Speaking of presentations, I had the pleasure to speak at Seekonk Library in MA this past Wednesday evening, and the topic was “Fashion & the First Lady.” Although I had a small audience, they were lovely and very enthusiastic! I thought that with the upcoming election, there may have been a larger attendance, but the number of guests is never really important to me; it’s all about a shared interest and passion.
In the interest of time, I needed to limit the topic to a few first ladies, trying to focus on those most influential in fashion. Of course, Jackie Kennedy was one of the most celebrated fashion icons of the 1960s. She held herself with elegance and grace and never failed to show us her impeccable taste in clothing and accessories. Oleg Cassini was her main designer, and there is an interesting video on YouTube that promotes his book. You can find that video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCOaBGJmdKQ
In addition to Jackie, however, other former first ladies made an impact culturally and sartorially. For instance, Dolley Madison was quite the fashion plate when she was First Lady to James Madison. She had a penchant for European style, especially French fashion. The column-like, Empire waist gowns that were popular during her time in the White House (1809-17) were embraced and worn by Dolley, despite the lack of modesty in the plunging neckline of the time. In fact, she continued to wear this style long after her White House tenure. Her favorite headdress was the turban and, although she ordered expensive ones from Paris, Dolley was not criticized for it, as she was so well-loved. Dolley can be considered the first American “fashion icon.”
Another interesting former First Lady, Harriet Lane Johnston, was actually President James Buchanan’s niece. When her uncle was a diplomat for Britain, Harriet accompanied him. She became enamored of European fashions, especially since she spent time at Queen Victoria’s court. When she became the official hostess during Buchanan’s tenure in the White House (late 1850s), the style included wide hoop skirts, aided in their width by the newly developed “cage crinoline,” a much lighter alternative to layers of heavy petticoats. Like her predecessor Dolley, Harriet favored Parisian gowns with a deep décolletage. Her beauty and intelligence won the hearts of many during her time as White House hostess.
Finally, I must mention First Lady Michelle Obama. This lovely woman has shown, in my opinion, beautiful taste in clothing and accessories during her eight years in the White House. Recently featured in the October 2016 issue of InStyle Magazine, her fashion choices flatter her figure and coloring, and she always displays elegance in her style. Below, Michelle announces the movie, Argo, as Oscar winner. She looked beautiful, indeed.