The Politics of Fashion: How American Presidents Have Influenced the Fashion Landscape

Fashion / May 29, 2012

The Politics of Fashion: How American Presidents Have Influenced the Fashion Landscape
1930’s Celedon green rayon poplin dress (Rusty Zipper), 1960s St. Andrews Vintage 3 Piece Suit,  Vintage Dolce and Gabbana Red 1980s Suit, J. Crew Pembridge Dot Pencil Skirt and Colorblock Cardigan

At first thought, the worlds of fashion and politics appear to be vastly different. One would assume that they are two unrelated subjects and yet, the two have a reciprocal relationship.

Sitting presidents have used fashion as a tool for their political agendas. The personal style of the president and the first lady has influenced the clothing worn by Americans, affecting fashion trends from generation to generation.

Trends in fashion are a reflection and reaction to current events.

After the Wall Street Crash in the 1930s, the resulting Great Depression influenced fashion choices.

Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were presidents known to promote thrift and thwart usury. The style of clothing that emerged were long full skirts that came to the mid calf and blouse sleeves of three quarter length or shorter. Clothes were repaired before they were replaced with women taking advantage of their sewing machines and reinventing looks that they already owned. The zipper became common in clothing because it was less expensive than buttons.

The symbiotic relationship between fashion and politics continued with the election of John F. Kennedy, where fashion became a medium for conveying political ideologies and social values.

The camelot reign of President Kennedy ushered in an era of class and sophisticated attire, with him famously wearing tailor-made three piece suits and perfectly coiffed hair. Jackie Kennedy became a style icon wearing boxy Chanel suits, going bare-legged, even to mass, and popularizing large sunglasses.

Nancy Reagan wearing her signature “Reagan red”

Nancy Reagan restored a Kennedy-esque glamor to the White House, bringing elegance and formality to Washington D.C. with a wardrobe of notable designers, hosting fifty-six elaborate state dinners and a taste of splendor.

She was widely criticized for ordering a new state china service for the White House, during an economic recession.

Although at times considered “out of touch,” Nancy was known favorably by Americans for her sense of style.

The first lady wore red so often that the fire-engine color became known as “Reagan red.”

Michelle Obama in J. Crew
First lady Michelle Obama wearing J. Crew

Fashion has always run hand in hand with politics—for example, when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, at the height of the economic downturn, Michelle Obama took the “made in America”  approach and typically chose to wear couture with an American label stitched into the dress to promote local businesses.

With so many Americans hurting financially, the style that the president and first lady have adapted over the past four years has represented optimism, glamour and economic accessibility.

Moments of fashion have become more than a matter of aesthetics, style has played a much more significant role in the realm of politics.

With every great occurrence in the political landscape of America, it has been mirrored in changing fashion.

When examining fashion in the context of its historical significant, the relationship that it has with politics cannot be denied.

Credits: Michelle Obama ( Kevin Winter/NBCUniversal/Getty Images)


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Tiffany Frasier
Tiffany Frasier




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May 29, 2012

The Politics of Fashion: How American Presidents Have Influenced the Fashion Landscape