The wedding between John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline “Jackie” Auchincloss was slated to be one of the biggest social events of the season, as long as everything went as planned. When the unthinkable happened – the destruction of the handmade wedding dress – designer Ann Lowe did everything in her power to make sure it didn’t affect the big day.
On September 12, 1953, the wedding carried on smoothly. However, Lowe’s efforts went unrecognized.
Disaster strikes before the big day
For the wedding, African-American designer Ann Lowe, who’d worked for other socially elite families like the Rockefellers and the Roosevelts, was commissioned to design and create Jackie Kennedy‘s wedding dress, as well as 15 for the bridesmaids and the one for the mother of the bride.
Lowe and her assistants spent months fashioning these beautiful gowns, which was no easy feat, considering Jackie’s dress alone was made from “more than 50 yards (46 metres) of silk taffeta.”
Disaster struck when a water pipe in Lowe’s studio burst just 10 days before the wedding was meant to take place, destroying the bride’s dress and the majority of those intended for the bridesmaids. Without saying a word to Jackie, Lowe and her team worked tirelessly around the clock to recreate the gowns.
Lowe wound up paying out of pocket to repair the damages and remake the dresses, losing about $2,200 on the job overall (roughly $21,000 in modern currency). In the end, she was able to deliver the gowns in perfect condition – and on time. The Kennedy wedding went on as scheduled and was easily the social event of the season.
Jackie Kennedy’s in-laws had a lot of say in the matter
Prior to the big day, Jackie’s mother, Janet, and John F. Kennedy‘s father, Joseph, had their say in what kind of dress would be designed for the bride-to-be. Janet wanted her daughter to have a “large, elegant fabric, a fairy tale dress.” While his influence wasn’t as strong, Joseph also had an opinion regarding the kind of dress that would be worn by the girl who’d marry his son and possibly affect his bright political career.
Unfortunately, 24-year-old Jackie had little say in the style of wedding dress, preferring something “simple and French.” The dress she received was adored by everyone, but Jackie apparently had a different opinion.
According to Rosemary Reed, the author of The Threads of Time, The Fabric of History: Profiles of African American Dressmakers and Designers from 1850 to Present, Jakie reportedly said, “I wanted to go to France, but a colored dressmaker did it.”
This “devastated” Ann Lowe. Adding salt to the wound, Joseph was in charge of the press on the wedding day, and his direction left Lowe with little recognition for all the hard work she’d done to ensure the ladies looked incredible. Only one reporter, Nina Hyde from The Washington Post, mentioned her name.
Likely because of the color of her skin, Lowe was practically distanced from the Kennedy wedding altogether.
Jackie Kennedy may have made up for the slight
For the longest time, Ann Lowe didn’t make the potential disaster or her sacrifices for the Kennedy wedding known. It was decades later when word finally reached Jackie and the tension between the two was alleviated. It became clear Lowe was the hero of the wedding day, and Jackie may have felt the need to repay her, especially after her harsh words.
As the years passed, business wasn’t going great for Lowe. “Too late, I realized that dresses I sold for $300 were costing me $450,” she recalled. When Lowe had to file for bankruptcy, an anonymous benefactor stepped in to pay her debts. While it’s unclear exactly who made this gesture of kindness, many believe it was Jackie.
It may have taken a while, but Lowe was finally given the recognition she deserved for her contributions to the world of fashion. She died in 1981. Today, her creations are on display at some of the most important museums in the country, and multiple books have been written about her.