Since it’s not that easy to find photos of older women in evening clothes, I was thrilled to discover this portrait of the Home Economics Faculty at Howard University attending the opening of their new building in 1963. Howard University, located in Washington DC, is one of the nation’s premier historically black colleges. Its Home Economics Department had a stellar reputation at the time, led by the renowned nutritionist, Flemmie Kitrell. That might be her on the left. Unfortunately, none of the women are identified (!); the one man is the University President, James M. Nabrit. The photograph is the work of the Scurlock Studio, well known for its portraits of African Americans in capital.
Let’s take a look at the clothes. The two women in the middle have on long dresses, suitable for a fancy evening out. The shorter one partially covers her upper arms with diagonally cut sleeves; the taller white haired woman wears a shiny shawl over what looks like a simple black dress. The outfit of the woman on the left is hidden due to her glowing wrap. My favorite dress is worn by the woman on the far right. Her beautifully fitting long sleeved sheath has a little train in back. She wears high gloves and what look like satin high heeled shoes. I imagine her trying to negotiate the rising hemlines of the sixties. As you can see, her dress is a little further below her knees than the younger woman by her side. Perhaps she represented the garment designers and made the dress herself, with just the fit and the length that she loved.