As the smoke of the magnificent fireworks dissipated at midnight on the Eve of Independence, many felt a swell of patriotic pride. The entire country celebrated and expressed their “Belizean Pride” in different ways; we parade, we decorate, and we dance. But a trio of Belizeans decided to do something unique this year. Designer Rebecca Stirm, history student Cherisse Halsall, and photographer Monica Gallardo partnered to reveal the stories of four outstanding Belizean Historical figures - through fashion.
“Well, it all began when I had the privilege of viewing Stirm’s mini collection in her studio earlier this month; I found myself reflecting on the understated elegance and graceful detailing of the pieces,” commented Cherisse Halsall. “They evoked within me thoughts of old colonial Belize with its wooden mansion’s and red bricked cathedrals. Through conversations between myself, Stirm, and Photographer Monica Gallardo, we were able to come up with a plan for photographing the mini-collection as a ‘Fashion Tribute to Our History’.”
A visit to the Belize national archives department allowed Cherisse the discovery of four Belizean ‘Pathfinders’ – Women of yesteryear who are worthy of recognition and honor for their hard work and dedication to the nation: Vivian Seay, Dr. Bernice Hulse, Gwendolyn Lizarraga, and Sadie Vernon.
On the Sunday morning following the festivities and celebrations of our country’s thirty-first birthday Rebecca, Cherisse and Monica visited four historical locations to photograph the pieces.
‘Vivian’, a white lace and satin day dress worn by model Chloe Daly
“We photographed ‘Vivian’, a white lace and satin day dress worn by model Chloe Daly, at the first Protestant Church building to be erected in Central America - The St. John’s Cathedral in Belize City,” commented Cherisse.
Belizean ‘Pathfinder’ Vivian Seay was educated in the Anglican church school, and went on to become the second female citizen of British Honduras to be named Member of the British Empire. This honor was granted due to her diligent work as a nurse, her volunteer service in the wake of hurricane Hattie, and her position as head of the Black Cross nurses.
‘Bernice’, a formal white lace dress with long sleeves – worn by Naomi Stirm
“We chose to photograph ‘Bernice’, a formal white lace dress with long sleeves – worn by Naomi Stirm, in the ruins of the old Belize City Hospital.”
Belizean medical ‘Pathfinder’ Doctor Bernice Hulse was the first female Belizean to receive a medical degree, and worked tirelessly for the eradication of tuberculosis in our country through the launching of a country wide vaccination campaign. She is also distinguishable as a brave Belizean veteran of World War II where she treated wounded soldiers as a resident at an emergency medical hospital in the United Kingdom.
‘Gwendolyn’ a straight cut grey pearl lace mini-dress - worn by model Judy Hoare
“Our team continued that afternoon in the heart of the old capitol photographing ‘Gwendolyn’, a straight cut grey pearl lace mini-dress with pearl detailing and delicately puffed sleeves.”
Photographs of this dress worn by Model Judy Hoare, were taken at the Belize City Court House - a symbol of government in our country. Belizean “Pathfinder” Gwendolyn Lizarraga earned the distinction of becoming the first Belizean woman to be named a Member of the British Empire as well as the first woman elected to the national assembly. She was most vocal about women acquiring their own house lots (an important feat prior to 1954 when only property owners were allowed to vote).
“Sadie”, a grey and white, lace and linen day dress - worn by model Krista Cruz
“We ended the day on Belize City’s iconic swing bridge photographing Krista Cruz wearing “Sadie”, a grey and white, lace and linen day dress with tiny pearl buttons and lace detailing around the collar.”
Belizean ‘Pathfinder’ Sadie Vernon graduated with a master’s degree from the Earlham school of Religion at Earlham College and became the first native executive secretary of the Christian church council. She is remembered fondly for coping with the needs of human suffering caused by Hurricane Hattie. In the aftermath of the disaster, she spent her days distributing clothing, food, and other goods.
The three young ladies inspired to do this tribute and mentioned that as young women in Belize, launching out in their careers and interests, are inspired by these women and grateful that they can enjoy and benefit from all they gave to make Belize what it is today.
Historical Research - Cherisse Halsall. Photography- Monica Gallardo. Fashion Design/Styling- Rebecca Stirm. Models – Chole Daly, Naomi Stirm, Judy Hoare, and Krista Cruz.