Black Designers in American Fashion

by Elizabeth Way

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From Elizabeth Keckly’s designs as a freewoman for Abraham Lincoln’s wife to flamboyant clothing showcased by Patrick Kelly in Paris, black designers have made major contributions to American fashion. However, many of their achievements have gone unrecognized. This book, inspired by the award-winning exhibition at the Museum at FIT, uncovers hidden histories of black designers at a time when conversations about representation and racialized experience in the fashion industry have reached all-time highs. In chapters from leading and up-and-coming authors and curators, Black Designers in American Fashion uses previously unexplored sources to show how black designers helped build America’s global fashion reputation. From enslaved 18th-century dressmakers to 20th-century “star” designers, via independent modistes and Seventh Avenue workers, the book traces the changing experiences of black designers under conditions such as segregation, slavery, and the civil rights movement. Black Designers in American Fashion shows that within these contexts black designers maintained multifaceted practices which continue to influence American and global style today. Interweaving fashion design and American cultural history, this book fills critical gaps in the history of fashion and offers insights and context to students of fashion, design, and American and African American history and culture.

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