When she was a little girl, Ann Jewel Moore learned to sew on a humble Singer sewing machine operated by a foot pedal, the ubiquitous home appliance common in households in the first half of the 1900s. Drawn to beautiful clothes and unique designs early in life, Moore pursued a career in couture fashion during a time when the profession, always competitive, was especially out of reach for African Americans. Her hard work and determination carried her from Atlanta to Detroit as well as to the most exclusive fashion locales in New York and Paris. Today, 30 of her pieces are housed in Atlanta History Museum’s extensive Fashion and Textile collections.
Born to parents James and Oro Lee Moore in Daytona Beach, Florida, on September 20, 1919, Ann Moore moved with her mother and sister to Griffin, Georgia, at the age of three following the untimely death of her father. The family then relocated several years later to Atlanta where Moore attended school at Ashby Street Middle School, then Booker T. Washington High School. After graduating valedictorian in 1938, she studied at Spelman College, earning a degree in economics with a minor in biology in 1943.
Moore came of age during segregation, a fact that she encountered constantly in her schooling as well as her ambition to start a business. Even her efforts to purchase stylish clothes for herself weren’t immune. In a February 2010 interview, Moore recalled waiting in line to be served at department stores while white customers were served first. She also noted her first major clothing purchase from department store J.P. Allen: a suit, shoes, and hat, though the store did not allow Black customers to try on hats. She even opened her first credit card under the name “A.J. Moore,” which would require white clerks to inquire “Mr. or Mrs.,” a respectful address frequently denied to African Americans at the time.
Following Moore’s graduation from Spelman, she pursued formal design education at the Traphagen School of Fashion and the New York Fashion Academy, both in New York, and École Guerre Lavigne in Paris. Her time in Paris introduced her to essential skills and concepts central to French haute couture that would inform her design for decades. She also worked at the Lutygens Theatrical Costume House in New York to create costumes for the Broadway hit Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
She moved to Detroit in 1948 to properly launch her career. At the time, Black entrepreneurs had more opportunities there than a Southern city, such as Atlanta, though Moore continued to face obstacles. She founded her business, Ann Moore Couturiere in Detroit in 1951. Her collections often included both daytime and evening wear, including a six-piece garment set that allowed the wearer a dawn-to-dark transition with matching components of a multipart ensemble. These were presented in seasonal shows, commissioned by prominent women, and featured in salon store collections. A variety of media sources, including Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, Jet, and The Atlanta Daily World, among many others, featured profiles on Moore and approving reviews of her work.
Today, a portion of her clothing collection is on display in Rountree Visual Vault at Atlanta History Center. The selection includes dresses, suits, hats, and shoes, and will rotate after 3 months to keep the items in pristine condition. The collection will be on display until early 2023.
In an interview with WABE radio in 2019 marking her 100th birthday, Moore shared that, “There have been times where I had thought I took the wrong career; maybe put so much time and all of my energy in that because I ran into so many blocks and obstacles.”
Despite these challenges, Moore pushed through. Decades after the start to her career, she is back living in Atlanta and recently celebrated her 103rd birthday in September 2022. Her designs continue to exude timeless elegance, while her story provides inspiration and encouragement to aspiring designers and entrepreneurs today.