Opening September 2023

In 1964, The Saturday Evening Post referred to fashion designer Ann Lowe as “Society’s Best-Kept Secret.” Although Lowe had been designing couture-quality gowns for America’s most prominent debutantes, heiresses, actresses, and society brides—including Jacqueline Kennedy, Olivia de Havilland, and Marjorie Merriweather Post—for decades, she remained virtually unknown to the wider public. Since then, too little recognition has been given to her influence on American fashion.  

This major exhibition will examine Ann Lowe and her work, dating from the 1920s to the 1960s, in collaboration with several fashion collections from across the United States. Elizabeth Way, assistant curator of costume at The Museum at FIT, is guest curator.   

Photo of Ann Lowe
Photo by Moneta Sleet Jr., Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy Ford Foundation, J. Paul Getty Trust, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Smithsonian Institution.

Born in Clayton, Alabama, into a family of African American dressmakers, Ann Lowe (ca. 1898–1981) learned the skill of dressmaking from her mother and grandmother. She developed not only expert technical skills by the time she was a teenager but also her distinctive style—feminine, elegant, and often incorporating her signature hand-made floral elements. Her extraordinary career took her through the Jim Crow South, from Montgomery, Alabama, to Tampa, Florida, and in 1928 to New York City. Lowe’s work made her an asset to wealthy society women around the country, yet she also experienced the tumultuous hardships of the fashion business and segregated America in a period of dramatic change.  

Ann Lowe’s work places her among America’s significant fashion designers, and her life illustrates a legacy of Black women’s knowledge and skills that began as enslaved labor. Lowe modernized this legacy and expanded it to international visibility, positioning herself as a creative designer, a fashion insider, and a vital contributor to American culture.