MEARS Auction #142, Ends Saturday, October 3rd, 2020, 10:00 PM CST W/30-Minute Rule In Effect
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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 10/3/2020

The Campaign Years

1959-1960 circa Jacqueline Kennedy Pink Dress, Jacket (w/ Trapunto Texture), & Hairpiece “Banned From the White House by Joe Kennedy” LOA MEARS/Consignor

By African American Designer Anne Lowe

This dress was worn by Jackie Kennedy during the 1959-1960 era, when John F. Kennedy was quietly campaigning to become the president of the United States. In his travels, Kennedy had made a practice of issuing denials of a presidential bid as he went. Still, he was running, and running hard, and most Democratic party insiders knew that well by 1959.

The pair traveled to the International Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana, he crowned that year’s Rice Queen, to Duluth, Minnesota where he appeared in a live broadcast on a local TV show. Kennedy also visited the Midwest in 1959, including Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin. He also toured California and Oregon; met with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley at a World Series baseball game at Comiskey Park; and at one stop in Wisconsin, spotted a St. Louis Cardinals baseball team bus and sought out the famous star, Stan Musial, to campaign for him. Jackie must have had a positive influence on the campaign, as Kennedy successfully won the 1960 Election against challenger Richard Nixon.

Joe Kennedy, the architect of JFK”s rise to power, managed many facets of the couples life, both personal and politically. Leaving no detail left unattended, after learning that Jackie had clothes designed by an African American, he forbid her to bring that wardrobe to the White House, and personally financed the replacement. This outfit was BANNED from the white house because it was designed and tailored by Ann Lowe.

Jackie Kennedy was one of the most influential fashion icons of her era. She popularized some of the most recognizable trends of the 1960-70s, including pillbox hats, custom tailed coats, and strapless gowns. European editor-at-large for Vogue, Hamish Bowles, said she set the standard for how “an entire generation” of American women strove to dress. Her style was chic yet simple, and this ensemble embodies her classic look. This look was cultivated with the help of African American Designer Ann Lowe.

Lowe and her son opened Ann Lowe's Gowns, in New York City on Lexington Avenue in 1950. Her one-of-a-kind designs made from the finest fabrics were an immediate success and attracted many wealthy, high society clients. One design element she was known for were her fine handwork, signature flowers, and trapunto technique. The Saturday Evening Post later called Lowe "society's best kept secret”. Throughout her career, Lowe was known for being highly selective in choosing her clientele. She later described herself as "an awful snob", adding: "I love my clothes and I'm particular about who wears them. I am not interested in sewing for cafe society or social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Social Register." Over the course of her career, Lowe created designs for several generations of the Auchinclosses, the Rockefellers, the Lodges, the Du Ponts, the Posts and the Biddles.

In 1953, she was hired to design a wedding dress for future First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier and the dresses for her bridal attendants for her September wedding to then-Senator John F. Kennedy. Lowe was chosen by Janet Auchincloss, the mother of Jacqueline Bouvier, who had previously commissioned Lowe to design the wedding dress she wore when she married Hugh D. Auchincloss in 1942. Lowe's dress for Bouvier consisted of fifty yards of "ivory silk taffeta with interwoven bands of tucking forming the bodice and similar tucking in large circular designs swept around the full skirt." The dress, which cost $500 (approximately $5,000 today), was described in detail in The New York Times's coverage of the wedding. While the Bouvier-Kennedy wedding was a highly publicized event, Lowe did not receive public credit for her work.

A collection of five of Ann Lowe's designs are held at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Three are on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Several others were included in an exhibition on black fashion at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan in December 2016

The dress with straps and matching jacket were constructed of high quality pink fabric with a trapunto like pattern. A pink bow tie with a tulle train completes the ensemble. Two original bobby pins are found on the reverse and were used by Jackie Kennedy to hold this headpiece intact. The dress is consistent with respect to design that utilized her fine handiwork, signature design, and trapunto technique. This dress was all of Ann Lowe’s signature traits and is 100% consistent with what she would have personally designed and executed.

According to our consignor, “I do remember my aunt saying Jackie had several outfits designed by two African American women. One of the ladies was Ann Lowe, who also designed Jackie's wedding dress. My aunt told me that Ann lost her salon in New York City sometime in the early 60's and she thought it was because of health problems. My aunt went on to tell me that when Jackie found this out, she anonymously paid Ann’s back bills. Ann was able to open a new store after she recovered. Ann Lowe died February 25, 1981, in Queens, New York at the age of 83.

