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Black History Month: Thrifted looks inspired by Black fashion designers throughout history

by Carolann Verrioli

In honor of Black History Month, we have put together some thrifted outfits (from Goodwill, of course!) inspired by three talented Black fashion designers throughout history: Ann Lowe, Willi Smith, and Stephen Burrows. 

Ann Lowe

Ann Lowe (1898-1981) gained fame in the 1950s from her shop on Lexington Avenue in NYC, where her elegant designs were coveted by women in high society. Her most well-known design was the wedding gown she created for Jacqueline Kennedy. Lowe's designs often included elements such as fine handwork/embellishments, flowers, and trapunto technique (a method of quilting).

You can see Ann Lowe's gorgeous work at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

Anne Lowe
One of Anne Lowe's dress designs

The Thrifted Look!

For this thrifted look, we chose a black dress with ivory-colored detailing at the top that mirrors Lowe's fine handwork. We also found a beautiful ivory-colored cardigan with a floral embellishment, as Lowe's designs often included flowers. We were excited to find the beautiful off-white shoes with the pearl beading on the tops because they went perfectly with the pearl beads laced into the flower on the cardigan! The purse is a small shoulder bag with elegant ladies in the pattern - referencing the "high-society" women that Lowe designed for. 

Willi Smith

Willi Smith (1948-1987) was the owner of the company WilliWear Limited (launched in 1976) and played a major role in the development of streetwear. Smith found inspiration in what everyday people would wear on the city streets. Unlike many designers at this time, which were using man-made materials such as polyester, Smith created his clothing from natural materials sourced from India. He also made sure to keep the items in his collections affordable, ensuring that they were accessible to everybody. Defying gender norms at the time, WilliWear was the first clothing company to create women's and men's clothing under the same label, and many of his items were androgynous and loose-fitting, focusing on comfort.

Willi Smith

The Thrifted Look!

Four our Willi Smith inspired look, we chose a more casual silhouette. The pants are loose-fitting and comfortable, and the boots are practical. Following along in Willi's footsteps, we chose our items from both the men's and women's sections of the store.

The graphic tee in this look references Smith's collaboration with contemporary artists in 1984 to create a collection of T-shirts with silk-screened artwork.

Smith was a game-changer in the fashion world. By ensuring that his designs were affordable and accessible to people from different socioeconomic levels and backgrounds, he democratized the fashion industry. He also helped to break the barriers of gender roles, creating gender-neutral clothing. For these reasons and many more, the words "Create Change" on the tee shirt are the cherry on top of this thrifted look. 


Stephen Burrows

Stephen Burrows, born 1943, studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology. His designs were popular in the 60s and 70s, and are best known for bright color-blocking. Burrows is also the inventor of "lettuce hems," a frilled hem that was popular in disco-wear in the 1970s. Many notable figures wore Burrows' designs, including Farrah Fawcett, Barbara Streisand, and more recently Michelle Obama. 

Stephen Burrows

The thrifted look!

For the Stephen Burrows inspired thrifted look, we chose bright, energetic colors across the spectrum to mimic his color-blocking technique. Each item is a different, highly saturated color, from the purple heels, the hot-pink pants, the bright marigold blouse, and the red and purple tote bag. This is a more business casual look, with a Stephen Burrows flare!

Goodwill of the Finger Lakes is a not-for-profit organization supporting the Rochester and Syracuse area communities. Headquartered in Rochester, NY, Goodwill of the Finger Lakes along with Goodwill Vision Enterprises (formerly ABVI) have a very long and successful history of creating job opportunities and serving the community through the Good Neighbor program, 211/LIFE LINE, and our vision services. In addition, we have several Goodwill thrift store locations offering second-hand clothing for men, women, and children as well as home goods and other accessories.