early part of the decade. Unusual fabrics such as snakeskin and leather epitomise that edginess of Swinging London. Flowing and softer longer lines, as well as styles influence/borrowed/stolen from other cultures by hippies, led the move from the late ’60s to early ’70s style.

Which styles are your favourite? Which ones will you be wearing this winter? Let me know in the comments box below!

Nov 17

More Than Just Simplicity Sewing Patterns!

Site: Vintage Patterns Wiki
Rating: 4 out of 5


Vintage Patterns Wiki is an online database of out-of-print vintageSimplicity coat dress pattern dated 1966 patterns from throughout the decades. As of today, images of 97,322 sewing patterns were available! These are from companies such as Vogue, Butterick and McCall’s. Simplicity sewing patterns also feature highly.

The thing that makes it stand out for me is that all patterns on the site are at least twenty-five years old. This is great, as the visitor feels assured that the patterns are genuinely vintage rather than reproduction or retro.

As well as being able to browse patterns, there’s space to share information about them as well as links to vendors and reviews from people who have made the items themselves from the patterns.

Getting around the site

On going onto the site, the first impression you get is of a massive banner ad across the top of the home page. This is before you scroll down to the menu bar itself. I noticed an ad at the side of the page too.

Further down there are buttons on what the site is about, creating a page, and learning how to edit an entry.Home page of the Vintage Sewing Patterns Wiki

Scroll down further to search by:

-the most popular garment type,

-brand of pattern,

-decade (currently spanning the 1890s to the 1970s),

-‘seasonal patterns’ (though this was still showing styles from March when I went on),

featured media (a video when I visited).

Having these key links on the home page makes it so much quicker to get to the information you want.

If you’ve got plenty of time, you can explore the wiki more thoroughly by  using the orange menu bar at the top of the page.

Just hover over ‘Browse’ at the left-hand side, and you find a list of popular categories to search under. These include types of garment, decade, and accessories. Dresses, men’s items, and children’s clothing are listed separately.

I tried searching ‘By Decade’, then by ‘1960s’ by simply moving my cursor over the categories and clicking.1960s Search

This particular page comprises several paragraphs about how fashion changed throughout the decade, including plenty of relevant images. There is then a list of text links to several patterns before clickable images of all the 1960s patterns currently on the site.

Clicking on one of the text links brought me to an image of the pattern itself. This image is large and clear, giving an indication as to the condition of it.

Underneath the image is the manufacturer and pattern number (for example, Le-Roy 3142), the approximate age, style, and description of the item.

Then comes:

-links to reviews of using the pattern and blog posts about it,

-links to where you can buy the pattern,

-a gallery of images of what the garment looks like once made up,

-a ‘wishlist’ facility where community members can leave their username so that any traders selling that pattern can contact them if they have it available in their size.

Not all of these have been completed for every pattern, though. Comments are enabled as well for each pattern page.

Be careful though when clicking on the links – they don’t automatically open in a new tab!Style A-line dress pattern dated 1968

On ‘Features’, there are several specialist categories:

-costume and fancy dress,

-completed projects (including pictures),

-designer patterns (broken down into Vogue’s Paris Original range, as well as for designers such as Yves Saint Laurent),

-‘Movie Star Patterns’ (clothes as worn by actresses such as Audrey Hepburn, who has a category of her own).

Want to buy patterns instead of just looking at them for hours? Hover your cursor over ‘Vendors’, and you’ll find a looooong list of links to them. A lot of these links are for Etsy stores based in the US and Canada, but most are happy to ship to the UK and other parts of the world.

Again, this is not an up-to-date list – I noticed some of the links led to sites and stores that no longer exist. Also, not all the vendors will have patterns for sale at any one time.

You can also search by pattern company, if you’re looking for, say, Simplicity or Butterick.

There is also a link to ‘become an affiliate’, though this is just comprised of badges you can put on your own site to promote Vintage Patterns Wiki. No payment’s involved – just do it if you love what they do!

Further on the menu bar under ‘FAQ’, there’s links to information about the site, how to get started as a community member, and the most recent blog posts written by existing members.

Click on ‘Explore’ to check out recent activity on the site. The Random Page facility does exactly what it says on the tin – when I clicked on it, it came up with a bra and pair of bloomers from 1934!