Jackie Kennedy gave this outfit and portrait to my aunt right before Jackie's move into the White House. This outfit is indeed a rare find as most of Jackie’s clothes were donated by her children to a convent in Rhode Island after she died. They thought Jackie would agree with them to donate her wardrobe to charity, as she had donated many items to charity in the past.”

Our consignor has kept this iconic dress and jacket her entire life and during the processing for the auction, recalled the following facts which I thought were important and added context to this piece,

“My aunt was a friend of Jackie Kennedy before she was the First Lady. My aunt was helping Jackie get ready for the move to the White House when Jackie gave her this outfit. Jackie had told my aunt that her father-in-law was going to buy her a new wardrobe that was befitting her position as the wife of a president. Seeing how much my aunt liked this outfit, Jackie gave it to my aunt. Everything I have found out about Jackie over the last few months while researching this outfit matches what my aunt told me about where and how she got the outfit.

I remember as a child that my aunt would take me with her to visit various politicians at their houses. As I was searching for pictures or videos of this outfit, I watched a video on YouTube where Jackie was giving a tour of the White House. As the video played, I realized that I recognized Jackie’s voice and then remembered that I had met her back then in person. Her voice brought me back to my childhood. I remembered after being introduced to Jackie, I was taken to play with the other children. I do not remember the other children's names, but I do remember they called me Shirley Temple because of my curly hair. I did not like being called someone I was not; however, you know how children are. I did get rid of the curly hair when I was old enough to do so.

Most of the time, we were told to play in other parts of the house or to play outside. One visit I remember very well because we were given rolls of nickels to play slot machines in the basement at one of the houses. Another time I remember going to someone's house near a beach or a lake. They had their own private beach. We had to go down a steep hill with steps to get to the water and swim.

I helped take care of my aunt in her later years. She had remarried but her new husband was physically abusive. After her husband had beaten her and put her in the hospital, I knew I had to get my aunt away from her abuser. When my aunt got out of the hospital, I moved her in to my house to keep her safe. After she had recovered, I helped her get an apartment and put down the first months’ rent and security deposit as well as the security deposits for her heat, cable, and phone. I also paid for her health insurance and medication until she got her income straightened out and back in her name. I bought her a used car so she could get around on her own. The only way she would accept my help was if she gave me Jackie’s outfit and the JFK portrait with the understanding that I should sell them if our family found ourselves in serious financial difficulty. I told her she did not need to do that as I knew how much she loved the outfit and portrait. She insisted, saying that one day our family would need the money from these items. She knew what kind of person I was and knew I would always do my best to take care of my family. I do not know how she knew things before they happened, just somehow, she knew. My aunt passed away in October 2010.

Not many people know this but Jackie herself had an African American ancestor, John van Salee De Grasse. Born in 1825, he was the first African American to receive a formal education and become a doctor. John van Salee De Grasse died in 1868 at the age of 43. The van Salee family was famous for their mulatto heritage. Jackie’s father was nicknamed "Black Jack" Bouvier because of his dark complexion.”

Our consignor went onto discuss Jackie’s ancestry. In her words,

“Jackie was approached by the New England Genealogical and Historical Society who hoped to discuss her African ancestry with her. They believed that if Jackie acknowledged her ancestry that it would help the African American civil rights movement. However, she was afraid that if it got out, her African ancestry would hurt her husband's chances to be elected president. JFK was already working on social reforms regarding race relations and Jackie felt the best thing for the civil rights movement was for her husband to win the presidential race. He would be able to do more in office to help the movement. So the Historical Society did as she asked and kept the information secret. This might have been why President Kennedy worked so hard on the American civil rights movement when he was in office. It is believed that the Van Salee’s had been assisting Jackie and the president work towards their goals regarding race relations.”

There are some of Jackie's outfits in the JFK Presidential Library. Initially, Jackie did not want to give any of her outfits to the Library. She wanted to keep her wardrobe because it reminded her of her husband. In the end, she did give some of her outfits to the Library. She thought it would help honor the memory of her husband if they were included in the JFK Presidential Library. The fact this dress and jacket survived allows a very rare opportunity for a collector to own their very own piece of Camelot.

The other item for sale is a hand painted portrait of her husband, John F. Kennedy. I am not sure when Jackie gave her the portrait. My aunt said Jackie had the portrait painted just for her. The portrait has on it "For Betty Smith" who was my aunt. The artist who painted this portrait was "David Dominguez". The approximate size of the portrait is 14’ X 11” without the frame and 18” x 15” with the frame.

One can only imagine that Jackie most likely wore this dress during her rise to American Royalty. LOA Troy R Kinunen / MEARS, LOA Consignor.

Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $1,000
Final prices include buyers premium.: $11,004
Number Bids: 22
Auction closed on Sunday, October 4, 2020.
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