Celebrating a fashion icon: Lois K Alexander Lane

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Lois K Alexander Lane. Credit: Courtesy of Susan McNeill and the Estate of Robert H. McNeill

We are honoured to have a guest blog from Joyce Bailey, daughter of the late Lois K Alexander Lane who is celebrated on our Black Achievers Wall at the Museum.

As a young girl, Lois K Alexander would look in boutique store windows and sketch the clothes she liked. She was clearly gifted, but not allowed to go in the stores to buy anything because of her race.  She later set out to dispel the myth ‘that Blacks were new found talent in the fashion industry’ and studied for a Master’s Degree from New York University. From there, her career in fashion was unstoppable.

Read more about the incredible Lois K Alexander Lane, with thanks to her family:

"My mother was born Lois Marie Kindle in Little Rock, Arkansas on July 11, 1916. I have been told everyone knew she was destined for greatness."

Lois K Alexander Lane. Credit: Courtesy of Susan McNeill and the Estate of Robert H. McNeill

"As a young girl, she would go downtown, look in boutique store windows and sketch the garments she favored. She was not allowed to go in the stores to buy anything because of her race. Mom purchased fabric and notions from the Five & Dime stores which she took home and produced garments similar to the ones she sketched. She made clothing for her mother, two sisters and her doll babies.

"Mom graduated from Virginia’s Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and in the 1940s came to Washington, DC and began a career in the federal government. Starting as a clerk-stenographer for the War Department in 1942 and ending her tenure in 1978 as a Planning and Community Development Officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"In the 1960s, after being told by a New York University professor that Blacks had not made any contributions to the fashion world, she set out to dispel the myth that Blacks were new found talent in the fashion industry. She received her Master’s Degree from New York University. Her thesis title was "The Role of the Negro in Retailing in New York City from 1863 to the Present" (1963).

Lois K Alexander Lane, honoured on the Museum's Black Achiever's Wall

"Mom established two custom wear boutiques - one in Washington, DC (The Needle Nook) and one in New York City (Lois K. Alexander & Co.). In 1966, she founded the Harlem Institute of Fashion, an educational institute that offered free courses to students interested in dressmaking, millinery and tailoring. In the same year she founded the National Association of Milliners, Dressmakers and Tailors.

"In 1979, she founded The Black Fashion Museum (BFM) in New York City, committing the rest of her life to telling the world about the centuries of contributions women and men of the African Diaspora have made to fashion and design."

Find out more about our Black Achievers Wall as well as all the free events we have lined up for Black History Month in the UK this October.