For ages, the First Ladies have been looked at and scrutinized by the country. They are seen as wife to the president, and as such, they should look the part. Over the years, fashion trends have come and gone and the First Ladies’ fashion is no exception.
Take a look at the amazing gowns and designer dresses that the First Ladies have worn over the years. You might also hear about some controversies around them from over the years.
Each of the First Ladies that have taken on the position has been there for a reason, they seem to always have a great eye for detail with just about everything. They normally hold a very high standard as their position demands.
Their fashion is no exception when it comes down to it. The entire nation can see what they’re wearing every time the media catches a glimpse of them. So each outfit has to be unique, fashionable, and elegant.
Mamie Eisenhower met Dwight D. Eisenhower in San Antonio, Texas. At the time Eisenhower was a man in the military and they both traveled together before he eventually decided to run for president. When Eisenhower won the elections by a huge margin Mamie became the next First Lady, and she had an eye for fashion!
She also loved being a hostess to guests. Scaasi, Mollie Parnis, Trifari, and Sally Victor are just a few designers that made her clothing. At the time people thought that she was among the best dressed and most fashionable woman. She even started a trend, woman wanted to achieve the “Mamie look.”
The recreate the “Mamie look” you would start by wearing a full-skirted dress and add a lot of accessories including but not limited to pearls, bracelets, small hats, and as for hair you could either go for a bob or for bangs.
Mamie would almost always pair her gowns with white gloves that were very fashionable at the time. She also had a Judith Lieber purse and shoes designed by Delman. You can see her dress on display today at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. At the time, Mamie’s pink gown made that color very fashionable.
Of all the First Ladies Jackie Kennedy is among the most famous. She was known for her taste when it came to fashion. John F. Kennedy was a congressman when she met him and could see he was going to achieve greatness. Many people thought they were a couple that was very fashionable.
Jackie’s fashion was some of the first to be dissected by the public. People loved her fashion and looked to recreate it. Soon her “look” had become a trend not just in America but across the world as well.
Jackie was wise and became very wary about her presence in the media, she hired a press secretary, the first time First Lady ever needed one. The media clung to this idea that she was the “ideal woman” and that the entire Kennedy family was the prime example of an “American family”
She designed her own dress for her inauguration and got some help from Ethan Frankou, a famous fashion designer at the time. The outfit ended up being a white gown without any sleeves and an embroidered silver thread. She chose the color because she wanted it to stand on on the black and white TV sets of the time.
Anne Lowe got the job of making Jackie’s wedding dress in 1953. But disaster struck when just ten days before Jackie’s wedding ceremony Lowe’s studio was flooded by a broken pipe. The water damaged 10 dresses, among them was Jackie’s gown. It had taken 2 months to create.
Lowe immediately got to work on a new gown and ordered the relevant material she needed. She got her seamstresses together and they managed to recreate the entire gown just in time for the ceremony.
Betty Ford was different from other First Ladies in that she started her own foundation called the Betty Ford Center. It became one of the most popular clinics ever and she incorporated her feminism into what she did.
She always looked for inspiration in everything. She didn’t want something too complicated and chose a more subtle style of outfit. She chose to complement her husband and president, Gerald Ford.
Elizabeth Anne Bloomer got married to Gerald R. Ford in 1948 at the Grace Episcopal Church. She did something quite unconventional at the time and chose to wear a sleek, shiny dress that complimented her fashion instead of wearing a traditional wedding dress.
Her marriage with Ford was put on hold while he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. New York Times stated, “Jerry was running for Congress and wasn’t sure how voters might feel about his marrying a divorced ex-dancer.”
Ronald Reagan’s wife and First Lady was Nancy Reagan. Ronald was a former film star and enjoyed the limelight and other festivities. He allegedly spent a fortune on his inauguration, this was met with controversy since the country was in a recession at the time.
Nancy decided to wear a silk satin and lace overlayed dress for her first inauguration. When Reagan went into his second term, Nancy wore a white gown designed by Galanos. This time the gown had long sleeves.
Before she met Reagan, she was an actress and had roles all through the 1940s and 1950s. She was with many stars before even meeting Ronald Reagan. Ronald was the president of the Screen Actors Guild and that’s where Nancy met him in 1949.
The two got married in 1952 after three years of being a couple. They didn’t want any press coverage so they had the ceremony at the last minute. Nancy wore a simple dress and hid her baby bump during the ceremony.
Hillary Clinton had a nice fashion sense, so much so, in fact, she would be asked about her style in random various interviews. She would change her hairstyle often as well. Many people looked to heavily into that but at the core, it was not that much of a big deal. Although there was stirring drama during her time as the first lady, she always made sure to stay fresh.
In a 2011 interview, Clinton spoke with Harper’s Bazaar and addressed some fashion. “I have this Ferragamo hot-pink bag that I adore,” she said. “My view was that I would carry it around only in spring, but it makes me so happy, I’m even now lugging it around in January. I mean, how can you be unhappy if you pick up a big pink bag?”