As a community member, you can contribute to the site by proofreading or expanding on current information. A forum is available to discuss patterns, the wiki itself, and to generally chat.

As Vintage Patterns Wiki is a site that’s constantly being added to and updated, not all of the category pages have any information on.

Who the site is for

Dressmakers (both those who do it for love and who sew for pay) will Plastic head pins, safety pins, and turquoise threadabsolutely love poring through this site for inspiration. Fans of 1960s fashion who find it difficult to scout out the clothes they want at vintage fairs or events will also find lots of ideas for having a go at making their own.

If you’re just dipping your toe into the world of vintage, this is a fantastic resource to help you discover what to look out for at a vintage shop.

How will it help you?

Simply spending a small amount of time on Vintage Patterns Wiki is enough for anyone’s imagination to start running riot!

If you also happen to be an aspiring fashion designer, you will find the site invaluable in your creative process.

Why do I recommend it?

It’s a one-stop shop, as it were, for vintage sewing patterns. You can spend hours on here!


-A big online resource of vintage sewing patterns
-No pattern on the site is more than 25 years old
-An ever-developing and growing website


-External links aren’t always kept up-to-date by users
-Extra shipping costs of ordering patterns from the majority of vendors if you live outside of North America

If you’ve been on the site before, or are a member already, please put your personal reviews in the comment box below!

Nov 17

Designing Items People Still Want To Buy – Foale And Tuffin

(Affiliate Disclosure: Yvonne is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.)

My Rating: 8 out of 10

About the book

Foale and Tuffin – The Sixties: A Decade in Fashion, written by Iain R. Webb, is all about the British designers who created clothes for women just like them – items people still want to buy even today.

The book begins with the first part of an extensive interview with both Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin. After meeting up at Walthamstow School of Art and continuing on at the Royal College of Art, they set up their own business in 1961. They sold their designs on a wholesale basis before opening their own shop on Marlborough Court (just off Carnaby Street) in 1965.

The book makes clear how much sexism they experienced when they first set up shop. Unlike their contemporary Mary Quant and designers that came after them such as Barbara Hulanicki, Foale and Tuffin didn’t have a husband or male partner to back them.

There are several incidents highlighted when fabric salesmen and the increasing number of ‘men in grey suits’ who infiltrated fashion as the sixties went on asking to speak to the ‘man in charge’. In this context, two young women going it alone as entrepreneurs was indeed radical at the time and reflected the changes going on in society at the time.

Foale and Tuffin designed the clothes that they wanted to wear themselves. They created clothes for young women just like them who desired practical and comfortable garments for their everyday lives. Pictures of these, including trouser suits and minimalist-shaped shift dresses, can be seen throughout the book.

I found it striking how modern some of the designs look even now. An example of this is the tailored white single-breasted skirt suit from 1966, pictured on page 123. The pared-down feel would not look outdated or out of place if it had been worn twenty, thirty or even forty years later.

The second and third parts of the author’s interview with the designers are in chronological order, discussing their career at the height of demand for their clothes. These include their whistle-stop promotional trip to America in 1965 as part of the ‘Youthquake’ tour and the costume design they undertook for the film Kaleidoscope in 1966. It’s obvious that Foale and Tuffin were the right people at the right place at the right time.

These personal accounts from Foale and Tuffin bookend contributions from peers and friends within the emerging Swinging Sixties scene. These include Vanessa Denza (buyer at the high-end department store Woollands, one of many who sold their items) and Jean Shrimpton.

Near the end of the book, the reader finds out about how Foale and Tuffin’s business partnership ends. Marion Foale moved to the Midlands in 1972, soon starting her own family. Sally Tuffin continued for several more years under her own name before moving to Somerset.

A lovely conclusion to the book are accounts from Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin on life after Foale and Tuffin. Marion Foale became well-known in the 1980s for knitwear design, while Sally Tuffin moved into pot design and painting after co-founding a children’s mail order clothing company.

I like how the book puts Foale and Tuffin squarely in the context of all the other things that were going on in the 1960s. Society was changing, and radical changes in architecture and design inspired them to experiment with their creations. The reader really gets a taste of how much cross-fertilisation there was between art, music, photography, film and fashion.

About the author

Iain R. Webb has been involved in fashion for nearly forty years, having graduated from the then Saint Martin’s School of Art in 1980. He is a fashion journalist and author, and has been a consultant to the Fashion Museum in Bath.

