Glorious party dresses do not play a big part in our collective memory of the civil rights movement, but fashion designer Ann Cole Lowe’s life is illuminating because of that. People live their daily lives, even now, and it’s possible to overlook injustice simply because you are too busy to stop and involve yourself. People are there fighting injustice in big and small ways all the time, even while you are getting ready for a charity benefit. (In all truth, I don’t think I’ve ever worn a fancy party gown to any charity to-do, but you probably know what I mean.)
Ann Cole Lowe grew up sewing with her mother, making fancy dresses for wealthy women. When her mother died, Alabama’s governor’s wife was still waiting for a gown, so she finished the job and kept on, struggling to survive financially, often bumping up against racism. Her elegant dresses made her well-known enough to create Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress, even though the butler didn’t want to let her come through the front door to deliver it.
As the author notes, there are inconsistencies in what is known of Ms. Cole’s life, but that makes her all the more human. The text is relatively simple but clear, and the art is beautiful. Worth a look–even if you are still trying to leave behind your tea length powder blue prom dress with the puffy sleeves. Pastels have never been good for me. Still, I can appreciate the beauty of Ann Cole Lowe’s fashion and her life.
Fancy Party Gowns: the Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal and Laura Freeman