A Brief History of Dressing Flotus

A Brief History of Dressing


Donald Trump is officially the president of the United States. There’s much to be said on the matter, but for now we’re going to let political junkies and talking heads cover America’s newest POTUS and briefly divert our attention to Melania Trump and the First Ladies who proceeded her. Specifically, we’re talking about clothes, with a focus less on style and more on the politics of it all.

In a “normal” political climate – whatever that is – you’d have fashion designers clawing their way to the FLOTUS inner circle to dress this very visible woman. With Trump’s controversial presidency, however – one that goes beyond simple disapproval and is anchored firmly in the land of vehement objection – people are curious about which designers will dare to drape their clothes upon the new First Lady.

In a “normal” political climate – whatever that is – you’d have fashion designers clawing their way to the FLOTUS inner circle to dress this very visible woman. 

Courtesy of Twitter

The Difficult Task of Dressing Melania Trump

“Despite a client CV of the sort designer houses typically salivate over — beautiful, thin, stylish, rich — within fashion and without, she is a lightning rod of polarity,” writes Bridget Foley for WWD in an article that accurately speculated that either Karl Lagerfeld or Ralph Lauren would dress Melania for the inauguration. She went on to say that dressing Melania is a risk for any designer, for at least the foreseeable future, and that doing so would put the designer in the middle of a raging political firestorm.

Many designers are aware of the social backlash that would accompany dressing the new First Lady, but it seems many are morally opposed anyway. For example, designer Marc Jacobs recently said, “I have no interest whatsoever in dressing Melania Trump. Personally, I’d rather put my energy into helping out those who will be hurt by [Donald] Trump and his supporters.”

And designer Derek Lam said, “I find it challenging to be personally involved in dressing the new First Lady. I would rather concentrate my energies on efforts towards a more just, honorable, and a mutually respectful world. I don’t know Melania Trump personally, so I don’t wish my comments to seem I am prejudging her personal values, but I really don’t see myself getting involved with the Trump presidency.”

Designer Phillip Lim said, “As a global brand, we are always looking to partner with individuals that we have authentic relationships with — ultimately, women and men that share similar set of values, desires and ideologies: inclusion, diversity, justice, consciousness, innovation. With that said, we do not have a current relationship with Mrs. Trump and I don’t foresee a relationship developing under the Trump administration.”

Many designers are aware of the social backlash that would accompany dressing the new First Lady, but it seems many are morally opposed anyway.

You can read more statements from designers who refused to dress Melania Trump (and some statements from those who are OK dressing her) in this compiled list by NY Magazine.

One could argue that for some designers, dressing the First Lady is less about a political stance and more about taking on the honored position of dressing one of the most visible women in the world. Ralph Lauren – who has a history of dressing many First Ladies – is a prime example of that. Before Melania, he dressed Michelle Obama, Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford and, yes, Hillary Clinton. Clinton even wore Lauren’s clothing regularly throughout her campaign, and Lauren is who Melania wore at the inauguration ceremony. For some, though, dressing the First Lady is very much about taking a political stance. Or in the case of Melania Trump, the deliberate decision to not dress the First Lady is about taking a political stance, as well.

Below is a brief history of notable FLOTUS that came before Melania and their relationship with designers at the time.

Source: White House Flickr

Michelle Obama

Arguably one of the most beloved First Ladies the States has seen, Michelle Obama didn’t run into the problem that Melania is currently dealing with. Not only did designers jump at the chance to dress her, but they did so with much honor and excitement. WWD compiled a list of thank you letters written to Obama by the designers who she built close relationships with throughout her eight years, including Christian Siriano, Jason Wu, Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig of Marchesa, Prabal Gurung, and Jenna Lyons of J. Crew.

Hillary Clinton 

She may be known as the queen of pantsuits (and yes, she sported Ralph Lauren pantsuits throughout her most recent campaign), but Hillary Clinton has certainly deviated from the tailored matching suits over the last several decades.

For example, she wore a rich, floor-length purple gown – drenched completely in ornate beading – by designer Sarah Phillips at the 1993 inaugural ball, and in 2002 at the CFDA Fashion Awards, she showed up wearing an Oscar de la Renta gown with the designer himself as her date, a sign that they two weren’t just working together, but were friends.

Jackie Kennedy

If you were to ask someone to think of the most stylish FLOTUS in history, Jackie Kennedy would be an easy answer for most. For designers, dressing Jackie was more than an honor, it was an opportunity to make a name for yourself and to trigger the most current fashion trends. If Jackie wore it one day, many women wore it the next. “The Jackie Look, or what I call the A-line look, created a worldwide impression of such dimension that she became the First Lady of the world,” says Oleg Cassini, Onassis’ official designer during the Kennedy administration, in the NY Daily News

Nancy Reagan

In a style era where things could get a little… funky, Reagan’s clothing choices remained sophisticated and regal. “In the high-flying ‘80s, Reagan took full advantage of the burgeoning field of American designers to bring glamour and big-name wattage to the White House,” writes WWD. “James Galanos, Adolfo, Bill Blass, Arnold Scaasi, Geoffrey Beene and Carolina Herrera were among her favorite designers.”

“There wasn’t one lady on the planet who didn’t want to dress like her, comb their hair like her, walk and talk like her. And it was the first time an American designer could influence world trends.”

Betty Ford

This ‘70s-era FLOTUS and outspoken feminist became highly involved in politics – moreso than any other First Lady up until that point. This new approach to serving the First Lady role both garnered support and ruffled feathers. Lots of feathers, actually. In that sense, Ford was not necessarily concerned with fashion, but her signature style was aligned with current trends: a voluminous bob, high necklines, sophisticated cat eye glasses, tailored dresses and jackets, and silk scarves. Her most go-to designers included Luis Estevez, known for his cocktail attire, and Frankie Welch, who made many of her floor-length gowns.

Wendy Rose Gould

Wendy Rose Gould is a reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers women’s lifestyle topics for numerous digital publications, including Refinery29, InStyle, xoVain, Headspace, PopSugar and ModCloth. You can learn more about her at WendyGould.com.

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