Hillary Diane Rodham met the future president, Bill Clinton, while they were both attending Yale Law School in 1971. He was staring at her in the library, so she went up to him and introduced herself. They fell in love and he proposed three years later. Bill wanted a big wedding while she didn’t even care about an engagement ring. (He gave her one anyway.)
The wedding was intimate, but she didn’t even have a dress until the day before. Hillary’s mother went to Dillard’s in the Fayetteville Mall and bought her daughter a Jessica McClintock Victorian lace gown. They wed in their living room.
Laura Bush is the wife of George W. Bush. For the first inauguration Laura wore a red-crystal embroidered gown designed by a Texas, similar to her predecessor Hillary. She also wore pearls as a nod to her mother-in-law and former First Lady Barbara.
After Bush was elected a second time, the nation was in a totally different post 9/11 period. Laura took another note from Hillary and wore Oscar De La Renta. She wore an embroidered ice blue and silver tulle gown encrusted with Austrian crystals. Clearly, fashion knows no political bounds and it doesn’t matter what political party you might affiliate with if you like good design.
There is a saying in fashion and it also applies to many other things. The saying is “less is more.” This is the mentality that Laura Bush had when it came to her clothes. Sure, she could have been the belle of the ball every time she stepped foot somewhere but she didn’t get down that way. Dallas fashion designer spoke about Bush after he said that Melania Trump got it right at the inauguration.
“What was wonderful about Mrs. Bush was she was always very conscientious about not wanting clothes to speak loudly,” Faircloth said. “She has so many things she felt were more important.”
Laura Lane Welch married George Bush on Nov. 5, 1977, at her childhood church in Midland, Texas. The newlyweds posed with the future president’s parents, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. Unlike her mother in law, Laura did not opt for the traditional, fancy wedding gown. Instead, she wore a simple tan dress she bought off the rack to the ceremony.
She met George at a backyard barbecue in July, and they became engaged just three months later. He was the Governor of Texas from 1995-2000 and became the President of the United States in 2001.
Michelle Obama is the wife of President Barack Obama. Michelle and Barack broke a lot of boundaries by stepping foot in the White House, namely as the first African American man and woman to be President and First Lady of our nation. Michelle wore Jason Wu for her first inaugural ball. The gown was a white, one shoulder chiffon dress. While Jason Wu was known to the fashion world before, her choice of wearing him catapulted the designer to international fame.
Similar to the Kennedys, the Obamas were quite young when they took office and it was definitely a noticeable shift. Wu has said that the white color was meant to symbolize hope which was a part of her husband’s platform.
For her second inaugural gown, Michelle wore Jason Wu again in 2013. The gown she chose was a halter neck red chiffon and velvet gown. She also amped up the accessories with a diamond ring by jewelry designer Kimberly McDonald and Jimmy Choo shoes.
Jason Wu was quoted by The New York Times as saying it was “an honor” working with the First Lady. Again, similar to Jackie, Michelle’s fashion choices were constantly followed, with the First Lady ending up as a worldwide style icon. Michelle Obama has been on the cover of Vogue magazine three times and her fashion style is completely in line with the modern style of today.
Like Hillary and Bill Clinton, future president Barack Obama met Michelle Robinson through their love of law. They connected while working at the Sidley Austin law firm in Chicago. Michelle originally opposed dating a colleague, but he convinced her to go on a date with him in 1989. Three years later, they tied the knot.
They got married at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Michelle’s brother walked her down the aisle, and they danced to “You and I” by Stevie Wonder. Michelle opted for a pretty white dress with pointed sleeves on her shoulders and a veil.
Melania Trump is the current first lady and the wife of Donald Trump. Before meeting her husband, Melania was a fashion model. For her inaugural gown, however, she definitely went the understated route especially since she knew it would be compared to her billionaire’s lifestyle in Trump Tower.
Obviously, Melania is a fan and well aware of fashion as a former model. In late 2017, the First Lady donated her inaugural ball gown to the Smithsonian Institute, where it will remain on permanent display.
Helen Herron Taft met her husband Howard Taft while bobsledding at the young age of eighteen. They married several years after meeting and courting in 1860. She preferred to be called Nellie instead of Helen since childhood. She stood by her husband through each step of his political career including state judge, Solicitor General, and federal judge.
She was the first First Lady to ride in her husband’s inauguration parade. And the night of the ball she certainly brought the fashion of the time. She wore a gorgeous white chiffon gown embroidered with gold. Only two months after the inauguration she had a stroke. She was determined to complete her role as a hostess in the White House, and her sisters assisted her until she was able to do so on her own.
Edith Wilson did not meet and marry her husband President Woodrow Wilson until he was already in office so she never got the chance to have an inauguration dress. Edith had some tragedy in her life and had been left a widow at a relatively young age by her first husband. She had also given birth to a son who died on a few days after birth. Unfortunately, she was no longer able to have any children.
