Who Runs The (Fashion) World?

The American public has voted, the results are in and the outcome very much celebrated over here in Blighty. The glamorous and powerful Michelle Obama is to be the first Lady for another four years! Ah yes, Mr Obama has retained his Presidential title too…

The saying goes that “Behind every great man there is an even greater woman.” It would seem that, looking back on history, nothing less can be said about the post of President of the United States. The First Ladies of the US have often been the cornerstones of political campaigns. Not only have these remarkable women helped to shape the intricacies of American politics, they have along the way shaped the world of fashion too.

Frances Cleveland was one such First Lady: in the 1880’s she voiced her dislike of the universally worn ‘bustle’ dress. Frances ignited a trend amongst the women of the country in refusing to wear this structured skirt. She was also one of the first public figures to wear sleeveless gowns and was heavily criticised by the Christian Temperance Union! Mary Todd Lincoln was another trendsetter who become known for her ridiculously long gown trains and exposed neck lines, prompting her own husband Abraham Lincoln to remark that she needed “a little less tail and little more neck.” 

Frances Cleveland

Undoubtedly, the crown for the most influential first lady of fashion would have to go to the fabulous Jackie Kennedy Onassis, or, ‘Jackie O’ as she was eventually known. On her husband’s appointment to The White House in 1960, Jackie enlisted the help of Olegg Cassini, a designer whose legacy encompasses the contemporary A-line, Sheath and the Empire strapless designs. Pillbox hats, sleeveless A-line dresses, kitten-heel pumps and elbow length gloves defined Jackie’s personal style and as a result quickly came to define a nation of women, all eager to achieve the, ‘Jackie Look’. It’s speculated that in the first year of her time at The White House, Jackie spent almost $46,000 on outfits and accessories, which equated to almost half of John F Kennedy’s annual salary as President. Jackie Kennedy also exemplifies the changing nature of fashion. In the years that followed, the First Lady developed her style dramatically, ditching the modest attire and choosing to wear more flamboyant colours, all the while initiating new trends. You can see why, ‘The Jackie look’ was so revered by women all over the world, being referred to by designer Edith Head as the, ‘single biggest fashion influence in history.’

The First Lady also became more experimental with designers such as Gucci and Chanel. It was her pink Chanel suit that was to become, “the most legendary garment in American history”, worn on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Jackie refused to change during the swearing in of new President Lyndon B. Johnson, the suit still stained with the blood of her husband.

Fast forward to today and we look to Michelle Obama, whose role is not only The First Lady of the USA, but also The First Lady of Fashion. The Harvard graduate, who has appeared on the cover of Vogue, is famed for her sleeveless dresses and regularly wears outfits by Calvin Klein and Donna Ricco. Michelle has also received praise for her financial consciousness through her wearing of J.Crew attire, as well as her recycling of outfits. One of her most memorable garments is certainly the white one-shouldered Jason Wu gown worn to the inauguration ball in 2009. The dress has since been donated to an exhibition at the Smithsonian.

Long may the First Ladies continue to inspire an interest in fashion, all the while fighting to improve America and the rest of the world. And who’s to say we won’t be writing about the influence of the, ‘First Man’ of America in four years’ time? As Bob Dylan quite rightly said, ‘the times they are a-changin,’ and I’d quite like to see a crisp Tom Ford suit waving from the side of the Presidential podium.

Grace Fleming


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