Alexander-Lane received her master’s degree at New York University in 1963, she proposed a thesis on the historic role of African Americans in Manhattan retailing; her professor responded by saying African Americans played no such role. Her resulting thesis—and later her life’s work—proved otherwise.
Alexander-Lane eventually published her own book, Blacks in the History of Fashion in 1982. Alexander-Lane died in 2007 at the age of 91. The Black Fashion Museum collection was donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in 2007 by her daughter Joyce Bailey.
“The Black Fashion Museum collection was originally stored in a two-story row house on Vermont Avenue in Washington, D.C. The collection comprises more than 700 garments, 300 accessories, and 60 boxes of archival material collected by Alexander-Lane throughout her life. The research collection—one of the largest and rarest of its kind—includes a dress sewn by Rosa Parks shortly before her famous arrest in Montgomery, Ala.; a beige-patterned skirt worn by an enslaved child in Leesburg, Va.; the original Tin Man costume designed by Geoffrey Holder for the 1975 Broadway musical, The Wiz.”
“Clothing and bonnets worn by slaves in the mid-1800s appear alongside an elaborately constructed opera cape made by a former slave. Other items include gowns by Ann Lowe, a pioneering African American designer whose patrons included the Rockefellers, the Du Ponts, the Vanderbilts, and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. ‘The objects not only tell the story of black fashion,’ Moresi says, ‘but of the women and men who created them, wore them and held on to them for years.’