What fashion aficionado (or history buff) doesn’t like vintage clothing?
Costume collections in museums really get my blood pumping. Oh the gratitude that we don’t wear bustles, or hoops or whalebone corsets anymore. It’s hard to believe I actually complain about wearing hose.
On my trip to DC I stopped into the First Lady Exhibit at the Smithsonian and was wowed.
First up is Nancy Reagan’s incredibly beautiful inaugural gown from 1981. A single shouldered hand-beaded number by John Galanos (who knew her very well)–I imagine it was very heavy on such a petite woman.
Not the original most stylish first lady but the first one in my lifetime–and I would wear this in a heartbeat. Her bag, was designed by Judith Leiber-a tradition followed by every first lady since Mamie Eisenhower up until Michelle Obama who chose a different designer.
Mary Todd Lincoln is best known as a widow but she was known before that as a spend thrift. Moving into a White House that had fallen into disrepair (there were actually mushrooms growing on the walls) required some financial outlay and Mary Todd brought some glamour to the place.
This particular gown was made by Elizabeth Keckly, Lincoln’s African American seamstress and closest confidante. She wore this gown during the winter social season of 1861-2.
Elizabeth Keckly looks very regal in this picture.
Mary Todd Lincoln was never thought to be a great beauty but I hazard to guess what I might have looked like back then without the benefit of cosmetics, hair products and good skincare!
This is one of Grace Coolidge’s evening gowns from the 1920’s in the Flapper style that had a detachable train. She was one of the most popular hostesses and was known for charm and vivaciousness.
I adore this dress! As a fabric maniac I can tell you that chiffon velvet has a delicious hand and drapes beautifully.
Love the matching shoes!
Grace Coolidge is one of my favorite first ladies. I think this picture pretty much sums it up.
She had a pet raccoon named Rebecca, kept a wombat, baby bears, birds, dogs and cats. Grace and Calvin loved animals and thought that anyone who didn’t had no place in the White House. Grace was also known to have been funny and smart. My kind of gal.
This portrait by Howard Chandler Christy is my all time favorite first lady portrait. Very reminiscent of John Singer Sargent who is the most talented portrait artist in my humble opinion.
Pat Nixon’s inaugural dress from 1969 was designed by Karen Stark and embroidered in silver, gold and Austrian crystal.
Edith Roosevelt’s inaugural gown for 1905 was a vision in blue silk with birds woven in gold thread. To make sure that the first lady’s dress was never copied, the pattern was destroyed upon completion.
Edith wore this diamond necklace designed by Harry Winston with the dress.
This day dress belonging to Lou Hoover seems somber but was quite stylish for the time of 1929-1933.
Considered one of the most fashionable women of her time before she entered the White House, Lou Hoover was the first first lady to appear in Vogue.
Interestingly, she believed in wearing only American-made clothing and in 1932 she took to promoting the American cotton industry and wore many cotton dresses. She even had specialty gowns designed in cotton which was totally unheard of for someone of her position. It was the height of the Great Depression and in her way she was trying to do her part.
No post about first ladies would be complete without a nod to the incredible Jackie Kennedy. She had graceful elegance, style and a fragile beauty that made women world wide want to emulate her.
Oleg Cassini designed this lovely silk gown with crepe chiffon overlay for Jackie to wear to the first state dinner of 1961. It is smashing in every way and complimented her slim waist and shoulders.
And her famous pearls. Which were fake. Yes, fake. The story goes that she bought them at Bergdorf Goodman in the 1950’s for around $35. These pearls were gifted to the Smithsonian from the Franklin Mint who purchased them for $211,000 at a Sotheby’s auction. It’s hard to believe that the most famous necklace in America (she was pictured wearing them constantly) was a department store buy. I kind of love that.
No matter what their political leanings they all had one thing in common–being the center of attention whether they wanted to be or not. As fun as it would be to have a dressmaker on hand, a stylist on a moment’s notice, I think the challenge of constantly being in the public eye would be tough. These ladies all did their best to be a fashionable representative of our highest office.
Go visit the Smithsonian First Lady Exhibit! You won’t be disappointed.
Thanks for reading,
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