Iain R. Webb is currently a professor at Central Saint Martin’s (part of the University of the Arts London) and the Royal College of Art.

Who the book is for

Fashion students, fans of 1960s fashion, and fashion historians are the obvious target audience for this book.

However, I think that business students and gender studies students will find things of interest here. It is clear that Foale and Tuffin were women who designed for other women, creating clothes for their real lives.

How will it help you?

This book will help you know much more about two of the most influential and pioneering fashion designers of the 1960s.

Why do I recommend it?

It’s an account of two talented and determined women within the fashion industry, as well as a story of a really vibrant and fun period of time.


-Lots of inspirational illustrations, including original sketches of their designs and newspaper clippings
-A comprehensive and rounded source of information about both designers


-Quite a large book (22.1 x 27.4cm), meaning it’s more of a coffee table book than one that’s easy to carry around with you

Where you can buy it

Amazon.co.uk  – the cover price is £25.00, but check them out for the most up-to-date price.

If you’ve read this book before, please include your personal reviews as a comment below.

Nov 17

60s Style Plus Size Cocktail Dresses And Plus Size Party Dresses

(Affiliate Disclosure: Go Go Sixties is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.)


Whether you’re ready for it or not, party season is on its’ way! (I won’t But what to wear?mention the C word if you don’t…it’s still only November after all!)

Wondering what to wear? Cue a selection of plus size cocktail dresses, as well as plus size party dresses, to check out! Just in time for all those invites to parties, nights out and meals…

Especially if you’re above a UK size 16, you still have the right to look good in sixties inspired style!

So without further ado, let’s dive in!

(Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find images of fuller-figured models wearing the clothes – apologies for this).

Cocktail hour

By the 1960s, cocktail dresses were black instead of the pinks that were popular in the previous decade. Metallics such as silver and gold were also in.

This selection of gear would look fantastic for a formal work do or for a sophisticated evening of martinis:

This black shift dress with split sleeves has a metal ring alongside the waist ties to add that little bit of extra detail. This can be found up to a UK size 20.

An elegant dress like this one with scalloping at the neckline and three-quarter-length sleeves will keep you covered up but still looking glamorous. The basic shape of it makes it so versatile for any other formal occasion.

If you really have had enough of black dresses, try some sparkle! This knee-length gold sleeveless number with the slash neckline is available up to a UK size 18.

A quirky little feature about this dress is the fabric – it claims to help keep you warm when it’s cold. What a super-useful extra for this time of year!

Party hard

Party dresses started to get the cold shoulder – one shoulder column dresses, in fact. These could be found in gold and silver lame, and were massively in by the time the mid-1960s rolled around.

Here are some for your delectation, to whet the appetite if you will….

Now this is what I call a party dress! There’s lots of lace here, plus amazing bell sleeves and a V-neck.

This cute mini dress is very eyecatching with its’ rows of gold-tone flowers. Why not team it with a matching bag and flat little shoes?

If you want something a bit more covered-up and (dare I say?) sophisticated…this item here will suit you to the ground. This is lacy, black and has an early 1960s feel to it with the full skirt and midi length.

Coincidentally, it’s bang on trend for this season as well as nodding to the late sixties. To add a flavour of a few years before, you can put on a co-ordinating belt above the waist to make an empire line.

Make like a Yé-yé girl and pop on this satin slip dress. In colours including green and the on-trend red, you don’t have to stick to classic black.

Just imagine dancing the night away in this ensemble! Again, a silver bag and shoes will make you look and feel like a sparkling star.


I hope this post has given you some ideas and inspiration for sixties style stuff to wear over the coming party season. Have fun while wearing, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!

Please share on social media if you know other people with curves who’d like these sweet dresses too.

Nov 17

English Fashion Icons – Jean Shrimpton


One of the biggest English fashion icons, the model Jean Shrimpton,Union Jack flag with 'Icon of Swinging London' written across celebrates her birthday on the 6th November. A famous face of the 1960s, ‘The Shrimp’ (as she was nicknamed) was a major part of Swinging London.

Shrimpton, who was 5’9″ tall, was the forerunner for future British models such as Twiggy. Twiggy cited her as her biggest influence before being discovered herself at the age of fifteen. Before her iconic pixie cut, Twiggy’s hair was a copy of Jean’s long hair and heavy fringe!

