Elizabeth Keckley was an incredible businesswoman and was also known for her beauty.
In her memoir, she recalls that people thought she was beautiful. The Washington Bee, the African American newspaper, treated her like a black socialite within the African-American community. She dressed well—she was not gaudy or showy, but more pared down and refined. She was known for being elegant, upright and appropriate—the Victorian ideal.
Where did Mary Lincoln, or other women for that matter, find out about fashion trends?
Fashion at this time copied France line for line. Whatever was happening at the French court was what women in D.C. wanted.
How did she build such a thriving business as an African-American woman in the mid-1800s?
She was very skilled at building a client network, which was very notable considering she was a black woman and previously enslaved. She consistently made friends with the right people and got them to help her, which was not only a testament to those people, but also to her. She had incredible business savvy.
Mrs. Lincoln wearing Elizabeth Keckley’s dress below.
One of Elizabeth Keckley’s dresses survived from the 1800’s and on view at The national museum Of American History.