Two dresses really started this research for me–the silk gown at Hillwood was an absolute delight to view in storage. The textile curator was very patient while I photographed and oooohed and ahhhhed. It wasn’t the first object I’d ever viewed in museum storage for a project, but it was the first garment I’d ever come to visit!
Now I handle historic clothing everyday at work, but seeing such a huge silk dress spread out on a study table for me when I was a grad student was a bit intimidating! But one dress wasn’t enough source material for a thesis, so I had to hunt for other examples.
I’ve mentioned that Ann Lowe’s career was long—more than 60 years—and she worked in 3 states: Alabama, Florida and New York. She moved to Florida in 1916 and worked as a seamstress for a busy society family that had four daughters.
This is one of the dresses she created, and the Tampa area granddaughter of the original owner actually lent it to me for several months! Imagine that for a moment: I found out about the dress through some online digging, wrote to the family to ask for PICTURES of the dress and the actual dress arrived in the mail a few weeks later! The dress also came with a fox stole Lowe made during her several years of working as the Lee family’s seamstress, although the two pieces were not worn together.
When you get an Ann Lowe dress in the mail, you measure it, study it and have it photographed as much as possible. And then you travel with it, ever so carefully and handcarry it home to Tampa.
I returned it on a visit from DC to Tampa by train (so it could stay in my sight the whole trip in the big archival box I purchased for it). This was great because I stayed for several days–in January– interviewed some Lee family members and visited some of Lowe’s other dresses at a local museum.
Back to the dress! It is a tea dress basically:
With some custom updates for the time period. It is organdy with inserted machine made cotton lace.
All of the photographs of this dress were taken by Brian Searby of Maryland.