History | December 23, 2020 11:56 am

The Story of the Black Designer Behind Jackie Kennedy’s Wedding Dress

Ann Lowe designed gowns for America's rich and famous

Black designer Ann Lowe wedding dress
Ann Lowe adjusting the bodice of a gown she designed.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

The gown that Jackie Kennedy wore at her 1953 marriage to JFK is considered an important part of fashion history, and even at the time, it was a very big deal. The 1,200-guest wedding was considered the social event of the year, and a photo of the couple graced the front page of The New York Times the next day. But many people don’t realize that the wedding dress was the work of a Black designer named Ann Lowe.

In a new piece for CNN, writer Allyssia Alleyne takes a look at Lowe’s background, rise to prominence and her legacy as a designer.

“That dress she made for Jackie Kennedy was widely photographed. A lot of people saw it and it no doubt influenced average American wedding dresses and ball gowns,” Elizabeth Way, an assistant curator at The Museum at FIT, told the outlet. “The fact that [the dress] came from the creativity of a Black woman really speaks to how instrumental Black people have been in shaping American culture.”

Lowe, the granddaughter of a former slave, was born in Clayton, Alabama in 1898, and she died in 1981. As Alleyne writes, “At 16, Lowe took over the family business after the death of her mother. She later studied design in New York, segregated from her White peers (she graduated after only six months because of her exceptional abilities) before setting up shop in Florida, where she built her reputation for extravagance and exclusivity. After a decade, she returned to Manhattan to do the same on the East Coast.”

Lowe’s clients consisted primarily of extremely wealthy debutantes and celebrities. Olivia de Havilland wore a gown designed by Lowe on the night she won Best Actress at the 1947 Academy Awards.

“I love my clothes and I’m particular about who wears them,” Lowe said in an interview with Ebony magazine. “I’m not interested in sewing for cafe society or social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Social Register.”

You can read the full piece about Ann Lowe here.