by Valerie Steele | April 23, 2012 | Style & Beauty
Their styles have been parsed, critiqued, and, in some cases, mimicked by millions. Fashion historian Valerie Steele examines the appeal of some of the most fashionable first ladies, and we offer a few baubles to give you that winning balance of power and femininity.
Large vintage pearl and diamond earrings ($4,175), Radcliffe Jewelers. Towson Town Center, 410-321-6590. Seven-strand pearl necklace with signature diamond clasp, Ivanka Trump ($26,500). Radcliffe Jewelers (see above)
Jackie Kennedy was and probably remains the most fashionable first lady of modern times. She had an extraordinary understanding of how to use fashion to create a positive image for her husband’s administration. It wasn’t just that her clothes were always appropriate; she embodied a mid-century modernism, which was sleek, spare, and always just enough. Think of her pillbox hat, her sheath dresses, her Chanel-style suits: She was interested in fashion, and she embodied the feeling of haute couture.
Yellow-gold and diamond earrings, Rudolf Friedmann ($3,815). Radcliffe Jewelers, Towson Town Center, 410-321- 6590. Choker link necklace, Jorge Adeler ($11,980). Adeler Jewelers, 772 E. Walker Road, Great Falls, 703-759-4076
Mrs. Reagan came to Washington with a very defined sense of Hollywood glamour. She was very much the rich California lady who wore the most elegant, high-fashion clothes that flattered her slender figure. And Nancy’s color choices had enormous impact: She popularized the color red—the media called it “Reagan red,” in fact—which was ironic because it was typically associated with communism before she redefined it. She always looked very comfortable in her clothes. Being a woman of a certain generation, she favored well-fitting clothing in expensive fabrics—fur, silks, embroidered metallics. She and Mrs. Kennedy were very good at choosing colors, clothes, and jewelry that were good for the camera.
Hillary Clinton always experimented with how she wanted to look, whether it was with her clothes, her jewelry, or her hairstyles. The public got to see eight years of a first lady trying to figure out what was right for her and was attractive. In her defense, she didn’t make any taste bloopers, and it took her a long time to master the politics of style. As you can see in her various roles after her White House years, she handles suits very well. She finally figured out what hairdo and whose dresses looked best on her.
Vahan 14k sterling silver and gold earrings with blue topaz, Alwand Vahan Jewelry ($2,800). Jerry’s Occoquan Jewelers, 306 Mill St., Occoquan, VA, 703-494-2904. Sterling silver and 18k yellow-gold Estate necklace with white sapphires and blue corundum, Judith Ripka ($800). Bloomingdale’s, Tysons Corner Center, 703-556-4600
Unlike her mother-in-law, Laura Bush wasn’t interested in fashion per se, but she was always interested in dressing appropriately. You sensed that she was a woman who found herself in the interesting position of dressing as the consort of a very important man. Her clothing choices said that she was more comfortable being a supportive wife and mother than a fashion risk-taker.
Citrine and quartz necklace ($3,950) and cuff ($2,375), Iradj Moini. Tabandeh, Mazza Gallerie, 202-244-0777
Michelle Obama is interested in fashion, and she is good at it. She has been particularly successful with the use of color. Most people loved the Jason Wu inaugural dress. She is interested in modernity, and that is more complicated now than it was with Mrs. Kennedy. She has done a very good job in promoting a wide variety of American designers and companies, using the position of first lady to promote American fashion— and other people appreciate that, not just those in the fashion industry. She looks like a very cool mom, completely contemporary. Michelle Obama is a hip mother and more daring and eclectic in terms of fashion; she is more interested in being on trend than any other first lady.
photography by getty images (kennedy, regan, clinton, obama, bush); jacquelyn allen (pearls, necklace, earrings, moini pieces)