THE SIGNATURE STYLE OF AMERICA’S
MOST ICONIC FIRST LADIES
Washington may not be known for its fashion, but no one can deny the trend-setting power of America’s First Ladies. While creating impact across policy, philanthropy and foreign affairs, decade after decade the women of the White House have shown us how a feminine leader should dress for success. To inspire your next power suit or gala gown, we’ve broken down the style of six fabulous First Ladies who’ve come to epitomize grace, elegance, intelligence and influence. Enjoy!
FIRST LADY: 1953-1961
FAVORITE DESIGNERS: Nettie Rosenstein, Scaasi, Mollie Parnis
Mamie Eisenhower might have been in her 50s by the time she moved into the White House, yet her youthful feminine style was beloved and imitated by women of all ages. It was easy to identify with Mamie, who knew how to work the high-low mix and stuck to what she loved no matter the trends. Her penchant for pale bubblegum pink made the color wildly popular, working its way from her famous inauguration dress into mid-century bathrooms and kitchens everywhere. The shade became known as “Mamie Pink” while the First Lady landed on countless best dressed lists for her clever styling and confident glamour.
FIRST LADY: 1961-1963
FAVORITE DESIGNERS: Oleg Cassini, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Valentino
In just two short years in the White House, Jackie Kennedy left an unparalleled influence on American fashion. Her look was optimistic and forward-thinking yet classic and polished enough for the President’s wife. Gravitating toward bright bold colors and elegant tailored cuts while nodding to major 60s trends, her style came to represent the highest level of grace and class. She loved to wear the great European couturiers like Chanel and Valentino, but more importantly, managed to make simple trousers, sweaters and flats look as chic and sophisticated as her most memorable gowns.
FIRST LADY: 1981-1969
FAVORITE DESIGNERS: James Galano, Oscar de la Renta, Kenneth J Lane, Bill Blass, Adolfo, Valentino
When Ronald Regan won the Presidency, Nancy made it her goal to bring glamour back to the White House. The former actress knew a thing or two about red carpet dressing and frequently stepped out in elegant tailored suits and gorgeous gowns by Oscar de la Renta—her go-to designer. Like Mamie Eisenhower before her, Nancy had a signature color: the bold crimson shade she often wore head-to-toe that came to be known as “Regan Red.” Over the course of eight years in Washington, Nancy’s style never missed a beat. She was always classic and always appropriate but never stuffy or boring, adding wow factor with carefully considered details, exaggerated shoulders and plenty of shine.
FIRST LADY: 1993-2001
FAVORITE DESIGNERS: Nina McLemore, Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta
Before we became obsessed with Jennifer Aniston’s hair, all eyes were on Hillary Clinton’s polished blonde locks. As the First Lady famously once noted: “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.” Meanwhile on the wardrobe front, Clinton smartly followed in Jackie Kennedy’s footsteps, going for boldly-colored tailored pieces that felt preppy yet fresh. Eventually Clinton’s pencil skirts gave way to the strong 90s power suits that she often color-coordinated with Bill. These days the Presidential candidate keeps her look on-point with statement jackets and necklaces that are both feminine and fierce.
FIRST LADY: 2001-2009
FAVORITE DESIGNERS: Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Michael Faircloth
Throughout the 2000s Laura Bush perfected a classic American look that was muted and conservative but still elegant and stylish. Her inaugural gowns by Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera were major hits, while streamlined skirt suits, polished coats, cardigans and collared dresses always looked undeniably sophisticated and effortless on the First Lady. Laura’s popularity remained high throughout her husband’s Presidency as she balanced bold pops of color with sleek, no-fuss construction and modern fabric choices with classically feminine silhouettes.
FIRST LADY: 2009 – Present
FAVORITE DESIGNERS: Jason Wu, Tracy Reese, Thakoon, Rachel Roy, Alaia, Naeem Kahn
As soon as she moved into the White House Michelle Obama became an instant style icon. Her fashion sense has always been relatable and approachable yet rather experimental for a First Lady. Unlike Laura Bush before her, Michelle has broken all the rules, daring to wear shorts and recycling outfits (even while she has a full rolodex of top designers eager to dress her). Michelle has been known to wear the biggest names in fashion, such as Vera Wang, Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford, but she’s also put young new designers on the map, like Jason Wu, who created her first Jackie Kennedy-inspired inauguration gown. Meanwhile the First Lady made her signature style accessible to everyone via her line of super successful pieces for mass-market favorite J. Crew.