A Fashion History of America’s First Ladies

With the recent election coming to a finish, and the controversial Trump becoming President, the limelight will start to shine on him and his First Lady Melania. Over the years, when the First Lady steps out into public, all eyes are on her style and we’re going to take a look at some of those most fashionable.

The most memorable outfits are typically worn at the Inaugural Balls. The ball is held to celebrate the commencement of a new term of presidency and the First Lady will step out for the first time and shape her public image.

Jackie Kennedy, 1961

When Jackie Kennedy came to the White House in 1961, she was immediately an iconic figure in the fashion world. Styling her outfits in consideration of her media coverage, she relentlessly stood out from the crowd. In photographs from the Inaugural day parade, she strikingly wore a cloth coat, despite the icy temperatures, in a crowd of women wearing fur coats (the trend of the time).

“As the First Lady born in the Twentieth Century, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy will epitomize the modern American way of life.”
—Washington Post, November 13, 1961
First Lady Jackie’s gown at the Inaugural ball turned heads again. She looked modern and elegant in a white gown, with an embellished silver bodice and a matching cape. What’s more, she designed the look herself, in collaboration with Bergdorf Goodman’s Ethan Frankau. At 32, she was one of the youngest First Ladies, and her youth and modernity certainly shone through in her eye-catching style.

Lady Bird Johnson, 1965

Becoming a first Lady for Lady Bird Johnson was particularly difficult, following the assassination of JFK, and the Inaugural ball was considered bittersweet. First Lady Johnson brought a sense of cheer and optimism with her striking yellow satin gown and bright white gloves. Also considered in her design, was the tradition that First Ladies would donate their first inaugural gown to the Smithsonian after its debut. Therefore, she chose durable materials that would stand the test of time: no chiffon; no beading; no elaborate patterns; just a simple satin dress.
At the height of the swinging sixties, there Inaugural celebrations saw a lot of dancing. Luci Baines Johnson, earned the nickname ‘Watusi Luci’, for swinging at the celebrations in the Willard Hotel. She effortlessly adorned a wide neck, patterned dress, with a matching headband, styling big hair.

Nancy Reagan, 1981

Before being first lady, Nancy Reagan was a Hollywood actress, Nancy Davis. It’s not surprising then that she was always on trend and faultlessly dressed. Alike, Jackie Kennedy, she always stood out from the crowd and favoured bright colours, such as crystallized white or a striking red- which came to be known as Reagan red. Reagan said ‘I always liked red. It’s a picker-upper.’
For the Inaugural ball she brought a new essence of glamour to the White House, in a one-shouldered white dress designed by James Galanos. In her eight years as First Lady, Nancy made statement after statement of glamour with crystal and satin styling her outfits. However, her taste for elegance turned a lot of heads, and had a lot of tongues wagging about the obscene costs of her style.

Hillary Clinton, 1993

Hillary Clinton may have just lost the presidential election, but she’s already spent 8 years in the White House as First Lady beside Bill Clinton. In 2016 she typically wears a smart trouser suit but back at the Inaugural ball in 1993, she wore something a lot more striking. A bold purple, long-sleeved gown designed by a little-known designer Sarah Phillips.


Michelle Obama, 2008

Last but certainly not least is the impeccably styled, and always graceful: First Lady Michelle Obama. She is undeniably modern and confident and has brought a sense of fresh optimism to America. This certainly shone through in her fashion.

Being first Lady did not mean she could experiment with every-day fashion away from the conservative look. She wore knee high boots, metallic tops with vivid detail, skinny jeans and plimsolls, and always a beaming, endearing smile. For the Inaugural ball in 2008, Michelle wore a white, one-shoulder gown by Jason Wu, and because of its likeness to a wedding dress, the message received was of the strength of the Obama’s as a couple. Foremost, they were husband and wife, and this idea was relatable and inspirational to the public.

For her final White House State Dinner, First Lady Michelle made a head-turning entrance in her rose gold Atelier Versace gown. Its fitted bodice, drapery, asymmetric neckline and diamonds, epitomised the special look of elegance and grace she always carried.

One of the items Michelle Obama styles best is her sunglasses. If you’re looking to steal her style head to our site and grab a designer bargain pair that match Michelle’s.

Wildfox Airfox II Deluxe Sunglasses in Silver.
Wildfox Airfox II Deluxe Sunglasses in Silver.
Bvlgari Diamante Detail Cateye Sunglasses in Black Polarised.
Bvlgari Diamante Detail Cateye Sunglasses in Black Polarised.

Following the beloved Michelle Obama will certainly be tricky for Melania Trump and we’re intrigued to see what she’ll add to the history of fashion for First Ladies.


Which First Lady’s fashion is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us at @B Sunglassesunglasses