Style and Influence: First Ladies’ Fashions
From the first days on a campaign trail to the final days living in the White House, the First Ladies of the United States have attracted attention in numerous ways. Both historic and modern First Ladies have harnessed the power of fashion to build identity and inform Americans. In conjunction with our exhibition “Making Their Mark,” we present a distinguished panel to discuss and examine the fashions of America’s First Ladies through conversation and photos. Moderated by Tim Gunn, star of Project Runway, panelists include Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology; Lisa Kathleen Graddy, Deputy Chair and Chief Curator of Political History and the First Ladies Collection, Smithsonian National Museum of American History; and Tracy Reese, a fashion designer who has designed for First Lady Michelle Obama. Presented in partnership with the White House Historical Association.
Tuesday, September 30, at 7 p.m. in the William G. McGowan Theater
The discussion will be streamed live on YouTube.
President Kennedy favored a few dresses worn by Mrs. Kennedy
President Kennedy’s favorites included this black silk velvet and Chinese yellow silk satin evening dress designed by Chez Ninon. Mrs. Kennedy wore it to a White House state dinner honoring President Manuel Prado of Peru on September 19, 1961.
-from the JFK Library
State Dinner Styling
Betty Ford wore this chiffon gown at the state dinner honoring President Kekkonen of Finland. Designed by Albert Capraro, the floor-length dress features a two layered sandstone-stripe design.
Mrs. Ford paired the gown with the “Collar of St. Arsene,” which First Lady Jehan Sadat of Egypt had given to her as a state gift on October 27, 1975. The necklace, made of gold-plated silver and cut glass, dates to the pre-Arabic Roman period.
Albert Capraro was one of Betty Ford’s favorite designers during her time in the White House. Capraro previously had worked for Oscar de la Renta before striking out as an independent designer. Mrs. Ford admired his clothing and also appreciated that it was designed and made in the United States.
Capraro described working with Mrs. Ford as a joy. “She is warm and charming, and she knows what she wants,” he said. Here he adjusts her collar during a consultation at the White House on February 21, 1975.
Grace Kelly was born on this day, November 12, in 1929. Here she is during a visit to the White House. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy hosted a luncheon in honor of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco on May 24, 1961.
See all the White House photos from the luncheon here.
-from the JFK Library
Harvey Rosenthal makes a final adjustment to President Ford’s tie at the end of a fitting at the White House on October 30, 1974.
Rosenthal began fitting clothes for Ford in the late 1960s. “We’ve been trying to change his image,” he stated in an interview in August 1975, noting that both he and Betty Ford had been urging the President to “go conservative” with his style.
His efforts to update President Ford’s wardrobe included substituting plaid suits and splashy ties with more subdued items. “It has to be plain blue, plain gray, brown. I try to make him look like a president,” Rosenthal said.
-from the Ford Library
A Fashion Friday salute to one of the staples of 1970s menswear — the leisure suit.
President Ford wore this one to a surprise drop-by at a spaghetti dinner for reporters and staff who traveled aboard Air Force 2 with him when he was Vice President, hosted by New York Times correspondent Marjorie Hunter, on October 18, 1975.
-From the Ford Library
First Ladies Fashion
Betty Ford donated one of her gowns to the First Ladies Hall at the Smithsonian on June 24, 1976. Betty is pictured here with Frankie Welch, the gown’s designer (at left), and S. Dillon Ripley, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
The princess line dress was produced at Ms. Welch’s studio in Alexandria, Virginia. Made from a pale green chiffon crepe embroidered with chrysanthemums that simulates fabric the First Lady had brought home from China, it also features a Chinese inspired high standing collar. Mrs. Ford had worn the gown at a few state functions, including White House dinners for the Shah of Iran and King Juan Carlos II of Spain.
“I’m delighted to have one of my favorite dresses in this very special collection,” Mrs. Ford said in her remarks. “When I brought visitors to this Hall, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to ever be here myself.”
-from the Ford Library