The United States Fashion's First Ladies
A brief history of the most stylish wives of the Presidents of the United States
Although perhaps best known for her taste in furniture rather than her taste in clothing, Eleanor Roosevelt dressed herself with just as much sophistication as she dressed her home. Often opting for elegant yet demure dresses for special occasions, she let her accessories do the talking, whether that’s epic jewels or jaunty hats.
Famous the world over for her style, Jackie Kennedy has become synonymous with elegance and refinement, with multiple wardrobe staples, from the Chanel tweed suit to oversized sunglasses, pillbox hats to white elbow-length gloves being closely associated with her. She was forced to eschew her love of French fashion houses after being heavily criticised for not ‘wearing American’ during the US election of 1960.
Lady Bird Johnson
Following Jackie Kennedy as First Lady can't have been an easy thing for Lady Bird Johnson. While not considered as stylish as her predecessor, she was nonetheless a style star in her own right. Reigning as First Lady in the latter half of the 1960s, she was emblematic of the period, with her bouffant hair style and pastel-hued dresses, not to mention penchant for pearls.
As well as beautiful gowns, Betty Ford was also known for her love of tailoring, often choosing wide-leg trousers and blazers with elegant piping details, plus cats-eye sunglasses, silk scarves and gold jewellery - basically, everything that was chic in the 1970s. She was also a big fan of using belts to nip in at the waist, emphasising her hourglass figure, as well as low, practical heels.
The wife of Ronald Reagan was known for championing American designers, being a particular fan of Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Carolina Herrera, with red and white being two of her favourite colours, helping her stand out in a crowd despite her petite frame (a style cue taken from our own monarch, Queen Elizabeth II). Her and her ex-movie star husband’s era in the White House coincided with the more-is-more aesthetic of the 1980s, so unsurprisingly, she was known for bringing a touch of Hollywood glamour to proceedings.
Never afraid to wear bold silhouettes or colours, Michelle Obama was a fashion designer’s dream in the late 2000s and early 2010s, as anything she wore was sure to generate masses of sales. She catapulted Jason Wu into the sartorial spotlight after choosing one of his one-shoulder designs for her husband’s inauguration, and similarly championed Narciso Rodriguez, Proenza Schouler and Naaem Khan, who all show at New York Fashion Week.
As befits a former model, Melania Trump’s wardrobe is full of exquisite designer pieces, with the current First Lady not really adhering to the ‘wear American’ rule many of her predecessors swore by. Instead, she’s often seen in Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Gucci, with photo calls often looking like an editorial from a magazine or a catwalk thanks to her glamorous outfits and her icy smize. She’s also used her fashion to send messages - notably wearing a $39 Zara jacket emblazoned with ‘I really don’t care, do U?’ in response to criticism her husband had received.