Dolley Maddison Dolley Madison
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Dolley Maddison & The Red Velvet Curtains

Dolley was the wife of president James Maddison (1809 – 1817), renowned for opening up the White House to a social world of parties and receptions, she was also known as something of a trendsetter. Growing up as a Quaker, Dolley spent her youth modestly dressed in sombre colours yet once she disregarded her faith she embraced bright colours and patterns. Many paintings of her show her extravagant taste for fashions of the time (low cut Napoleonic style dresses) and wearing exotic turbans on her head.

Dolley hosted parties every Wednesday in the Oval Drawing Room which was adorned with bright red velvet curtains, these curtains embodied Dolley's bold taste and style. During the impending invasion of the British troops in Washington in 1814, Dolley arranged for the safe removal of the George Washington portrait amongst other important Government documents. Amongst the items rescued were also the red velvet curtains which were reputedly later made into an a line bodice dress of Dolley's, found amongst her possessions after her death in 1849!

Mary Lincoln Image via historyontrial.org Mary Lincoln
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Mary Lincoln & Her 'Flowerpot' Headdresses

Mary Lincoln was the wife of Abraham Lincoln, the president famed for abolishing slavery and winning the Civil War (1861-1865). Known amongst her staff as 'The Madam', Mary came from a privileged upbringing and often adorned herself in gowns that cost up to $2,000 each. Mary took a lot of influence from the European style, her dresses were often lowcut and her 'over the top' flower headdresses lead to one Senator described her as wearing a 'flower pot' on her head.

Although many criticised Mary for wearing expensive gowns when a war and national crisis was occurring, Abraham Lincoln being one of them, she saw herself as a beacon and hostess for the country, 'I must dress in costly materials'.

Eleanor Roosevelt in Belgium, 1948 Image via National Archives and Records Eleanor Roosevelt in Belgium, 1948
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Eleanor Roosevelt - Practicality Over Glamour

Wife of Theodore Roosevelt who was president from 1901 – 1909, Eleanor was the first First Lady who really became a public person and dedicated herself to plights of humankind including civil rights. Always modestly but practically dressed, Eleanor's focus was on making a difference on the world as opposed to dressing for fashion and photographs. Skirt suits, jackets and modest fitted dresses were worn by Eleanor as she continued to be a public figure and fighting for human causes long after her husband had left the presidency. Having said this, Eleanor did have an impact on fashion as she was actually the first First Lady to be photographed in a bathing suit!

Jacqueline Kennedy Jacqueline Kennedy
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Jacqueline Kennedy (2) Jacqueline Kennedy
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Jacqueline Kennedy & The 'Jackie Look'

Wife of John F. Kennedy who was president from 1960 until 1963, Jacqueline or 'Jackie' is known for being the most fashionable First Lady and one of the most revered style icons in American history. She knew exactly what she wanted to wear at all times, from Chanel to Dior pieces and even getting her courtier Jean-Louis Scherrer to work from her sketches and descriptions. Jackie even unintentionally started her own fashion movement as her style was copied by women across the world, the 'Jackie Look' helped define the style of the 1960s. The success of Jacquie's style was 'elegant simplicity', her look was modern and minimal with block colours and simple skirt suits yet it was also smart and ladylike with a-line dresses and simple pillbox hats. The simplicity of her style made her clothing easy to copy, women across the world were soon wearing oversized sunglasses, matching accessories and sleeveless dresses.

"Few women in history have captured the imagination the way she did, and it was Jackie's courage and grace that have made her image an enduring one. She was an original, an icon." – Valentino.

Nancy Reagan Nancy Reagan
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Nancy Reagan (2) Nancy Reagan
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Nancy Regan & The Colour Red Nancy

Reagan stood as First Lady during Ronald Reagan's stint as President from 1981 – 1989. Like many First Ladies before her, Nancy had expensive taste, gowns and suits made by designers such as Oscar de la Renta and her white Galanos inaugural gown was estimated to have cost $10,000. It was however the colour red that really defined Nancy's style. Nicknaming the colour 'a picker upper', she wore it so much that the bright red shade became known as 'Reagan red'.

Such glamour didn't come without controversy however, in 1982 she revealed she had accepted thousands of dollars worth of clothing and jewellery for free or as loans. She was heavily attacked for this, at a time when the economy was unstable and also got into trouble for not disclosing these loans (often worth thousands of dollars) on financial disclosure forms. Nancy apologised and rode out the storm, later being honoured in 1989 at the annual gala awards dinner of the Council Fashion Designers of America.

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