I thought I’d find out some interesting facts about Jean Shrimpton and her career – before, during and after modelling. Why not a straight bio? Because that’s not what you came here for, did you?

Breakfast meeting

In 1960, when Shrimpton was an unknown 17-year-old model at the start of her career, she met the photographer David Bailey. They came face to face while she was being photographed for an advert for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

That first meeting was the beginning of both Shrimpton and Bailey becoming two of the most famous people of the decade. They credit each other for this. It also marked the beginning of a four-year personal relationship between the two. This was dramatised in the 2012 BBC Four drama We’ll Take Manhattan.

The drama itself is based upon the photo shoot in New York that Shrimpton featured in which was published in the April 1962 edition of British Vogue. At the time, Bailey had secured a contract with the magazine.

Frightening the horses?

In 1965, Jean Shrimpton arrived at the Melbourne Cup while on a two-week tour to Australia promoting the fabric Orlon. She was dressed smartly for the races, with a classic white shift dress. However, the dress was several inches above the knee. Shrimpton was also not wearing a hat, gloves or stockings. She was wearing a man’s watch – unheard of at the time.

Despite the above news report, her attire caused some fuss amongst the still very conservative Australian racing set. Shrimpton was accused of not dressing appropriately for such an occasion. With modern eyes, what she was wearing looked decidedly mild compared to what is worn at Ladies Day at Royal Ascot!

Now, Jean Shrimpton is credited as one of the people who popularised the mini skirt.

Cover girl

Jean Shrimpton is one of the most featured British cover models in the history of US Vogue. She has appeared on the cover a total of twenty times. 

Shrimpton made her first appearance on the cover of British Vogue in June 1962 and appeared another nineteen times between then and 1970. Ten of these covers were photographed by David Bailey.

Acting up

In addition to modelling, Jean Shrimpton also appeared on the silver screen. In 1967, she starred in the British film Privilege. Silver paint on canvas with a paintbrush

Her role within the mockumentary was as an artist commissioned to paint a portrait of the main character, a famous pop singer. He was played by Paul Jones, who himself was a pop singer during the mid-to-late 1960s.

After the film, Jones went into acting full time. By contrast, this was Shrimpton’s first and only acting role. She continued to model throughout the rest of the 1960s and into the 1970s.

More than corn flakes

Jean Shrimpton was also the face of many advertising campaigns in the 1960s, including Yardley who she signed a three-year contract with in the United States.

Americans could also see her promoting sunglasses, whisky, and even cotton.

The quiet life

In 1975, Shrimpton moved to Cornwall to open an antiques shop. By this time, she’d turned her back on the modelling scene. Four years later, she married Michael Cox, who she had met while running the shop. They then bought and ran the Abbey Hotel in Penzance, which is now managed by their son Thaddeus.

Since then, Shrimpton has kept out of the public eye and has seldom given interviews. She published her autobiography in 1990.


Due to her modelling career spanning the entirety of the 1960s, Jean Shrimpton can truly be called one of the faces of the decade. Even today, she is a model who is associated with the energy of Swinging London. It has been fascinating to find out much more about her.

Please comment below, or alternatively share on social media, if you’ve enjoyed reading this post!

Oct 17

More Black Fashion Models Of The 1960s


To bring an end to Black History Month here on Go Go Sixties, I thoughtMore black fashion models of the 1960s I’d give an honourable mention to some of the other fashion models of the 1960s who were of African heritage. They were seen on the front cover of magazines, as well as adverts and on the catwalk.

Ready to find out more? Let me introduce you to them!

Beverly Valdes

This elegant 5’8″ model started being interested in fashion early on in life, making her own clothes since she was thirteen. In 1961, she became a house model for Pauline Trigère, the first African-American to be given this position by such a well-known designer. The role included modelling designs for individual clients.

Reaction to Valdes’ new role was mixed, with some stores in the south of the United States in particular refusing to stock Trigère’s items in protest. She stood firm, and Valdes continued to work within her salon.

Valdes featured in adverts for companies including Simplicity. However, this was only in magazines for black audiences such as Ebony and Jet.

As well as modelling, the 13th September 1962 edition of Jet reported that Beverly Valdes would be guest-starring in three episodes of the New York-based TV police drama Naked City the following November. However, her name was not to be found on any of the credits.

