How Zelda Wynn Valdes reinvented fashion

This designer you’ve never heard of was the go-to designer of the midcentury freakum dress, and made sure every Playboy Bunny’s seam was pressed to perfection.

 

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Love it or hate it, the infamous Playboy bunny suit — iconic strapless corset, bunny ears, pantyhose, bow tie, collar, cuffs, and fluffy cottontail — will forever be immortalized in popular culture as a symbol of female seduction and allure.

But what you probably didn’t know was that Zelda Wynn Valdes, a black woman, sewed the original costumes — and that the late Hugh Hefner personally commissioned her to do it.

“Fitting curvaceous women was what Zelda did, so it was a perfect fit,” says Nancy Deihl, author of “The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovery 20th-Century Women Designers” and director of New York University’s costume studies program. “Even though she’s [often] erroneously credited with the costume’s [original] design, it’s been the key thing that’s led to the rediscovery of her.”

But of course, there’s so much more to this incredible woman’s legacy than Hefner’s vision and Playboy lifestyle. The eldest of seven children, Valdes (born as Zelda Christian Barbour) was raised in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where she learned to sew from watching her grandmother’s seamstress. Her first attempt at design came when she offered to create a dress for her grandmother. “She said, ‘Daughter, you can’t sew for me. I’m too tall and too big,'” Valdes recalled in a 1994 interview with The New York Times, but the dress she created was a perfect fit. After graduating from Chambersburg High School in 1923, her immediate family moved to White Plains, New York, where Valdes worked at her uncle’s tailoring shop. In the 1930s, she worked as a stock girl at an upscale boutique, where she eventually became the first black sales clerk and tailor. In 1948, Valdes opened her own boutique, called Chez Zelda, making her the first black person to own a store on Broadway in Manhattan.

In her store, Valdes sold her signature low-cut, body hugging gowns, which unapologetically extenuated a woman’s curves. Valdes’ sexy-but-sophisticated dresses were worn and adored by Josephine Baker, Diahann Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge, Ruby Dee, Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West, to name a few. She even designed Maria Ellington’s “Blue Ice” wedding dress when she walked down the aisle and tied the knot with jazz singer Nat King Cole in 1948.

Read more of my latest piece for Shondaland [here]. 

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Mel B of the Spice Girls was the OG unapologetic Black girl

scary spiceICYMI, there are numerous reports circulating that the Spice Girls are planning to do a reunion tour this summer — another not-so-subtle reminder that us millennials aren’t getting any younger.

As a 90s baby, I was legit obsessed with the Spice Girls growing up. They were my childhood heroes, and I think the reason they appealed to so many young girls is because they were themselves and each member had something unique to offer, with Ginger (aka Geri Halliwell) and Baby (aka Emma Bunton) being the clear favorites.

But TBH, Mel B was the real star for the simple fact that she was the ONLY Black girl holding it down as Scary Spice in the best-selling female group of all time. The best part? She achieved all that success without compromising her Blackness as an attempt to fit in with her white bandmates.

Little brown girls everywhere recognized themselves when they saw Mel B being carefree and living it up on the screen, paving the way for singers like Rihanna to flaunt their #BlackGirlMagic and unleash their inner badass.

Here are five ways Mel B was the original “unapologetic Black girl.”

1. She rocked natural hair.

The only thing bigger than Mel B’s personality? Her hair. Seriously though, Mel B’s natural curls were always poppin’. Even as an animated fairy in the “Viva Forever” music video.

Oh, and who can forget when she slayed horn-like Bantu knots — a hairstyle that can be traced back to Zulu tribes of Southern Africa? Or this gorgeous braided crown she rocked in the music video for “Stop”? The braided crown was a bold statement since the video appeared to be set between the 1950s and 60s. This was an era when most Black women either chemically straightened their tresses or wore wigs to adhere to white beauty standards.

2. She spoke her mind.

The Spice Girls championed a new wave of feminism, but Mel B was woke AF. Case in point: When Mel B DGAF and shut down a TV host for bringing out a dance troupe of white people in blackface.

“I think they shouldn’t paint their faces. You should get proper Black people to do it. I don’t think that’s very good.”

Side note: Mel B revealed a couple years ago that she and the rest of her bandmates got their famous nicknames during an interview with a “lazy journalist that couldn’t be bothered to remember all our names.” And of course, you can’t be a Black woman who is loud, strong and outspoken without being perceived as hella scary, right? *rolls eyes*

3. She never disguised her Blackness

Who else remembers the photoshoot scene from the movie, “Spice World”? While Emma, Geri, Mel C and Victoria paid homage to iconic figures, such as Jackie Onassis and Marilyn Monroe, Mel B saluted Black icons like the legendary Bob Marley and the original diva Diana Ross.

