Politics has been a male domineering platform for decades. Men giving the speeches, making the decisions, but if there’s one thing the women do better, it’s the fashion. From Jackie Kennedy to Hillary Clinton, each first lady holds their own style.
The White House has a patriarchy to men. Even today, in 2021, there has never been a female president. This does feel pre-historic, since there’s been female prime ministers and award-winning scientists. Maybe it’s time to talk about a first men fashion, how they’re deeply supporting their partners presidency. A first ladies’ role is to be in the spotlight to the public, a loveable, relatable, strong woman. Although they do not play a role to the actual duties that the president faces, they are essential to their husbands to create a good image.
First ladies watched with a close eye by the media, followed whenever they act and speak. It can be difficult not to be scrutinised at every moment, especially when you’re not supposed to put a foot wrong. This isn’t a realistic way to live for anyone, so First Ladies need as much help they can get from fashion. The clothes they wear become part of their image. To get it right can be hard but once they do, it can define how their perceived. How powerful, relatable, feministic and brave they are. Fashion is one of the strongest forms of non-communication, whether it be Clintons structured blazers or Trumps infamous jacket. The modern First Ladies do women-kind proud, their suit-trousers and low-hem necklines, going against the modest women stereotype.
During the mid-19th century, Mary Todd Lincoln became First Lady. During the 1860’s women didn’t have much say in the world. Therefore, Lincolns fashion was essential to her place in the White House. Favouring floral patterns and ruffles for her dresses. Her accessories featured fresh flowered head bands. Her dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly claimed that Mary had “a beautiful neck and arm” therefore dressed Lincoln in low dresses.
Eleanor Roosevelt served a long four terms as First Lady. In 1933 when her inauguration began, she adored velvet and silk. Although she didn’t love the fashion as much as previous First Ladies, Roosevelt had to live through WWII, and tried not to flaunt outfits at large events. She showed her power during difficult times in modest silk dresses and low heels.
Jackie Kennedy influenced the trends during the 60s and 70s, she was the first to change the path of fashion for First Ladies. Her garments differed from Todds floral patterns and Roosevelts velvet. Feminine dresses which donned boat necklines and Aline skirts. Kennedy favoured sky blues and pastel pinks to match her silk white gloves. Her time as First Lady was minimal but the imprint she left was anything but. A fan of art and history, she reduced the hem lines of dresses and skirts. Russian designer Oleg Cassin created looks that donned pillbox hats perfectly. Embellishments on her clothing such as large buttons and silver thread embroidery created a fun image that took away the traditional look that’s normally suited for First Ladies.
In 1981 Nancy Reagan was the first former ‘celeb’ to become First Lady, her experience in the public eye served well. She appreciated how important her fashion choices were for her overall image. She often favoured the colour red and wore gold jewellery.
The early nineties was dominated by Hillary Clinton, her pantsuit is the height of fashion even today. She radiated power, independence and was the perfect woman for it. Clinton donned pinks, lace and ivory metallics. Once stated as ‘too severe to be sexy’, she went against the stereotype of femininity a First Lady had ever been but became her own. Kim Kardashian followed her pantsuit lead in 2019 in the White House.
Then the day came for the first Black First Lady, Michelle Obama. With a keen eye for fashion, Obama was the modern woman icon. Favouring practical outfits that featured wide-leg trousers, sleeveless dresses and comfort over most. Her necklines consisted of broad, low and sometimes haltered. The colour palette choice was filled with bold tangerines, ocean blues and fiery reds that complimented sequins, metallics and silks.
Michelle Obama has been a hard act to follow but in 2017 Melania Trump held her own.
One of the most controversial fashionistas of the First Lady group, she used fashion to send subliminal messages. Married to Donald, Melania faced her fair share of controversy. She needed power outfits to claim dominance. Alexander McQueen utility jackets, knee-length coat dresses and a red leather trench coat was the height of Trumps sharp silhouettes and classic fashion-forward outfits. Her colour palette ranged from bubble-gum pinks to deep greys and pitch blacks keeping the media on their feet so they couldn’t pin her down in any sort of way. Her iconic accessory, the Birkin bag, served her well.
If there’s anything that 2020 has taught us that change will happen. Just like the First Ladies, each one will be different. In 2021, the White House gave us Jill Biden. Immediately she’s shown us her nod towards sustainable fashion and her choice of colour to represent her actions. Designer Alexandra O’Neill designed Bidens duck egg blue coat she worn at the swearing-in ceremony. Embroidered with crystals and the brand-new accessory, the face mask. Although the accessory is essential, it shows the devastating way COVID-19 has affected not only America but the world. A time to be looked back on and remembered. Recently Biden has favoured an aubergine purple that represents unity, another important message at these difficult times.
Whether you’re a fan of the First Ladies or not, it’s important that we realise how essential fashion is in everyday life.