Katiti Kironde

Katiti Kironde was the first African woman to become a cover girl on anFlag of Uganda American magazine. The daughter of the first ambassador to the United Nations to come from Uganda, she was a fresher at Harvard University at the time of her fame.

Kironde already had an interest in fashion by the time she started college, and entered Glamour Magazine’s competition to find the ‘Best Dressed College Girls’. She won, and the eighteen-year-old appeared on the front of the August 1968 College Special edition wearing a white shirt, paisley scarf and pearl earrings.

This cover is (to date) the most popular in the magazine’s 78-year history, selling over two million copies worldwide.

After Kironde graduated, she continued to be involved in the fashion industry, being involved in the design and production departments of major retailers such as Laura Ashley and TJ Maxx (known in the UK as TK Maxx). With her architect husband, she also launched her own fashion label which focussed primarily on white shirts.

In 2010, Katiti Kironde returned to lecture at Harvard. The ‘Introduction To Fashion’ was the first course of its’ kind at the Ivy League college.

Charlene Dash

Inspired by a work colleague who resigned to start modelling, Charlene Dash approached the Wilheimina modelling agency. By this time, they already had Naomi Sims on its’ books. They turned her down, but she was successful in being signed to the Ford Models agency in 1968.

Dash appeared in Vogue and was photographed by Richard Avedon. She also featured in television advertisements, including for Clairol make-up, and was the first model of colour to appear in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue.

The Palace of Versailles

Nan Palmero from San Antonio, TX, USA, Versailles (35091118851), CC BY 2.0

On 28th November 1973, Dash was one of many black models to take part in the Battle of Versailles fashion show. Taking place in the Palace of Versailles itself, this raised money for its’ restoration. In 2011, their contribution was honoured by the Huffington Post in the Game Changer Awards.

By the time of the award, Dash had gained a Master’s degree and was employed by the Department of Education in New York.

In an interview with TIME magazine, Dash said that on reflection there were many more opportunities for models of colour by the late 1960s than in previous years.


Again, this has been another post that I’ve enjoyed researching. If you look beyond the faces of the 1960s that were around, you can find so many black models who were working as well.

In my view, their names and faces should be much more remembered than they are now.

To help me with this, why not share this post on social media so we can get the word round?!

Oct 17

One Of The First Black Female Fashion Models


Today, I thought I’d talk about another of the black female fashionThe first Black supermodel models who worked in the 1960s. As with Donyale Luna and Naomi Sims, Helen Williams was labelled as ‘the first black supermodel’. She was thought to be the first African-American model to get mainstream exposure through advertising.

Here’s some more about her.

Into fashion from the start

Helen Williams was born in East Riverton in the US state of New Jersey in 1937. She enjoyed fashion at a very young age, and was already making her own clothes by the tender age of seven.

As a teenager, she studied dance, drama and art before taking her first job as a stylist at a photography studio when she moved to New York at the age of seventeen.

While working at the studio, Williams’ beauty was noticed by celebrities visiting on separate occasions. These included Lena Horne, who was already famed as a singer, actress and civil rights activist. Sammy Davis Jr, who was also a huge celebrity in the 1950s, spotted her too. Both encouraged the young stylist to make a career out of modelling.

From New York to Paris

Helen Williams’ career as a model developed when she became the feature model in magazines such as Ebony and its’ sister publication Jet in the 1950s. These were specifically targeted at an African-American readership.

However, when Williams tried to find other work, she found racism rearing its’ ugly head. Despite not being especially dark-skinned, she was still seen as ‘too dark’. This ‘colourism’ also came from other African-Americans within the black fashion world.

In 1960, Helen Williams followed the footsteps of models that came before her such as Dorothea Towles and moved to Paris. Once there, she found she was much more celebrated. The fashion world referred to her as ‘la belle americaine’ .

Some of the designers Williams modelled clothes for included Christian Dior, where Yves Saint Laurent was the head designer, and the couturier Jean Dessès.

Back in the USA

In 1961, Helen Williams returned to the United States in the hope that the tide had turned towards an appreciation of beauty in all shades. Unfortunately, nothing had changed.

Fed up at rejection after rejection by modelling agencies in New York City, Williams turned to the press to help her cause. After the issue of the exclusion of black fashion models was publicised by the influential New York-based journalists Dorothy Kilgallen and Earl Wilson, her career took off. Within that year, Williams was earning $100 an hour ($810 an hour in today’s money).

