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Mid-Century Fashion and the First Ladies: From Ready-to-Wear to Haute Couture (#52)

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Additional Information

Size 88 pages, 8.5" x 11"
Material Paperback
SKU 001425

Product Description

In this issue of White House History Quarterly we highlight the fashions of the first ladies during the middle of the twentieth century. Eleanor Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Betty Ford: each took a different approach, for different reasons. Their choices—from ready-to-wear to haute couture—reflect their times and what they saw as their role, as well as, of course, their personal taste.

With “Tear Drops of the Moon: Memories of Designing Jewelry for the First Ladies,” Washington jewelry designer Ann Hand shares her own stories of designing distinctive pieces for many first ladies since the 1960s and her personal recollections of the style of Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan, and Laura Bush. “I never stop feeling grateful when I see a first lady wearing one of my pearl designs,” Hand writes. “The pearl has been referred to as a sign of ‘wisdom acquired through experience,’ and that is exactly how I feel about all the first ladies I’ve come to know and admire."

With her article on “First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the Fashion of the 1930s and 40s” author Morgan Blattenberg examines how the fashion revolution precipitated by the era of the Great Depression and then the World War led Eleanor Roosevelt to choose multipurpose, ready-to-wear ensembles, with minimal decoration and an efficiency in construction. “American women looked to Eleanor Roosevelt to see what she would wear,” Blattenberg writes. “For her, the responsibility to make sure that her fashion choices adhered to governmental regulations was imperative . . . her fashion values influenced American dress in these difficult years and beyond."

Kristen Hunter presents "The Mamie Look: The Americanness of First Lady Mamie Eisenhower's Off-the-Rack Fashions" while Haley Rivero examines "The Jackie Look: Oleg Cassini and the Creation of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's Signature Style." Hunter observes that while both first ladies were “style icons heralded for their impeccable fashion, they differed in how they dressed for the role they shared. When Mrs. Eisenhower became first lady in 1953, she continued to dress as she had as a military wife—fashionably, yet sensibly. . . seeking out bargains and sales . . . . Jacqueline Kennedy, however, carefully planned her image as first lady beginning right after John F. Kennedy’s election as president and soon named Oleg Cassini as her exclusive designer. While Mrs. Eisenhower epitomized the average American wife and mother with her recognizable and attainable clothing, Mrs. Kennedy embodied a new ideal and elite style that American women could aspire toward.”

"First Lady Betty Ford’s Casual Elegance: The Style of an Ordinary Woman in Extraordinary Times,” by Kristen Skinner looks at the factors that influenced the iconic style of a first lady in the 1970s during years of dramatic inflation. “Betty Ford inherited the national spotlight when her husband Gerald R. Ford became the thirty-eighth president of the United States in August 1974." Skinner explains, “Her colorful wardrobe reflected her personality, and her garment choices echoed her demanding schedule. Many pieces were multifunctional and comfortable as well as stylish, fitting a modern lifestyle.” Well aware that the nation was watching during difficult economic years, she vowed to purchase affordable clothing, often off-the-rack, which she could wear multiple times.

 The Quarterly Presidential Site feature is by Lonn Taylor and focuses on President Dwight D. Eisenhower's birthplace in Denison, Texas.