Where do we develop our sense of fashion from? Maybe you get yours from the blogs you read each morning you are at the breakfast table eating your avocado toast and two slices of turkey bacon. Or perhaps you get your fashion inspiration from our favorite Instagram pages, where the posts are racking up thousands or millions of views.
Or maybe, just maybe, you are looking at the icons that surfaced each decade the world has been in existence. Audrey Hepburn, Cher, Coco Chanel, Stevie Nicks, Diana Ross, Madonna... To name a few. However, what about women in political power? The women who accompanied the most influential and most powerful man in the country every 4-8 years.
The “First Lady” is a term we give the spouse of the President of the United States. It is a role that not only has fascinated the women across America for years but a position that is up for interpretation each time a new woman enters the ring. This is who the U.S looks at for motherly influence and care, for her inspiring words to comfort us all in times of crisis, and; for her impact on the world of all things fashion.
For centuries, women have looked to The First Ladies as fashion icons and trendsetters; the outfit choices reflecting their stance on Politics and their power as women. Whether they are speaking to millions around the nation, traveling each night, or just strolling through the vast hallways of The White House, their influence over the women across America is evident; especially within the realm of fashion. Over the many years, the style choices of First Ladies has evolved drastically. From Grace Coolidge donning flapper looks to Jackie Kennedy’s glamour meets prep style, to even now, Michelle Obama’s boss lady with a chic modern twist.
Each First Lady leaves her mark in a different, charismatic way, so let’s dive right into some of the most impactful First Lady moment; beginning with the most magnetic fashion moments in The First Ladies of the 1800’s.
Abigail Adams was the second First Lady in history and the first to reject the fashion trends of that era for women. During this period from when her husband, John Adams, was president (1797-1801), many women were taking the unstructured and classically inspired fashion cues from the French; Abigail rejected these trends as she saw them as scandalous and a representation of the French Revolution that was occurring during this time of her husband’s presidency. Abigail stuck to more high neck lace gowns, with detailed shoulder shrugs, pearls as a statement accessory, and her hair in a modest updo. Her refusal to the “norm” of what women fashion trends were in this era, truly defined her point of power over fashion.
Angelica Singleton Van Buren, Martin Van Buren’s stepdaughter, assumed the role of First Lady from 1838-1841 because Van Buren’s wife passed away 17 years prior. Angelica earned herself the “Jackie O of the 1800’s” title by staying on top of all glamour trends of the era. Tight ringlets, feathers as hair accessories, full-bodied off the shoulder gowns... to name a few of her statement looks. She set a staple for herself being one of the first First Ladies that was never married to a president. Those tight ringlet curls, her elegant swan-like stature, and radiant trendsetting pieces evolved the world of fashion all through political women figures.
Sarah Polk, the wife of James Polk, served as First Lady from 1845-1849 and is named one of the most fashionable First Ladies to serve. Sarah had a fondness for pieces that were not only beautifully fitted, but also pieces that captured the true essence of femininity. Through her style of fashion, she was able to put her formal twist on the current trends of that era. Much of her clothes were made from particular materials that included silk, velvet, and satin. She would look like a real queen while wearing her favorite decorative Parisian headpieces to important events and gatherings while during the presidency of her husband. What made Sarah Polk so unique and earned such a high title of the most fashion First Lady to serve was that she created her dress patterns and silhouettes and she then hired dressmakers to bring her creations to life! Sarah Polk will always be remembered as the First Lady who dressed like royalty while acting like the powerful politician she was.
To complete the most fashionable First Ladies of the 1800’s; Frances Cleveland, the wife to Grover Cleveland, served as First Lady from 1886-1889 and 1893-1897. Frances was the youngest First Lady ever to help, not to mention her marriage proposal was initially for her mother. With her 28-year-old marriage difference already as a fascination, Frances drew attention with her (at the time) very provocative way of dressing. Frances favored gowns that showed off her bare neck, shoulders, and arms. She was such a highly respected influencer of fashion which women would shave the napes of their necks to perfect their hair to replicate hers. Moving into the First Lady fashion of the 90’s, Grace Coolidge, married to Calvin Coolidge, served as First Lady from 1923-1929. Grace was a warm spirit, with a vibrant and very stylistic taste for her clothing choices. Her trim and a sporty frame was the perfect stature for her favorite choice of dress style, the straight waisted flapper dress. A lot of her inspiration for fashion came from the Jazz Age; serving looks like the flapper dresses, beautiful dazzled feather hair pieces, and long pearl necklaces that highlighted the shimmer of her cheekbones. You could say she truly captured the Daisy Buchanan elegance of this time as she served as First Lady.
