Former first lady Jackie Kennedy was a fashion queen, and her style profoundly affected the public, from her Chanel skirt suits and pillbox hats to her mod-inspired clothes and strands of pearls.
Unfortunately, one of Kennedy’s most memorable outfits has become emblematic as a result of the tragic events surrounding it. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, while traveling in the presidential motorcade with his widow, who was seen covered in her husband’s blood.
After being told to clean up after the horrific occurrence, Kennedy remarked, “Let them see what they’ve done.”
The image of blood smeared on the first lady’s pink Chanel coat was both striking and shocking: the damaged garment marked the end of an era.
There was no ceremonial inauguration ceremony because President Gerald Ford was sworn in after President Gerald Nixon resigned in 1974. Instead of an inaugural gown, Betty Ford chose a green dress with a chrysanthemum flower pattern that she’d worn on several occasions, including state dinners in 1975 and 1976, to display at the Smithsonian’s First Lady Collection.
Respect and dignity, particularly in America, are associated with chrysanthemums, as are loyalty, happiness, and longevity, all of which could be emblematic of the first lady’s values and commitments to the American people. Every first lady’s inaugural gown was collected and displayed at the Smithsonian, thus Ford’s choice of this gown above others in her closet is significant.
Betty Ford supported the women’s liberation movement and was an active champion for the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment while in the White House.
On the last day of President Ford’s presidency, January 19, 1977, the first lady is photographed in an all-black pantsuit standing barefoot on top of a table in the White House Cabinet Room. While the location of her dance in the photo is stunning, the fact that she is wearing pants is equally significant: According to the National First Ladies Library, women were not allowed to wear pants in the Capitol at the time, and wearing pants in public was still deemed inappropriate for first ladies.
The Republican Party’s iconic color may have been inspired by “Reagan Red,” but Nancy Reagan had her own motivations for donning it.
Nancy Reagan wore bright red clothing so often that it became known as “Reagan Red.” She wore everything from vibrant skirt suits to blouses and evening dresses.
While her choice of hue seems appropriate given that her husband, President Ronald Reagan, was a Republican, red was not yet associated with the party. Rather, it’s thought that she was the spark that connected the two.
Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive stated, “If you think of red as a power hue, you can trace it back to Nancy Reagan.”
Reagan, for one, described red as a “picker-upper” in a 2007 interview with W Magazine. She sought to demonstrate strength and vigor through a “bold, unapologetic, glamorous yet strong color that couldn’t be overlooked” when she chose the color — most notably at President Reagan’s candidacy announcement and presidential oath.
As the first first lady to wear a suit in a White House portrait, Hillary Clinton, another strong supporter for women’s rights, set a precedent.
For her official first lady portrait, which was unveiled in 2004, three years after the Clintons departed the White House, Hillary Clinton chose to wear a black pantsuit. It was the first time in history that a first lady wore pants in an official photograph. While the former first lady is generally associated with pantsuits, she did not wear them much during her stay in the White House. Later, in her 2017 biography, “What Happened,” she explained why she wore pantsuits so often.
“I also thought it would be good to do what male politicians do and wear more or less the same thing every day,” Clinton wrote.
“A uniform was also an anti-distraction technique: since there wasn’t much to say or report on what I wore, maybe people would focus on what I was saying instead,” she added.
Clinton’s appearance reflected her experience, ambition, and desire to level the playing field, as well as her power and purpose as she entered her husband’s presidency.
Michelle Obama campaigned in 2008 wearing “pearls you have to deal with.”
Michelle Obama’s outfits on the campaign trail and during her two stints as the first lady received a lot of attention. Michelle Obama wore a big string of imitation pearls to a Chicago campaign rally with then-presidential candidate Barack Obama on June 3, 2008.
“Those are not little Breakfast at Tiffany’s pearls. Those are large pearls. Those are pearls you have to deal with,” Essence editor-at-large Mikki Taylor said.
Obama’s pearls were large, as Taylor mentioned, and showed she wasn’t scared to be bold, as well as that she wasn’t ashamed to go faux, implying a humble attitude and accessibility.
In 2016, Obama wore an armor-like gown in a gesture to female empowerment, just days after giving a forceful speech denouncing Donald Trump’s harsh remarks about women.
