Ann Lowe, black designer of Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress, finally gets long-awaited recognition – CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It was in Newport, September 1953. The centerpiece of Jacqueline Bouvier and Sen. John F. Kennedy’s wedding was a dress fit for a princess, a classic Ann Lowe. An ivory silk taffeta gown with a portrait neckline and a full, puffy skirt, it was a dress that would go on to become one of the most iconic wedding dresses in history.

But unlike other designers who have become synonymous with the Jackie Kennedy look, Lowe never got the credit she deserved. But recently, his name has been brought to light by writers and historians, eager to share his story, including Elizabeth Way, author of “Black designers in American fashion.”

“Ann Lowe was really a part of Jacqueline Bouvier’s life before she got married, before she started making her own fashion choices,” Way explained. In her research, Way discovered that Lowe was well known in New York fashion circles for her exquisite workmanship. She made dresses for Jackie’s mother and other socialites.

She was chosen to design the intricate dress for Jackie and her bridesmaids, but the wedding day was almost a disaster. “A water main burst in her studio and ruined the dress 10 days before the wedding. Lowe and his assistants had to recreate them,” Way said.

Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier, leave a church in Newport, Rhode Island, after their wedding ceremony in September 1953. (Photo credit: Bettmann-Contributor-Getty Images)

According to Way, Lowe had to sew up the dresses at her own expense and that frenetic week was punctuated by a painful time at Hammersmith Farm. “She tried to enter the front door and was arrested because she was African American. She was told to use the service entrance and she told them, if you want the dresses, this is the door that I come in,” Way said.

“It was real high fashion,” Judith Thurman, author and fashion editor told The New Yorker. Thurman said she was stunned to hear about Ann Lowe just two years ago. “I covered fashion for the New Yorker for 20 years. I first heard about Ann Lowe in 2020,” she said.

When told that Lowe was the high fashion designer who made Jackie Kennedy’s dress and that she was a black woman, she was shocked that she hadn’t heard of her before. “It was humiliating and embarrassing,” Thurman said.

Thurman wrote of Lowe’s nickname, Company’s best kept secret. “She was the best kept secret because she was good business. She didn’t dare ask what her work was really worth. It was the work of black fashion curators and historians who brought it back into the public eye,” Thurman said.

“I think the fact that she was black, the fact that she wasn’t tied to a design house helped keep her name secret,” Way said.

Jackie’s wedding dress is currently in storage at the JFK Library, but is too delicate to display. Way and his team used library resources to research details about the dress so that a replica could be sewn for an exhibition of Lowe’s work at Winterthur Museum in Delaware.

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