4. She dared to go braless before it was trendy.

Rih Rih might have inspired millions of women to step out braless, but Mel B did it first, two decades earlier in the “Wannabe” video. Virgin executives were horrified because of Mel B’s, um, erect nipples peeking through her green tank top and wanted to re-shoot the entire thing, but the group wasn’t having it. The video was banned in certain Asian countries because it was deemed too risqué for younger audiences.

5. She was obsessed with leopard print.

Can we just take a minute to show a little appreciation for Mel B’s leopard print ensembles? An ode to the Motherland, baby! Mel B must’ve worn leopard print a million different ways during her Spice Girls heyday, and I loved every single one of them. From the iconic leopard print jumpsuit she made famous at the BRIT Awards to the sequin leopard print pantsuit she rocked at the Billboard Music Awards, Mel B absolutely NAILED every look.

Let’s give it up for Mel B, y’all!

Twisted Sisters – EBONY June 2017 Issue

For the June issue of EBONY magazine, I interviewed lifestyle blogger Ashlei C. Turner about why naturalistas love twists as an alternative to box braids and locs as summer gets underway. We broke down the differences between Marley, Senegalese, Havana and Mali twists. Oh, and I see you Solange!

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Adorned Beauty – Ebony April/May 2017 Issue

For the April/June issue of EBONY magazine, I dove into the history of hair ornaments and how the look came back strong, from what beaded braids signify in South Africa to the role celebrities such as Miriam Makeba and Solange played in modernizing beaded braids in popular culture. In this particular piece, I spoke with Tanisha C. Ford, author of Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul.

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Dreams really do come true!

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After years of grinding (and plenty of daydreaming), I finally landed my very first byline in EBONY magazine, and I have to say there’s nothing like seeing your name and words in a publication as legendary as EBONY.

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On page 43, I dive into the rich yet unknown history of headwraps and why Black women continue to wear them today. Going back to the summer of 2012, I can recall those afternoons when all I did was study the magazine from front to back, dreaming of the day when I would see my words grace its pages. Major shout out to Marielle Bobo, the magazine’s fashion and beauty director, for asking me to take on this piece after noticing some of my online work with EBONY.com’s “Detangling Our Roots” series.

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The March issue with the gorgeous Jurnee Smollett-Bell slaying the cover is on newsstands now. And yep, that’s my face there on the Contributors page.

Review: The Mane Choice Soft As Can Be Revitalize & Refresh 3-in-1 Co-Wash, Leave In, Detangler

When a PR rep emailed me and asked to send The Mane Choice’s Soft As Can Be Revitalize & Refresh 3-in-1 Co-Wash, Leave In, Detangler for my review, I was excited but hesistant. I had heard a lot about The Mane Choice over the years, but never felt compelled to purchase anything for whatever reason. Tbh, I think I was just frustrated after trying so many “natural hair” products that never seemed to work or do anything special. But then I thought, “Ahh, what the heck?” So, I decided to give it a test drive….

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A couple notes before I share my thoughts:

–My hair in its natural state is somewhere around 3B, see “Hair Types” chart below.

–I don’t chemically alter my hair and I don’t go overboard with the flat iron, so I’d say my hair is pretty healthy overall.

–I’ve used this product for about a month now.

What I was looking for in the product: My hair blown out hits the middle of my chest, but I’d like to grow it another three inches at least. Also, my hair dries fast, so I’m always searching for something that retains moisture and reduces frizz — and because my hair tangles easily, I need a product that makes it easy to comb through when wet.

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Source: curlcentric.com

OFFICIAL PRODUCT DETAILS: A 3-in-1 conditioner formulated to revitalize and refresh the hair instantly. An advanced conditioner that can be used as a Co-Wash, Leave In, and Detangler. Adds shine, softness and manageability. Stops breakage during the detangling process. Leaves the hair softer and more elastic.

The nutrient contents of this conditioner makes the hair less dry and less prone to breakage by allowing the hair to hold in more moisture for longer periods of time. When used a Co-Wash this unique formula gently rinses away impurities and product build up. Infused with Biotin and Tea Tree to promote growth and retention. No Mineral Oil, No Petrolatum, No Parabens, No Sulfates, No Formaldehydes.

My thoughts: The product itself smells lovely and the consistency feels like a lightweight lotion and that’s because purified water is one of the ingredients, so this won’t weigh your hair down.

