Black Fashion History: Ann Lowe


‘Society’s best kept secret’: Anne Lowe

Ann Lowe, a black couturier, (born 1898, raised in Clayton ,California), shaped American culture and fashion history. Her one-of-a-kind designs pioneered a legacy for black designers in America.

Though she did not receive her dues whilst still alive, Ann Lowe deserves accolades for fighting all odds she faced. Taking over the family business at the age of 16, after the death of her mother, Lowe persevered on to study design in New York at the age of 18. During her studies she was segregated due to the colour of her skin yet graduated after six months because of her remarkable abilities.

Setting base in Florida, Lowe built her reputation as the go to dress designer for the high society elites. 10 years on, returning to New York, her roster of clients included the Roosevelts, the Du Ponts, the Rockefellers and the likes. Though she was one of the most in-demand courtiers of the period, she still faced constant racial discrimination and on many occasions her work was not recognised. Amongst the elite, Lowe was ‘Society’s best kept secret’.

Regardless of the racial discrimination, Lowe was a self-proclaimed “awful snob” telling Ebony (1966) “I am not interested in sewing for… social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Social Register.” She knew her worth and the skills she had been passed down from a lineage of seamstresses. As Lowe continued to cater to the social elite, she became acquainted with Jackie Kennedy’s mother and was given charge of designing and producing Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress. 

Ten days before the wedding, Lowe’s store was flooded, a water pipe had burst, destroying the wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses too. So, in ten days, Lowe and her team at the time worked tirelessly to reproduce the dresses in time for the wedding. The aftermath of her store flooding resulted in a huge monetary loss and reportedly, Lowe never informed the Kennedys of what had occurred ten days before the wedding. 

Jackie Kennedy in her Ann Lowe wedding dress

The Jackie Kennedy wedding dress became a template for future wedding dresses after stealing the hearts of Americans on the day of the wedding. However, Lowe received no recognition and when Jackie was asked who made the dress, she answered, “a coloured dressmaker.” Nevertheless, without this recognition Lowe, received the Couturier of the Year plaque in 1961, with her dresses sold in Saks, Henri Bendel as well as her own boutique. 

Ann Lowe’s legacy, making a name for herself through a difficult Jim Crow era, truly exemplifies who she was. A pioneer.

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