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  • Mikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: Ann Lowe

Named by the Saturday Evening Post as “Society’s Best-Kept Secret” in 1964, Ann Cole Lowe can definitely be described as one of fashion’s Hidden Figures. But in recent years, she is finally getting the recognition she should have received during the 1940′s, 50′s and 60′s as she became the first black couturier to open a shop on Madison Avenue, made dresses for some of the most elite women in New York and Florida, and was commissioned by the Auchincloss family to dress a young socialite, Jacqueline Bouvier, for her nuptials to then Massachusetts Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Ann Lowe in her New York salon with model Judith Palmer, Ebony magazine, 1966.

Ann Lowe was truly a pioneer. Born in Clayton, Alabama in 1898, Ann learned to sew from her grandmother, a freed slave, and her mother who made dresses for Southern socialites. When her mother suddenly passed away before finishing some ball gowns commissioned by the First Lady of Alabama, 16-year-old Anne finished the dresses, launching her career as a couture dressmaker.

Nina Auchincloss (Jacqueline Bouvier’s step sister) in an Ann Lowe dress in the August 1, 1955, issue of Vogue magazine.

Ann continued to pursue her passion for couture, enrolling in S.T. Taylor School of Design in New York City. When she arrived, the school tried to turn her away once they realized they’d admitted a Black woman. Though she continued to face discrimination and segregation while pursuing her studies (she was forced to work separately, her white classmates refusing to sit in the same room with her), she continued to move forward and graduated early.

Nylon, silk evening dress with metallic thread by Ann Lowe,

circa 1960, now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ann spent several years in Florida making dresses for the elite. Ann would often dress women for events that, because of segregation, she would have never been allowed to attend. One such Florida event was the annual Gasparilla festival, an exclusive, segregated formal ball where the main event is a coronation of a King and Queen and their court. Ann would often provide the gowns for the entire court as well as many of the women who attended. Interestingly, despite the discrimination in Florida, Lowe speaks of that time in Tampa as “some of the happiest years in [her] life.”