After using this as a co-wash, my hair felt velvety but still clean. According to the packaging, it removes impurities and product buildup, but it’s gentle enough for daily use, which is awesome. Even better, it’s an amazing detangler and my hair was super easy to comb through afterward. The results had me feeing like:

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Can’t say that I noticed any extra hair growth since using The Mane Choice, but I don’t think it’s fair for me to make any claims about this since some of its other products seem to lean more toward hair growth, such as the Manetabolism Plus Vitamins and Multi-Vitamin Scalp Nourishing Growth Oil. However, the 3-in-1 is infused with biotin and tea tree — both promote healthy hair growth. Side note: I spotted this fun Length Check T-shirt. 🙂

The Verdict: The Mane Choice exceeded my expectations. It made my natural hair incredibly easy to manage. Detangling was a breeze and my curls never looked or felt better. The only downside? I wish the bottle was slightly bigger. Eight ounces goes by fast when you’re using it as a co-wash, leave-in and detangler throughout the week. Although this product was provided to me by The Mane Choice, I would definitely purchase with my own money. There already several other products I’d love to try like the Crystal Orchid Biotin Infused Styling Gel and the vitamins, of course. Psssst…they even have a Comb Infused Talking Flat Iron! *Sounds like something straight outta The Twilight Zone!*

Price and where to buy: The Mane Choice Soft As Can Be Revitalize & Refresh 3-in-1 Co-Wash, Leave In, Detangler retails for $13.99 (8 ounces) and is available at www.themanechoice.com or at select Rite Aid, Sally Beauty and Target stores.

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post. The opinions expressed in this post are mine only.

5 ways to get those coins as a freelancer

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Last summer, I landed my first job out of college. The pay is good, but I continue to freelance. Why? Because I believe in hustling hard. However, in the past few months, I faced some difficult decisions. I let go a client because 1) I wasn’t getting paid enough and 2) The work was no longer fulfilling or challenging. I felt stifled. My decision to leave paid off because I can now focus my attention on stories I’m most passionate about.

When 2016 rolled around, I set some clear guidelines for myself: 1) Pitch better-paying publications, 2) Do not write for anything less than three digits, and 3) Do not write for free—period. I’m at a place in my career where I want to write smarter. Why write 20 stories a month for $30 each when you can write a fraction of stories for more money?

Since I started writing professionally, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve provided my services for free. Luckily, most of those writing gigs turned into paid ones, but it’s not a chance I’d take today. My time and words are too valuable.

Today I’m spilling all the secrets (and some tea) when it comes to getting that fetti as a freelancer. Get comfy and grab a notepad because like Bey said, “Best revenge is yo paper.”

  1. Don’t beat around the bush.

An editor with good intentions will tell you the moment after accepting your pitch whether you will be paid, but don’t count on it. Don’t make the mistake of letting too many emails go by without asking. After reaching an agreement about the story’s details, you can say something along the lines of, “I look forward to writing a great story that you and your readers will enjoy. What is your budget for this story?” Tasteful, but you still get your point across. A legitimate publication will throw out an exact amount. Can’t get a straight answer? Take that as a sign and move on to the next.

  1. Do your research. 

One of my favorite websites is Who Pays Writers? because freelance writers can anonymously post what publications pay writers and if so, how much. Type in the publication you want to write for and watch the results pour in. Not only can you see how much that publication pays its writers, but you can also find out how long it took to receive payment, the length of the piece, platform (online, print, etc.), the extent of reporting involved, etc.

The publication you pitch pays $250 per article, but you’re offered $125? Instead of accepting the first number thrown your way, you can bargain. Who Pays Writers is great because it levels out the playing field between editors and the writers who pitch them.

  1. Always renegotiate. 

Whenever the New Year rolls around, I renegotiate my rates. Lots of folks shy away from asking for a raise. Just do it! The worst your editor can say is no. Not sure how to ask for one? Here’s an example that worked for me:

Dear XXX,

As a contributor for XXX, I’ve taken on the in-depth features that tackle the tough topics, including A, B, C, D, and my most-recent story that focused on E. There is more reporting and investigative work required to complete these types of pieces from researching the topic to conducting and transcribing multiple interviews. As you know, I am currently being paid XXX per article, but I’m asking for an increase that XXX’s budget will allow. I’d like to earn XXX per story. Is this possible? Thank you so much for your consideration. I’ve enjoyed writing for XXX and working with you these past few years and look forward to contributing to XXX in the coming years.

  1. Establish a contract.

Many publications prefer to make verbal agreements rather than writing up an actual contract. Why are contracts important? They protect you and the publication you’re writing for. If months go by and you haven’t been paid, you can feel secure knowing you’ve got a contract. Emails are nice, but how well do they hold up in court? I don’t know.

If your editor doesn’t mention a contract, ask for one. It doesn’t have to be long. Most of the contracts I’ve signed tend to be around two pages. Or, draw up your own for a publication you don’t already have a formal contract with using Contractually.

  1. Look at the bigger picture.

Getting checks in the mail doesn’t mean you’re getting ahead. Hear me out: I once wrote for a publication that provided a monthly $50 stipend. I produced around eight pieces per month and each post was anywhere from 800 to 1,500 words. When you break it down, I was being taken advantage of, but you live and learn, right? Always ask yourself: “Is the amount of time I spent writing and researching this story reflective in my paycheck?” If the answer is no, rethink your situation.

I don't write articles. I tell stories.