In the early 1960s, after making dresses for a number of department stores for almost 30 years, including Saks–Ann Lowe moved her business into a workroom and showroom at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store.
She became the head designer of The Adam Room, a custom boutique specializing in debut and bridal gowns. Some styles were available for purchase “off the rack” but for the most part, a customer’s experience in the Adam Room replicated her experience in Ann Lowe’s own Madison Avenue salon. Lowe’s clients followed her to Saks—in the same way that they would follow her after she left Saks in 1962. Her work made her customers feel beautiful, and while the executives at Saks hoped to move Lowe’s customer base firmly to their store, they were probably quite disappointed when her loyal customers followed her from shop to shop.
This gold and pink silk shantung dress was probably a bridesmaid dress. Bridesmaid dresses usually have uncomplicated designs with a few unique adornments. The braided silk sash is such a pretty detail and it was a simple touch that could be added to a dress quickly. Imagine making six of these!
I was (oh, so very) lucky to find this on Ebay. Yes, EBAY! Ebay is actually a fantastic place to find vintage clothes—if you shop carefully.
While this is a vintage couture dress, and the listing correctly stated that it was an Ann Lowe dress, I was the only bidder…this isn’t the kind of dress someone would buy to actually wear. There are a number of reasons for this and I lucked out because:
- Bright yellow is a tough color to wear.
- Silk Shantung is heavy! Shantung is a thick silk and this is two layers of it along with a cotton lining.
- There were a few condition issues (worn areas of silk in important and very visible areas, like the center of the bodice) some light stain issues, again in visible areas (possibly from the pink getting damp at some point and bleeding onto the gold).
- This was priced correctly and the starting bid was set at a price that only a serious collector or vintage clothing shopper would have considered.
- The ornament is very simple for an Ann Lowe dress. If this had Lowe’s trademark silk flowers all over it, there is no way that I could have afforded it!
- The dress is also incredibly, unbelievably tiny. It looks like a size 6 or so, right? Read on…
Because I own the dress, and it is in very good structural condition, the first thing I did when it arrived was to try to get into it! I’m a costume historian, but I’m also a woman and a beautiful silk dress from Saks Fifth Avenue? I mean, come on— of course I’m going to try it on! It’s mine!***
This beautiful thing would not even come close to zipping. Incredibly tiny. Don’t be fooled by the great big skirt! Incredibly tiny. This gown is probably a modern size 0 to 2! I can show you views from the back, because it fit my model’s very tiny waist, but the dress didn’t really fit her from the front, it was actually too big! So, my flat photo on the measuring board will have to do.
Collecting vintage clothes can be so much fun! And in this case, I was just so happy to be able to own an example of the work of a designer I really admire. In grad school, one of my professors would say that the best way to get “un-stuck” from writer’s block when you are working with objects is to get that object right in front of you. Pick it up! Look closely at the fabric and the stitches! Not always possible when you are working on a project about a couture fashion designer! I’ve visited Lowe’s gowns in museums and a small state historical society—but it is very different when you have a garment to work with at home.
***Historian’s Disclaimer: “This dress is from the 1960s with mint condition seams and modern closures in great condition. 99.9% of its time is spent inside an archival garment box with acid-free tissue. If you are going to try something on, Make sure that you (or your models) are sparkling clean, without a drop of lotion, perfume or deodorant. And only wear it long enough to get some beautiful pictures. Test zippers carefully before you try to zip them shut. This is a late 20th century piece and I absolutely would not try on a dress from the 1860s—know what I mean? I own a civil war era carpet bag–but I don’t wear it on my shoulder or use it to hold things!! Use your discretion, but actual antique clothes should only be worn by mannequins and fragile clothes should be handled with extreme care” –Margaret