Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries
Serving Greater Cincinnati

Black History Month Designer Salute

Alisha and Sharon from Goodwill
Alisha and Sharon

In honor of the national celebration of Black History month during the month of February, we thought it might be interesting to learn more about black fashion designers over time and see how that influences our fashion in today’s world. Each week, we will feature a blog post which will talk about one or more fashion designers, find out about their inspiration and achievements and look at examples of their designs. We bet you will be able to find some of their ideas in the fashions you can find at Goodwill! 

Sharon will kick off the month with a focus on historic designers and Alisha will contribute some insights into more contemporary designers and their significant contributions to our culture. 

A look back at some historic designers who are not household names but have rightly earned their place in fashion history. 

A little known fact but of intense interest is the story of Elizabeth Keckley who at one time was a slave and eventually became the personal seamstress for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln- wife of President Abraham Lincoln. She was able to buy her own freedom at age 37 by starting her own seamstress business. She built a clientele of the wives of the political elite of the time and became friends with the Lincolns. In 1863, she created a gown for the First Lady which was worn in official portraits of the time and influenced fashion for years to come. She would create 15-16 dresses for the First Lady every season. 

She was also a strong advocate for civil rights and the black community. Her design inspirations paved the way for future generations of black fashion designers. Find out more about Elizabeth Keckley and her history-making designs here.

Moving forward in time, renown black fashion designer, Ann Lowe, would be commissioned to create the legendary wedding dress worn by Jackie Bouvier when she married John F. Kennedy. Jackie’s mother wanted a ” fairy tale” dress for her daughter and Lowe and her team worked 24 hours a day to create the iconic dress. Unfortunately, just weeks before the wedding, the dress was ruined when Lowe’s studio flooded. The designer was forced to hire a team and work and night to re-create the dress in order for it to be ready in time for the wedding. Reportedly, when she hand- delivered the dress, she was told to go around to the rear entrance. She refused indicating that she could just take the dress back if she wasn’t permitted to enter by the front door. The iconic wedding dress has been the inspiration for many of the princess style wedding dresses we have seen throughout history and even to the present day. Find out more about Ann Lowe and the Jackie Kennedy wedding dress here.

Little known fact as well- Goodwill receives donations of wedding dresses all of the time including the more elaborate dresses inspired by designs like Lowe’s. This selection of bridal gowns provides a wonderful alternative to the exorbitant costs of a typical wedding dress and allows the wearer to show off her commitment to environmental sustainability and re-use. A win-win for everyone!