This country has seen a wide variety of fashion trends from lace dresses, to low cut tops and the infamous pantsuit. While it may not seem possible, fashion has and always will be a strong and powerful tool everyone can use, especially those in the public eye. Fashion can often be used to an individual’s advantage, particularly those who hold the role of first lady of the United States. She is a celebrity, and with the stardom that the first lady possesses comes an interest in her clothing, appearance and actions.
Starting just as far back as the founding of our nation and moving into the present day, we have seen an evolution of the first lady’s outfits.
America’s first ever first lady, Martha Washington, has been depicted wearing fashionable “English laces, silks, jewelry, footwear, bonnets and dozens of kid gloves and silk stockings,” according to an article on Mount Vernon’s website about Washington’s style of fashion. The style of Martha Washington has been seen and depicted in school textbooks and through portraits of the Washingtons’ time. Washington’s elegant taste shows she desired and wore the finest quality of clothing. Martha Washington’s sense of fashion and style allowed her to be a symbol of her husband George Washington’s presidency. This recognition of First Lady Martha Washington has only continued to evolve throughout history.
First Lady Dolley Madison not only created an image for herself as being a consummate White House host, but also as a fashionable woman, according to Fashionista. She would dress extravagantly for some events, but for other events she knew to scale it back so she would not overshadow her husband. Madison is most known for wearing turbans, with empire cut gowns from Paris.
Being the first lady of such a young country, Madison set the bar as to how the first lady should act and present herself. Through her stellar reputation of being fashionable and stylish, Madison showed the importance of how fashion and image play a role in reflecting the presidency of the first lady’s husband.
As one of her most famous outfits, Madison wore an elegant dress that portrayed the Greek republic. This portrayal was a tactic Madison used to remind the American people of the ideals that America stands for and represents, and was to show her understanding of the Neoclassical period she was living in.
One of the major moments for first ladies to initially present themselves in their role as first lady is during the Inaugural Ball. Within the past 50 years, the first ladies have wowed the public audience with their choice of outfits for the Inaugural Ball.
First Lady Jackie Kennedy wore “a white gown and cape she designed herself in a collaboration with Bergdorf Goodman’s Ethan Frankau,” according to an article from Fashionista that discussed the evolution of the first ladies’ styles. Prior to becoming first lady in 1961, Kennedy was already quite well known as one of the most fashionable ladies in political society. Designing her own outfit for the Inaugural Ball not only showed her talent for designing, but it also showed how much control she had over her public image.
In recent history, First Lady Michelle Obama has been considered a great challenger towards Kennedy in regards to their sense of fashion. Both first ladies have been portrayed as, and considered, fashion icons. Through their attention to detail and eye for fashion Kennedy and Obama both thought out how their wardrobe would look and how it would reflect upon a national audience. In doing so, they both made intentional choices to avoid any potential backlash.
Another first lady who caught the public’s attention with her outfit of choice for the Inaugural Ball was Pat Nixon. Nixon chose to wear yellow to her husband’s inauguration, and while yellow can be a subtle color, professor Beth Dincuff described the color choice as “cheerful and sunny,” also adding that yellow is “neutral in regards to the political party colors.”
As for the current first lady, Melania Trump, it is apparent that her fashion choices have been drawn from her time as a model. She typically wears pieces from Dolce & Gabbana or Ralph Lauren. However, she has made some references in her wardrobe to past first ladies, such as at the 2017 Inauguration where she channeled her inner Jackie Kennedy through her outfit choice.
In referencing Jackie Kennedy’s style, Melania Trump was seen wearing a white crepe colored, off the shoulder dress with a thin burgundy ribbon as a belt. The way Melania had her hair styled and her makeup done showed that she truly was channelling her inner Jackie Kennedy, as she did quite closely resemble this former first lady.
In an article from the Bazaar, some designers expressed how they have spoken out against Melania Trump’s dressing for various reasons. Some designers, such as Tom Ford, have even gone as far as not wanting to partake in dressing Trump. On “The View” last December, Ford made a comment saying: “I was asked to dress her quite a few years ago and I declined. She’s not necessarily my image.” While this may have to do with Trump’s political status, it is very interesting to learn about fashion designers not wanting to dress someone as prominent as the first lady.
Appearance and fashion sense are two very important factors to the first lady. They often command the public’s attention, so the time and effort these women put into developing how they present themselves is very important, as they hold a major role in representing their husbands as the President of the United States.
It is very interesting to see how the first lady’s outfits and fashion styles have evolved throughout the years, dating back to 1789. The most current first ladies continue to wow the public eye with their outfits. It will be exciting to see how the United States’ next first lady dresses, and what she may choose to say with what she wears.