Elizabeth Keckly and Ann Lowe: Recovering an African American Fashion Legacy That Clothed the American Elite
Elizabeth Keckly and Ann Lowe are not commonly recognized names in fashion history, though both were vital contributors to American fashion. Keckly, working in Civil-War-era Washington, DC, and Lowe, working in mid-twentieth-century New York City, were respected dressmakers to elite and stylish women, such as Mary Todd Lincoln and Jacqueline Kennedy. Keckly and Lowe were also unique as African American women, who learned their advanced dressmaking skills from their enslaved mothers and grandmothers, and successfully transformed those skills into thriving, free businesses. This article examines the extant garments created by both women, analyzing their construction methods and design styles to establish their considerable talent as dressmakers and fashion designers. Keckly and Lowe each excelled at both intricate and high-quality clothing construction and distinctive and sophisticated clothing design. While Keckly’s style was elegantly minimal, Lowe embraced embellishment and complex detail. Keckly and Lowe were highly valued by their clients and there is no doubt that both designers influenced American style, yet it is their affiliation with famous clients that has generally prompted interest in their material culture. This research hopes to establish both African American women as major American fashion figures in their own right.