Print advertisements that Williams appeared in included Budweiser and Kodak. As well as publications targetted at black audiences, these adverts also appeared in mainstream publications read by white Americans. The New York Times and Life Magazine were just two of them.

Helen Williams was also one of the first clients of the Grace de Marco modelling agency in New York. Established in 1946 by the African-American model-turned-entrepreneur Ophelia DeVore, the agency was one of the first in the United States.

After modelling

Helen Williams’ modelling career continued throughout the 1960s. In 1970, she retired and returned to her previous occupation as a stylist.

Williams now resides in her home town with Norm Jackson, her husband of 40 years who she met while modelling.

In 2004, the not-for-profit organisation Fashion Arts Xchange gave Helen Williams the Trailblazer Award at a ceremony hosted at the Fashion Institute of Technology. This recognised her role as one that lit the way for other models of colour to come after her.


I know people keep talking about ‘the first black model’, but Helen Williams was really the first one to have entered the mainstream American consciousness. Despite the frankly ridiculous notion that she was too dark-skinned to be beautiful, she grew to be celebrated.

Did you enjoy this post? Please let me know what you think by commenting below. Please also share this post on social media!

(Other sources – Too Black For America: 1950s Model Helen Williams – The First African American Fashion Model,
Helen Williams (model))

Oct 17

Top African-American Fashion Designers From The Sixties


Continuing the series of posts for Black History Month, I wanted toPencil sketch of a shift dress talk about some of the best black fashion designers from the 1960s. Whether today or back then, they weren’t common place, especially in the UK. Therefore, this post focuses on the top African-American fashion designers who found fame both within and outside the USA.

Arthur McGee

After having graduated from FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology, part of the State University of New York) in the 1950s, Arthur McGee was the first African-American to run a design room at an established apparel company (Bobby Brooks).

In 1962, McGee opened his own boutique on St Mark’s Place in New York City and soon developed a loyal following from the top fashion fans of the time. Customers loved his African and Asian-influenced designs.

Arthur McGee is most well-known for mentoring other African-American designers who came after him in the 1970s and 1980s, such as Willi Smith.

Stephen Burrows

Another graduate of FIT, Stephen Burrows started designing his own clothes while in his first fashion job. By 1968, Burrows was selling his clothes at O Boutique (236 Park Avenue South, New York City). This included an all-white collection which was featured in the 23rd June 1969 edition of New York Magazine.

In the same year, Burrows also had a boutique within Henri Bendel, an upmarket department store in New York. This was after a meeting with the owner Geraldine Stutz.

By the 1970s, Burrows became one of the first black fashion designers to be recognised worldwide. He was the first African-American to be a winner of the Coty Fashion Award in 1973. He is still dressing celebrities today including Oprah and Naomi Campbell.

Scott Barrie

Arriving in New York in 1962, Scott Barrie (born Nelson Clyde Barr) was designing clothes from his apartment and selling them to independent boutiques. After Bloomingdales and Henri Bendel bought some of his designs, he was able to open his own showroom on Seventh Avenue in 1968.

Barrie became even more popular in the 1970s, with his speciality being silk jersey and chiffon clothes wrapped and draped around the body. His sexy and daring clothes were worn by fashionistas in New York, as well as London, Milan and Tokyo.

Famous fans of Scott Barrie’s creations included Naomi Sims.

Jon Haggins

Soon after graduating from FIT in 1964, Jon Haggins had opened up his boutique. Two years later, his first collection came out into the world. Just like Scott Barrie, soft slinky matt jersey that skimmed over the body was the dominant fabric used. Celebrities such as Diana Ross were fans of Jon Haggins’ clothing.

After closing his studio in 1972, Haggins took up a career in singingStack of four vintage suitcases of different colours before returning to fashion full time in 1980. He then became a travel writer and motivational speaker. He also hosts and produces a travel programme, GlobeTrotter TV.

Haggins’ fashion archive, including video and photos, is held at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library.

Wesley Tann

One of many independent dressmakers in New York City, Wesley Tann was the first African-American man to open a salon on New York’s Seventh Avenue. His career began to take off in the 1950s and continued throughout the 1960s.

Trained at Washington DC’s Hartford Art School of Fashion, Tann’s designs were influenced by what was happening in Paris (rather then in London) and could be found in high-end department stores such as Neiman Marcus.

