STYLE AND FASHION MAKE HISTORY at the White House, and with this issue, the Quarterly’s third to focus on fashion, we look at a transformational period of fifty years, 1960 to 2010, when America’s first ladies began to speak through their personal style as never before. Each official step made by a first lady is photographed and broadcast, interpreted and analyzed, criticized and praised; wardrobe and hair do not escape the scrutiny. The unrelenting attention brings daunting challenges, but the potential to communicate with a captivated public is a powerful tool as the articles reflect.
Behind the scenes, devoted and talented stylists and designers have helped each first lady establish her “look.” Lauren McGwin opens the issue with the life and work of Jean Louis Mazéas, once dubbed the “coiffure king of the Great Society.” The creator of Jacqueline Kennedy’s “modified bouffant,” Jean Louis served the White House through the Johnson administration and styled the hair for two White House brides.
Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell traces the unexpected style journey of Lady Bird Johnson, who suddenly became first lady with little experience choosing her own clothes. Slowly overcoming a reluctance to invest in the necessary wardrobe for her public role, Mrs. Johnson survived comparisons to Mrs. Kennedy by discovering her own innate sense of style.
Rebecca Durgin Kerr tells the story of Nancy Reagan’s long collaboration with designer James Galanos. Remembered now for her elegant timeless style, Mrs. Reagan was most comfortable in red, which she considered “a pick me upper.”
With her article “The Silver Fox: Barbara Bush and her Scaasi Fashions,” Mary Jo Binker relates how the savvy first lady “used her clothing to telegraph approachability, caring, and warmth.” She won the public’s affection by confronting anticipated media criticism of her wrinkles and gray hair with humor and confidence.
Erika Cornelius Smith recounts how First Lady Laura Bush approached her wardrobe by choosing to reserve high fashion for special events and as a tool for advocacy. With a personal commitment to women’s health, Mrs. Bush donned the Red Dress pin, became the ambassador for The Heart Truth campaign, and saved lives as a result. She later reflected, “I realized the degree to which I had a unique forum as first lady. People would pay attention to what I said.”
Carson Poplin writes of First Lady Michelle Obama’s wholly new approach to personal style. By mixing high and low fashion and shopping on-line and off-the rack she was admired for her “attainable” example. For her look, Mrs. Obama often relied on stylist Meredith Koop, who explained, “You have to celebrate fashion but also be aware of the message people are going to take away.”
While tracing the story of America's interest in White House fashion history, Christina Ewald recounts her own experience creating a precise replica of the iconic red dress First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy on her televised tour of the White House. Elyse Werling concludes the issue with a visit to the First Ladies Hall at the Smithsonian Institution. A popular exhibit for more than a century, the hall goes beyond the lines and colors and artistry to preserve the story of each woman’s contribution to White House history.
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