Grace Goodhue Coolidge, 1923-1929

 

Grace Coolidge’s Dress

Gift of Lillian Rogers Parks

 

Brown chiffon and lace flapper-style dress trimmed with metallic thread and a brown velvet bow. Grace Coolidge gave the dress to her White House maid, Maggie Rogers. It was likely shortened to be worn by Maggie’s daughter Lillian.

 

American women liked Grace Coolidge’s clothes, more sedate versions of the 1920s flapper style. It was well-publicized that the first lady liked to shop and that the president also enjoyed choosing dresses and hats for his wife. She claimed no favorite color but did popularize red.

 

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Grace Goodhue Coolidge, 1923-1929

 

Grace Coolidge’s Evening Gown

Gift of Lillian Rogers Parks

 

Blue satin flapper-style evening gown trimmed with dark-blue sequins and gold glass beads. Grace Coolidge gave the dress to her White House maid, Maggie Rogers. It was likely shortened to be worn by Maggie’s daughter Lillian.

 

American women liked Grace Coolidge’s clothes, more sedate versions of the 1920s flapper style. It was well-publicized that the first lady liked to shop and that the president also enjoyed choosing dresses and hats for his wife. She claimed no favorite color but did popularize red.

 

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Mamie Doud Eisenhower, 1953-1961

 

Mamie Eisenhower’s Evening Gown, Purse, and Shoes

Gift of Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

Rose-colored silk damask ball gown designed by Nettie Rosenstein and worn to a 1957state dinner at the British Embassy. The ensemble included a matching purse and shoes.

 

Mamie Eisenhower loved clothes. She patronized well-known designers but was just as happy buying mail-order hats and ready-made dresses from discount department stores. Women copied the “first lady look” and Mrs. Eisenhower’s charm bracelets, close-fitting hats, and “Mamie pink” color preference became fashion trends.

 

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Lucy Webb Hayes, 1877-1881

 

Lucy Hayes’s Reception Gown

Gift of Col. Webb C. Hayes

 

Gold damask and cream satin gown worn in 1880 to the White House New Year’s reception and later to the February reception for diplomats and members of Congress. It was made by Mrs. M. A. Connelly,  a New York dressmaker.

 

Lucy Hayes had a distinct and unfaltering personal style.While following current fashion, she favored modest clothing that covered her throat and arms. She received both praise and criticism for her restrained wardrobe.

 

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Edith Bolling Wilson, 1915-1921

 

Edith Wilson’s Evening Dress

Gift of National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Black charmeuse satin dress trimmed with beads, black velvet, and white net, from the House of Worth in Paris. The first lady wore the dress in 1915 for a private dinner party at the White House.

 

A well-dressed woman, Edith Wilson gave careful thought to the clothes she purchased. Her fashionable wardrobe included gowns from the House of Worth in Paris. Newspapers reported the first lady’s preference for black dresses and simple lines.

 

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Julia Dent Grant, 1869-1877

 

Julia Grant’s Evening Gown

Gift of the Grant Family

 

White silk damask evening gown from the early 1870s. According to the Grant family, the rose-patterned fabric was a gift from the emperor of China. The underskirt is a reproduction.

 

Julia Grant claimed to have no interest in leading fashion. She chose American-made clothes that were “… becoming to my person and the condition of my purse.” Newspapers recorded her elegant “toilettes” of rich fabrics often accessorized with pearls, diamonds, and corals, but noted their simplicity.

 

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Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy,  1961-1963

 

Jacqueline Kennedy’s State Dinner Dress

Gift of Oleg Cassini

 

Yellow silk evening gown with an overlay of crepe chiffon designed by Oleg Cassini. Mrs. Kennedy wore the dress in 1961 for the administration’s first state dinner, for Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba.