Tann designed for an elite clientele, including Jackie Kennedy who he designed some maternity dresses for!

After closing his salon in 1973, Wesley Tann moved to New Jersey where he enjoyed a second career as an etiquette expert.


Wow! This has been yet another fascinating and enjoyable post to research. I’d never heard of any of these fashion designers until now, and they all have great stories to tell. Do you have any of their items in your wardrobe? Have you seen them being worn?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post – please comment below and share on social media!

(sources – The 25 Greatest Black Fashion DesignersBlack Fashion Designers – Fashion Institute of TechnologyScott BarrieJon Haggins Bio)

Oct 17

African American Fashion Models In The 1960s – Naomi Sims


As it’s Black History Month in the UK, I thought I’d focus my attention on Quote from Naomi Simspeople of African heritage within the 1960s fashion scene. For the first of my posts, who better to talk about than the woman who was one of the first African American fashion models to follow in the footsteps of the trailblazing Donyale Luna?

Naomi Sims is the model from the 1960s who most people remember as ‘the first black supermodel’. Of course, Donyale Luna had already found fame by the time Sims came to prominence!

Her stunning appearance on the October 17th 1969 cover of Life magazine encapsulated the ‘Black is Beautiful’ vibe of the latter half of the decade. Beyond modelling, Naomi Sims is also known for being an entrepreneur after retiring from modelling in 1973.

Here’s some more about her.

A model student

In 1966, at the age of eighteen, Naomi Sims won a scholarship to New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. This was and is still one of the top fashion schools in the world.

As well as studying textiles and management at FIT, she also took a night course in psychology at New York University.

It was Sims’ classmates who persuaded her to consider taking up modelling to bring in some extra income while studying. The 5’10” teenager went to all the modelling agencies in New York to see if they’d take her on, but was repeatedly rebuffed. The reason? She was considered too dark-skinned to be successful (and therefore to make the agencies money)

Instead, Sims approached fashion photographers directly. This led her to Gösta Peterson, who worked for the New York Times. Peterson was already well-established in the business, having recently been the first photographer to take Twiggy’s picture when she first came to the US.

Peterson’s image of Sims appeared on the front of the Autumn 1967 fashion supplement of The New York Times, which was the first one of an African American model in their history.

Naomi Sims then approached Wilheimina Models, an agency run by the former model Wilheimina Cooper. Sims made a deal with Cooper – she’d send out copies of the front cover with the agency’s contact details on, and they’d get a commission if she managed to get work. Cooper agreed, and Sims’ career took off!

Below are Naomi Sims’ most famous magazine covers – as well as the Life one, she was the first black model to appear on the US magazine Ladies’ Home Journal in November 1968.

Taking a stand

While Sims was at the height of her modelling career in 1972, she was offered an acting role. This wasn’t an uncommon thing to happen to models of the time.

However, the role was as Cleopatra Jones in the Blaxploitation film of the same name. Sims turned down the role, as she believed that this type of film perpetuated racist stereotypes of black people. Fellow model Tamara Dobson accepted the part instead.

What’s in the oven?

After Naomi Sims retired from modelling, the entrepreneurial streak in her really came out! She noticed that the majority of wigs available had hair that was modelled on European textures. This was despite a significant number of wig wearers being people who had Afro hair.

As part of her development of a synthetic fibre which most closely mimicked relaxed Afro hair, Sims experimented with baking man-made strands of hair in her own oven until she found the perfect texture.

Despite the smell possibly putting the household off their dinner, Sims’ wig business was a success with the African American community. Within five years, international sales came up to $5m a year (over $22m today).

Dear Naomi…

As well as running a multi-million pound beauty business, Naomi Sims also found the time to write a total of four books. Published between 1976 and 1982, these talked about beauty and hair care for black women. Sims also authored books on how to enter the modelling business and how to achieve success in your chosen field.Letter starting with 'Dear Naomi'

Sims also had an advice column in the teenage magazine Right On! This US-based magazine was aimed at teenage black girls into music and fashion.


Naomi Sims was a trailblazer of her very own! Her presence on the fashion scene in the 1960s paved the way for more models of colour to come through and enjoy success.

This will be the first of a series of posts this month talking about black people in the 1960s fashion scene, so keep coming back for more!

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