She met Woodrow in 1915, shortly after he also became a widower. Rumors flew around the nation about their relationship and whether it had started previously to the death of the first Mrs. Wilson, and Woodrow said that Edith could leave the engagement if she did not feel comfortable, however she famously said that she would stand by her fiancé, the President, not for duty, pity or honor, but for love. How romantic!
Florence married Warren Harding, who at the time was the owner of a newspaper called the Marion Star. She was known to be extremely involved and even considered to be “the brains of the business”. Her brilliance carried over into his political career and after he became President she was known to be extremely outspoken about political issues, sometimes even moreso than the President himself. She was referred to as “The Duchess” for her knack of throwing extremely elegant parties.
She was also very into the fashions of the time and wore the new fashion of silk neckbands which she used to hide her wrinkles. She also engaged in other “modern” activities like taking flights in planes, showing movies after dinner, and she allegedly even served guests alcohol during Prohibition. She was the first ever First Lady to gain the right to vote, she also owned a movie camera, a radio and was the first to ever invite celebrity film stars to the White House. At the inauguration, she wore a gown by Harry Collins. It featured pearlized sequins on tulle and rhinestone-trimmed blue velvet ribbon.
Grace Goodhue met her husband Calvin Coolidge who was a smooth-talking attorney, and soon was engaged to marry him. Her mother objected, and allegedly Calvin and his mother-in-law never got over the rift, but Grace and Calvin remained married for the rest of their lives. Calvin preferred things to be stately and unaffected and thus all White House engagements were this way at the time.
During Calvin’s second inauguration, there was no massive public display and instead he opted only for privet soirees. So for Grace there was no gorgeous ballgown to speak of but on inauguration day she certainly was decked out in the style of the time. Because it was the 1920’s she wore a flapper-style evening dress. On inauguration day Grace Coolidge wore a flapper-style evening dress in gold lamé adorned with velvet-trimmed black-and-gold metallic lace.
Lou Henry Hoover was the wife of Herbert Hoover. The two met at Stanford University where she was the only woman Geology major at the time. Lou Hoover was perceived by women around the United States as one of the “best dressed women”. She was the first ever First Lady to appear in Vogue magazine.
She also made it a point to wear clothes that wear American made and not shipped from overseas as many fashionistas did at the time. She also used her fashion to promote the cotton textile industry and almost always wore cotton based dresses. Her inaugural dress was a stately but simple silk crepe evening gown adorned with metallic thread brocade.
Eleanor is probably one of the most famous first ladies to this day. She was also among the first to become extremely vocal about her views and feminism and other civil rights causes while her husband President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in office. As her interests clearly laid elsewhere, Eleanor was not particularly fond of or interested in fashion.
However, she made quite the stir with a gorgeous slate-blue crepe grown, with the color later being named for her: “Eleanor blue”. It was designed by Sally Milgrim and had a gold leaf and flower pattern. In 1933, it was quite similar to what the movie stars of the time would choose to wear.
Elizabeth Truman was married to President Harry Truman. The two had known each other since they attended school together as children. This First Lady was completely disinterested in politics and the political scene.
Although she was reluctant about the role, she was the dutiful wife and hostess. When her husband first took office, it was after the death of FDR and the country was in the midst of a world war so it was exactly a carefree gleeful time. Allegedly, her gown for the inaugural ball was designed by a woman named Madame Pola. She chose a dark gown with white accenting and adorned it with a fur cape (far left in photo).
Lady Bird Johnson was married to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Of course, LBJ took office in extreme tragedy after the assassination of President Kennedy. Because of this the inaugural event was not particularly as gleeful as it would usually be.
Lady Bird wore a yellow gown by designer John Moore. She purposely chose the color as she wanted it to symbolize hope and optimism for an otherwise nation in mourning. She was very active in the White House and undertook many of her own causes including the Head Start program to help children from lower-income families get a good education. While Lady Bird loved beauty her biggest focus was not on fashion and she preferred to keep her focus other places.
Pat Nixon was the wife of Richard Nixon. At the time Nixon took office, there was massive protesting and a social movement, particularly because of opposition the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Nixon claimed he would restore “law and order” to the United States and his own staff has admitted that they sought to criminalize both the civil rights movement and the anti-war protesters. Obviously, none of this ended well for Nixon. Pat chose to wear a yellow gown for the inauguration as well. It was embroidered with gold and silver and encrusted with Austrian crystals.
Rosalynn Carter is the wife of President Jimmy Carter, both of whom are still living. At the time of the inauguration the United States was not doing well economically, so instead of a fancy ball the President opted to host something they called the “people’s inaugural parties,” and offered tickets at the affordable price of $25. Rosalynn actually chose to recycle a gown she had previously worn when President Carter was the governor.
She wore a sleeveless blue chiffon gown with gold trim. While she was attempting to publicly make a statement that the president wouldn’t be lavishing themselves in riches while the rest of the nation was suffering, the move did not publicly go over well.