 

Topping the best-dressed lists, Jacqueline Kennedy was a fashion icon. The “Jackie look,” copies of the clothes designed for her by Oleg Cassini, sold in stores across America on mannequins that resembled her. An association with the glamorous first lady was enough to sell everything from hats to costume jewelry.

 

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Frances Folsom Cleveland, 1886-1889 and 1893-1897

 

Frances Cleveland’s Skirt and Bodices

Gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Cleveland and the Heirs of the Estates of Richard F. and Jessie B. Cleveland

 

The original floral chine skirt and peach velvet bodice were probably made around 1895 by the House of Doucet of Paris. The floral bodice was created later from fabric taken out of the skirt. Baltimore dressmaker Lottie M. Barton made the green velvet bodice.

 

When Frances Folsom married President Grover Cleveland in a White House wedding in 1886, she became an instant fashion icon. Women copied her hairstyle and dresses. Her influence was so great that a false story claiming the first lady was abandoning dresses with bustles hastened the demise of the twenty-year fashion staple.

 

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Lou Henry Hoover, 1929-1933

 

Lou Hoover’s Day Dress

Gift of Mrs. Herbert Hoover

 

Floral-patterned silk day dress fastened at the waist with a costume-jewelry brooch.

 

When Lou Hoover became first lady she was already considered one of the “best-dressed women in official life” and was the first first lady to appear in Vogue magazine. She always wore American-made clothes and in 1932 made a point of wearing cotton dresses, including a specially designed evening gown, to promote the cotton textile industry.

 

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Lou Henry Hoover, 1929-1933

 

Lou Hoover’s Evening Gown

Gift of Mrs. Herbert Hoover

 

Silk crepe evening gown with metallic thread brocade.

 

When Lou Hoover became first lady she was already considered one of the “best-dressed women in official life” and was the first first lady to appear in Vogue magazine. She always wore American-made clothes and in 1932 made a point of wearing cotton dresses, including a specially designed evening gown, to promote the cotton textile industry.

 

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Eleanor Roosevelt, 1933-1945

 

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Inaugural Gown

Gift of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

Slate-blue silk crepe evening gown designed by Sally Milgrim for the 1933 inaugural ball. Embroidered with a leaf-and-flower design in gold thread, it featured detachable long sleeves (not displayed). The belt buckle and shoulder clips are made of rhinestone and moonstone.

 

A frequent traveler, Eleanor Roosevelt preferred simple outfits that could be worn with a variety of blouses and accessories. Understanding that “busy people like to buy their clothing ready made,” the first lady promoted ready-to-wear clothing but cautioned against buying goods made in sweatshops.

 

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Nancy Davis Reagan, 1981-1989

 

Nancy Reagan’s Suit

Gift of Adolfo

 

Cream-colored two-piece wool knit suit and cream silk blouse designed by Adolfo. Mrs. Reagan wore the suit when she arrived at the 1980 Republican National Convention.

 

Nancy Reagan’s designer wardrobe brought a touch of old Hollywood to the

White House and popularized “Reagan red.” To assist in planning her public appearances, Mrs. Reagan’s clothes were tagged to record the events to which she had worn them.

 

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Caroline Scott Harrison, 1889-1892

 

Caroline  Harrison’s Evening Gown

Gift of Mrs. William Henry Harrison Sr.

 

Burgundy velvet and gray satin evening gown embroidered in a floral design with gray pearls and steel beads. The dress was later altered by a family member.

 

Caroline Harrison was praised for her modest wardrobe. The Philadelphia Times called the incoming first lady “a sensible exemplar for American Women.” Following the president’s America First economic policy, her inaugural gown and the rest of her wardrobe were made in the United States.

 

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The Fashionable

First Lady

 

First ladies are expected to provide a dignified and attractive image as representatives of the United States. But why are we so interested in what they wear? Perhaps because we look to their fashion choices for clues to their characters and personalities and maybe even the administration’s politics. Not all first ladies have popularized fashions, but they have all had their wardrobes scrutinized by the American public.