While many First Ladies had tastes that inspired trends throughout American women; none have had the enduring influence like this next First Lady. "Icon" is one word many people throughout time would use to describe Jackie Kennedy and her impact on the fashion world. Jackie served as First Lady from 1961-1963 when her husband John F. Kennedy was in office as President. Her chic, sophisticated, poised fashion unfolds as a model of the utmost grace and class. Something very particular about Jackie is that she favored high fashion labels. Givenchy, Chanel, Cassini... To name a sampling of the many that would’ve killed to have her wear one of their pieces. Some of her favorites go-to accessories were pillbox hats, oversized sunglasses, pearls, patterned head and neck scarves. Most people are very familiar with the term “The Jackie,” which was the look most women tried to emulate in the early 60’s; but Jackie adapted her style as time went on to reflect the shift in contemporary and modern styles. Jackie Kennedy honestly put her stamp on American fashion history that will never be forgotten.
Reaching the fashion of the late 1900’s, Elizabeth “Betty” Ford, wife of President Gerald Ford, served as First Lady from 1974-1977. Before Betty was resuming the role of one of the most highly looked at woman of the country; she was a dancer for the Martha Graham dance company and a store model. So naturally, she already had poise and grace running through her veins. Betty’s fashion was confident and sincere, embodying late 70’s modernity in a time when most people chose to wear clothing pieces equivalent to the fit of a couch cover. Her statement pieces included Chinese high-neck collars, patterned neck scarves, and all things that had to do with a healthy pop of color. Betty showed the country the authenticity she carried with her the entire time of her husband’s presidency; through her impact and her fashion.
To wrap up the dazzling ladies of the 1900’s, Nancy Reagan served as First Lady from 1981-1989 when her husband, Ronald Reagan, was in office. Former Hollywood actress, Nancy styled herself as the alluring beauty she was. Reagan had made it her personal goal to re-glamorize the White House. She would demand tailored suits and many designer gowns such as Oscar De La Renta, Chanel, and Gelanos to be available on command for when she would host extravagant and chic gatherings for all of Hollywood’s biggest names in entertainment such as Cher for example. Some of her signature go-to looks had to be shirtwaist dresses, suits with piped lining, cleanly styled blazers, and her favorite color “The Reagan Red,” a crimson shade of red that she noted as a color to pick up anybody’s spirits. Nancy knew what she was doing. Coming from the red carpet to the White House, she put her stamp on fashion history to come.
Moving into the 21st century, Hillary Clinton, wife to Bill Clinton, served as First Lady from 1993-2001. Hillary began much of her time as First Lady being recognized for her pantsuit statements and frequent hairstyle changes rather than her intellect. The pantsuit, many referred to as “the power suit,” gave a total spin on what the “typical” First Lady fashion was presumed to be. Her suits were bold, daring, gave off that badass energy Hillary has any time she steps in front of a crowd. To top off her usual pantsuit look, Hillary would pair it with some statement jewelry to add more femininity to show her tender and a warm side that she carries as First Lady. The pantsuit soon was replicated throughout many young fast fashion carriers.
This next first lady has not only been viewed as a fashion icon to women all around the world but a real inspiration and pure-hearted image. Michelle Obama had appeared on the best-dressed list multiple times when she served as First Lady from 2008-2016 besides her husband, Barack Obama. She redefined her First Lady style with flouncy sun dresses, sweaters, and bold patterns. Michelle stirs up conversation nearly almost every public appearance she makes regarding things like her choice of sleeveless tops, her decision to recycle outfits she has already worn or her full range of brands and designers she chooses to wear. Michelle has a genuine soul that impacted the lives of so many different people of all different backgrounds when she served as First Lady, and her impact on fashion changed the lives of many.
The finale First Lady for this more in-depth look into the fashion these women wore, is former model Melania Trump. Before her husband took office in 2017, she had wowed the media, and the world continues with her glam and luxe aesthetic and taste. Wearing pieces such as thigh-baring dresses, deep plunging necklines, and extravagant furs. Now, nearly coming up on her second full year as First Lady, Melania has undergone a complete makeover that reflects more elegant and modest wardrobe choices. Her designers of choice include Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Dolce & Gabbana. The roots of her selection of styling and fashion will always have a glamour core, but now as First Lady, she represents a more polished and put together Melania.
Each First Lady brings different strengths to her role and her style choices, setting forth her ideas about womanhood as it is portrayed in her wardrobe. The shift in style from the 19th, to the 20th, to now the 21st century and every day after that is a beautiful transition that will stay in the history of women’s fashion for years to come. The First Ladies were leading American women who needed to go from formal to functional to casual and the back to professional with all eyes on her for guidance and leadership. With every piece worn, The First Lady presents an image that we all love to cherish. These women have proved that fashion is the way to express who you are and what we stand for as women.
Written by @heatherdavies28 ⠀
Photos by @crossoniam⠀
Model is @sisssbliss @girlwiththehudsonstattoo @fashion_junkieeeee @fallingzeppelins @heatherdavies28 @isabellenzen
Directed and Coordinated by @keely.clements and @schwifty_shoupy⠀