You Should Be Watching: Fashion and the First Ladies

Michelle Obama’s time as First Lady of the United States has been characterized by several worthy initiatives, such as Let’s Move! which strives to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation, and encouraging students to continue their education past high school through Reach Higher. In addition to her important work, there is one topic that never fails to get Mrs. Obama media coverage: her fashion choices. Mrs. Obama is not unique in this way, as First Lady fashion has been a subject of public interest since Lady Washington. This week’s YSBW presents several videos including news segments and lectures focusing on America’s First Ladies and Fashion.

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Our first video is part of an MSNBC segment that discusses the late Oscar de la Renta’s connection to First Lady fashion. This clip focuses on Michelle Obama under the public gaze, and how her clothing choices are interpreted into ideas about femininity and standards of sartorial appropriateness for the role of First Lady.

On September 30, the National Archives and White House Historical Association hosted a panel that discussed the fashions of America’s First Ladies beginning with Dolly Madison. The panel features distinguished speakers Tim Gunn, Museum at FIT curator Valerie Steele, Chief Curator of the First Ladies Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and Fashion Designer Tracy Reese. (The panel discussion begins at about the 10 minute mark.)

Sandy McLendon, design historian and editor of speaks at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on the fashions of Jacqueline Kennedy, and her strategic use of clothing to create an image of herself and John F. Kennedy through his election and Presidency.

Bonus Video: As part of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, 150 students and high-profile members of the fashion industry were brought together at the White House on October 8 for a luncheon and Fashion Education Workshop. The video contains Mrs. Obama’s address followed by a panel of advice on succeeding in fashion, featuring Jenna Lyons, Diane von Furstenberg, Prabal Gurung, Jason Wu, Tracy Reese, and Edward Wilkerson.

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