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Inaugural Dress

Arts & Review Editor, Assoc. Arts & Review Editor, and Asst. Arts & Review Editor

Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 22:01

John and Jacqueline Kennedy

The effortless elegance and sure simplicity that became characteristic of the Kennedys was not just a fashion statement, it was also a defining feature of their all-American lifestyle. Their embodiment of these ideals—of grace and unassuming confidence—made them authentic, revered style icons. Known and beloved for her demure, pillbox hats, delicate pearls, and large, opaque sunglasses, Jackie Kennedy represented a medium between tradition and modernity. She branded herself, her husband, and even the White House—through her clothing choices—as “forward thinking,” garnering the support of the country. The public, more than ever, was interested in the First Lady. In order to maintain national support, she generally wore American fashions, despite her initial preference for European designs. With such charisma, Jackie transformed fashion from a decadent, elitist preoccupation, exclusive to the wealthy, into a simple, timeless look that every woman in the U.S. wished to emulate.

John F. Kennedy, like his wife, was illustrious for his basic, yet classic, wardrobe choices. A Massachusetts native and a Harvard graduate, JFK signified the epitome of “The Ivy League Style.” Tweed blazers, crew neck sweaters, Wayfarers, and leather boat shoes were pre-election, Kennedy favorites. Once in the White House, though, he sported two-buttoned suit coats, solid, silk ties, and plain, black oxfords, reserving his more laid-back look for the weekends. He balanced formal and casual as well as traditional and original. Ushering in a new presidential style, Kennedy was actually the last president to wear a top hat to his inaugural address. Whether behind a podium delivering a speech, at his desk in the oval office, or boating in New England, Kennedy, with his hair perfectly tousled, emanated class and charm. – A.I.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan

Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, like the Kennedys, possessed a notable degree of personality and magnetism. A former Hollywood actor, Reagan exhibited the same panache in the White House as he did on the silver screen—thus, for Reagan, it wasn’t so much the clothes that he wore that defined his style, but, rather, the way that he carried himself that did. Reagan was a trained performer—he knew the importance of image. So, when he was home on his California ranch sporting a purely-American, denim, button down as well as when he was working in Washington, D.C. wearing his basic, formal suit and red tie, Reagan understood how to present himself in a way that the public respected, supported, and loved.

Restoring ornate glamour and elegant formality to the White House, Nancy Reagan was perceived to be the most fashionable First Lady since Jacqueline Kennedy. Both in her dress and in her affairs, Nancy placed a central importance on flair. Luxury designed dresses, suits, and gowns filled her wardrobe, often in bright shades of red. In fact, she wore the shade so often that it become known as “Reagan Red.” She made a statement not only by her chic clothes, but also by the spirit with which she organized her White House affairs. In order to keep up the presidency’s sophisticated appearance, for example, Nancy arranged for a new state china service to be created. Scarlet and gold, the porcelain set represented presidential refinement and class, true to the Reagan style—a style that has become an important facet of American fashion and culture. – A.I.

Barack and Michelle Obama

President Barack Obama’s political tact is reticent to compromise, and his wardrobe behaves quite similarly. Put bluntly, it would seem the president emerged from the womb in a custom fitted Hart Schaffner Max suit, and hasn’t taken it off since. Shirt selection should come as no chore to the President, who dons a crisp white oxford at near every occasion. His ties alternate between solid and simple striped, with the occasional polkadot creeping its way into his otherwise presidential ensembles. His collection is unapologetic, a robust frame for an idealistic politician. While opponent Mitt Romney frequently sported blue jeans on the campaign trail, Obama was much more hesitant to make such a sacrifice. Romney dressed to convince the country he was human. Obama dressed to convince the country he was president. Even when frequenting with television personalities such as Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, Obama refused to surrender the pleated pants and stoic two-button suit. Perhaps in his second term, the president will take off the jacket more often to roll up his sleeves, but until then, the American flag pin will coyly bask on the notch of his lapel.

While the president dresses to his part, Michelle Obama tailors hers. The first lady’s style matches the panache of Jackie Kennedy with the power of Hilary Clinton, stopping nowhere short of defining Michelle as one of the most powerful women on Earth, in fashion and otherwise. New York City designer Jason Wu developed both of the first lady’s Inaugural Ball dresses, drafting bold contours through a sleek frame composed of chiffon and silk. Otherwise, Michelle has shown few favorites, democratic in her selection of American designers. In contrast with older generations of first ladies, content as accessories to the president, Michelle Obama has made it clear she’s quite capable of running the show, and the nation can’t help but watch. – J.W.

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