For much of the 20th century, Willie Otey Kay was a household name among the fashion-conscious in Raleigh. The designer and dressmaker crafted one-of-a-kind fashion for women to wear to weddings, debutante balls, and other formal events.
But her own life was not always so glamorous. Her dressmaking career began out of necessity after she was widowed with five children. And despite her talent and creativity, Kay, an African-American in the Jim Crow South, had to navigate challenging racial dynamics to sustain a multiracial clientele.
The new exhibit "Made Especially for You by Willie Kay" on view at the North Carolina Museum of History examines Willie Kay’s life and legacy, and features oral history interviews with family members and former clients, as well as a collection of Kay’s exquisite dresses.
Host Frank Stasio previews the exhibit with curator Diana Bell-Kite and family members Charles Otey Kay and Elizabeth Constant Lewis.