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First Ladies and Fashion

Shields Library (Lower Level)

January 5, 2010 - June 19, 2010

The First Ladies hold a unique interest for the American public. We don’t know whether or not any votes are based on fashion, but public perception of dress and style clearly reflects on the candidate and the candidate’s spouse. While attention is primarily on a presidential candidate during the campaign for the American presidency, as inaugural preparations get under way we turn our attention to the spouse, and more precisely, to her clothes. We look forward to seeing the gown that will be worn to the inaugural ball, the designer she will choose and the fashion trends that may emerge with the new administration. Does she dress stylishly? Will she wear American designers, buy off-the-rack, or will she buy couture? Does her style resonate with the public? Or does her fashion sense generate unwelcome and unflattering comments from the press and the public?

Michelle Obama’s dress and designer choices for the inaugural ceremony and balls was followed with great interest and she is already viewed as a fashionable and stylish first lady, perhaps following in Jackie Kennedy’s iconic footsteps.

Controversy and criticism surrounding presidential wives’ dress is evident from the eighteenth century to the present. First ladies often reflect the economic and political climate of their era. Trend setters, fashion icons, or shopaholics, we find them all among the American First Ladies. The exhibit shows some style and fashion hits and misses and some controversial moments in First Ladies’ fashion.

Books about the First Ladies include popular accounts of the lives and times of presidential wives, research about the changing role of the presidential spouse as well as biographies, letters, and memoirs. Pictures proliferate in magazines, newspapers and journals, blogs and web pages from museums; the First Ladies’ dress and memorabilia collections located in the Smithsonian are primary resources for original artifacts and photos.

To see books in the library, search the library catalog, suggested subject words: presidents spouses united states, or under the name of a specific first lady.

See additional information and photos in selected web sites: