First ladies of the United States have always had certain obligations, regardless of their political party or time period. They generally take on the more womanly roles, such as decorating, taking up causes with children, all things that come naturally to some women. Being the first lady can be hard — they aren’t an elected official; they have no given duties, but they’re constantly in the public eye. This has led to them taking on another role over time, as fashion icons.
Dolley Madison was the original fashionista first lady. She was known for dressing extravagantly during social events, wearing things like turbans and glittering gowns from Paris to more mundane outfits so that she wouldn’t overshadow her husband. Madison quickly gained a reputation for being stylish and soon women all over the country were copying her.
Ida Saxton McKinley
First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley was thrust into the limelight when she became the first presidential wife to be featured on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal. First Lady Caroline Scott had a drawn portrait of on the cover a few decades prior, but McKinley’s cover was the first one to feature a photograph.
Frances Folsom Cleveland
Frances Folsom Cleveland, the much younger wife of Grover Cleveland, is considered to be the first celebrity first lady. Newspapers and magazines loved doing stories about the parties she put on and what she wore. The wedding gown she wore when she married Cleveland during his first term was copied by women all over the US.
A first lady fashion article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two of the most popular fashion icons, one of which is Jackie Kennedy.
Jackie became the first lady when she was 31 and was instantly loved by the men and women of America. The constant media attention on her and her family meant she was always in the latest magazines, and it didn’t take long for people to see that she was a fashion icon in the making. When writing about her husband’s campaign, Life magazine had this to say about her:
“The candidate’s striking wife Jackie, who sticks close to her husband, has attracted almost as much attention as he has. Women crane to see what she is wearing. Voters of both sexes bombard her with questions, many of them curiously unpolitical… the kind of questions usually put to a Hollywood movie queen.”
The other most popular fashion icon, both in terms of being the first lady and being a former model, that we couldn’t leave off this list is First Lady Melania Trump.
She started making statements with her fashion the very day her husband became president, channeling a look that Jackie Kennedy had been seen wearing many times. She’s never seen with a hair out of place or an outfit that isn’t completely on point and perfect for whatever occasion she is attending. Although she has faced extreme and unfair criticism from the media for some of her fashion choices, she never gives the haters any attention and continues to be classy in both personality and style.
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