Michelle Obama donned a gorgeous Atelier Versace gown to her final state dinner as the first lady on October 18, 2016, in Italy. The New York Times said that Obama’s shimmering chain-mail gown, which was gleaming from head to toe, was supposed to be a metaphor to female emancipation. The chain mail was shamelessly warrior-like, despite being flexible and shaped into a feminine silhouette.
The appearance came just two weeks after Donald Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tapes were exposed, as well as her emotive speech in New Hampshire, in which she addressed Trump’s cruel remarks about women.
“All about a woman’s freedom: freedom of movement, freedom of activity, freedom to fight for their ideas, freedom to be whomever, you want to be,” designer Donatella Versace said of Obama’s one-of-a-kind ensemble and Versace’s linked Women’s Spring Summer 2017 collection.
Michelle Obama wore a Gucci outfit in one of her final public appearances as the first lady, appearing to silently support the Italian people.
When Michelle Obama traveled or attended formal engagements in other countries, she frequently wore carefully picked pieces by local fashion designers. According to Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times, on December 4, 2016, at the Obamas’ final Kennedy Center Honors presentation, Obama chose a floral brocade Gucci gown, a rarity because it was the first time. she hadn’t worn an American brand to the program.
Friedman speculated that Obama’s decision to wear a Gucci gown was a sign of sympathy for the Italian people. Italians had just voted against then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s referendum plans the day before, prompting his departure.
Obama’s awareness of her every decision, as well as her influence and reach, was evident in this moment and stylistic choice.
Melania Trump stirred the pot with a jacket emblazoned with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” during a visit with child immigrants.
Melania Trump was spotted wearing a green jacket with a spray paint decal stating, “I truly don’t care, do u?” on her journey to and from the border on June 21, 2018, to meet immigrant children who had been separated from their families.
Many people assumed the question was about President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, particularly the separation of children from their families, at the time. Even before she arrived at the government building, Trump got backlash.
According to the first lady, the dramatic statement strewn across her back had a completely different significance. Trump said the remark was directed at “the left-wing media” who lambasted her in an interview with ABC News in October, stating, You could criticize whatever you want to say, but it will not stop me to do what I feel is right.”
“It’s obvious I didn’t wear the jacket for the children,” Trump added.
If you caught Jill Biden at the correct angle while voting in the 2020 primary elections, she conveyed an unmistakable message to the American people.
Dr. Jill Biden voted in the Delaware primary election on September 14, 2020, before becoming the first lady. While her purple dress alone may have been seen as a tribute to bipartisanship, her black Stuart Weitzman boots, which featured a silver “VOTE” inscription on the sides of the calves, sent a clear statement.
The designer “5050 Vote Boot” boot was created in partnership with the nonpartisan I am a voter movement, with all proceeds going to the group. I am a voter who has a mission and the notion that “our democracy works best when we all engage,” according to its website. So, despite the obvious push for people to vote, Biden wore a shoe that supported a cause aimed at encouraging people to get out and vote.
The limited-edition boot sales spiked as a result of Biden’s appearance, and they immediately sold out.
From the embroidered flowers to a concealed statement, Jill Biden’s “Celebrating America” costume in January 2021 was full of meaning.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions and measures, the Presidential Inaugural Ball was canceled in favor of a “Celebrating America” concert spectacular. Jill Biden wore a Gabriela Hearst white tea-length dress, coat, and face mask decorated with crystal flower motifs for the occasion.
The most striking feature was that the outfit was covered in flowers representing every state and territory in the United States. The “message of Unity is the fundamental motivation for the creation,” according to a statement on Hearst’s website regarding the outfit.
According to the designer, the Delaware state flower was purposely put near the first lady’s heart, which was a detail that was even more hidden. Delaware was plainly chosen since it is the first lady’s home state, where she was raised, educated, and instructed.
Another element that was kept hidden from the public was an embroidered phrase by Benjamin Franklin on the inside of the coat that said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This represented Biden’s role as an educator.
The outfit was fashioned using recycled stock cloth, demonstrating her and her husband’s commitment to enforcing climate change and global warming legislation.