Woman Written Back Into History

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One great event from the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture is that designers of color now have public acknowledgement of their famous work. One such woman is Ann Lowe, who created Jackie Kennedy’s iconic wedding gown in 1953.

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Jackie Kennedy in her wedding gown, September 12, 1953

 

Lowe was born in Clayton, Alabama in 1898, and learned design in her family’s custom dressmaker shop. She moved to Tampa in 1916, then to Manhattan in 1927, with the desire to develop a business making gowns for society women.

Although she worked for other designers through the Depression, by 1950 Lowe had established her own attalier at 540 Madison Avenue, second floor.

Her heyday coincided with that of the debutant ball, and in the 1950s and ’60s, she dressed many of the most prominent New York debs. In several families, her work was so respected that she dressed two and three generations of young women. The wedding gown and bridesmaids’ dresses she did for Jacqueline Kennedy, nee Bouvier, were just one set of many items she designed for the women of the Auchincloss family. Jackie’s step-sister Nina, wore a Lowe gown for her debut, as pictured below in Vogue.

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Debutant Nina Auchincloss in her Anne Lowe gown, in Vogue, August 1, 1955.

 

 

In the Saturday Evening Post, in 1964, she described how “I like to have my dresses admired. I like to hear about it – the oohs and ahs as they come into the ballroom. Like when someone tells me ‘the Ann Lowe dresses were doing all the dancing at the cotillion last night.’ That’s what I like to hear.”

Ann Lowe worked into her 70s and died in her home in Queens in 1981.

 

 

 

Although Lowe has been written about in a number of places, e.g. the National Archive blog, Hidden Fashion History blog, The Huffington Post, the New York Post, and the New York Times (11/17/1967 among others), her name has not (yet) become well known. Inclusion of her work and her name in the National Museum of African American History and Culture will hopefully put her name back into the history of American design.

 

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art has ten gowns by Lowe, including the one pictured on the left.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ first wedding dress is in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, along with an array of other clothes she wore as First Lady.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Keckley, modiste to Mrs. Lincoln
Elizabeth Keckley, modiste to Mrs. Lincoln

 

 

I wrote about another designer of color/dressmaker to First Ladies last winter: Elizabeth Keckley worked with and for both Mary Todd Lincoln and the Confederate First Lady, Varina Davis in the 1860s.

We also have her autobiography, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.

Happy reading and dress-gazing!

Women: heroes of the past

 

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4 Responses to Woman Written Back Into History

  1. Reader says:

    I’m familiar with Lowe. It’s impressive that she had her own atelier. Unfortunately, I’ve always disliked Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress.

    • Beth says:

      Not my favorite, either, but certainly it’s interesting design-wise. The gathered strips that form the skirt embellishment are certainly an interesting surface treatment. I just don’t think they’d have shown up all that well in white. Now if you did the same thing in a pale pink-taupe shot silk…

      As for favorite celebrity dresses, I prefer Grace Kelly’s, Kate Middleton’s, Katherine Hepburn’s in “The Philadelphia Story” (and that awesome hat!), or Audrey Hepburn’s in “Funny Face”. Oh, and Dita Von Teese’s for her wedding to Marilyn Manson. Vivienne Westwood or Sarah Burton can design anything for me, anytime :)

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