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First Lady; Style, Class & Elegance

Updated on April 26, 2015

Dolly Madison

Most Loved First Lady

Born in North Carolina 1768,Dolley Madison was one of the most well-loved first ladies ever. She actually served as Thomas Jefferson's White House hostess shortly after his wife died, and had plenty of practice in the white house before actually becoming the first lady herself when her husband, James Madison, became the fourth president of the United States. She was active in creating numerous social events and entertaining dignitaries, royalty and society. Dolley wore the finest fashions after discarding the Quaker dresses of earlier times. She developed a reputation for being elegant and happy, with a will for living.

During the war of 1812, as the British were nearing Washington, Dolley Madison very much appreciated the significance of the national treasures housed in the White House and did not leave to save herself without saving as much of it as she of it as she could. Through her efforts, many items were saved, including a classic portrait of first president, George Washington, that would have most probably been destroyed, when the British captured burned the White House down.

The name Dolley Madison, was so well known through the 1800s, that in that in the early part of the 20th century her name was used to sell a line of clothes. Dolley died at the age of 81 in 1849.

Mary Todd Lincoln

Mrs. Lincoln

These days Mary Todd Lincoln is often portrayed as a dour and less than likable first lady, however, Mary Todd was a charming lady when she first met young Abraham Lincoln, and much of the negative portrayals stem from the fact that Mary Todd was a Republican, and due to the media being largely liberal, they paint Mrs. Lincoln in a negative light. Also, Mrs Lincoln was a strong woman, who understood her husbands business, this does not always sit well with those who prefer a first lady to be merely ornamental. Mary Todd Lincoln was well educated and went to finishing school. Mrs. Lincoln was not a great beauty, but her clothes were extraordinary. Having a well rounded education, being fluent in French, dancing and all social graces, Mary was regarded as lighthearted, gregarious and witty, with a solid grasp of political issues.

When Mary married Abraham Lincoln she wore traditional "belle" gowns that were in vogue at the time. After becoming first lady, she continued to wear full gowns, but switched to richer fabrics and darker colors to reflect her serious nature in support of her husband and her anti slavery beliefs that were becoming the cornerstone to the Republican party. In the past she had favored the Whig party, but as with many Whigs with a strong moral code and belief in the abolition of slavery, including her husband, she became a Republican. Mary's happiness in life was short lived. After the south started the civil war, that President Lincoln hoped could be avoided, tremendous loss of life,poverty and mutilation swept the country, and, as is done in modern times, the war was blamed on the President, instead of the mountain of events and parties responsible. After the war was finally over, and the Republicans were triumphant in putting an end to slavery, the Lincoln's finally had a chance to have a pleasant hour, they were to see a play called, Our American Cousin, at the Ford's Theater in 1865, During the performance John Wilkes Booth shot the President, and Mary Todd witnessed her husbands assassination. Mary was never the same again. Her life was turned upside down by the loss of her husband and the horrible way in which it happened, but, on top of everything, she had to leave the white house as soon as possible as the President's position was taken over.
If that weren't enough tragedy for one woman to endure, she had four sons and outlived three of them. These were times before childhood vaccinations and the Lincoln children had no more defense than any other child.

Edward Baker Lincoln was born March 10, 1846 and died at the age of 4 in 1850 from tuberculosis.

William Wallace Lincoln was born in 1850 and died at the age of 11 in 1862 of Typhoid fever.

Thomas Lincoln was born in 1853 and died at the age of 18, six years after his father's assassination in 1871, from Tuberculosis.

The first born Lincoln boy was the only one to survive into adulthood was Robert Todd Lincoln (August 1, 1843 -July 26, 1926).

Ida wearing an extravagent gown

Ida Mckinley

She was not the glamor girl of today's standards, but she was such a kindhearted and loving lady that she is most definitely one of the most influential first ladies ever. She wore extravagant gowns beyond the imagination of modern times. She was richly dressed in floor length ball gowns with long trains, and decked out with jewels and crowns. This was the Victorian era and the last years of truly formal clothing.

Sadly, she lost two children and her mother at the same time, leading to the development of her epilepsy. She broke into seizures whenever she was excited. Her devoted husband William McKinley, took great care of her, breaking the traditional rules of having dinners seated at the opposite end of the table to his wife, he had her by his side as often as possible. Her husband was assassinated and Ida's response was that she could never be happy again. She had lost her husband, friend, caregiver and comfort.

Grace Coolidge

Grace Coolideg in White House Painting

Mrs. Calvin Coolidge was athletic and loved hiking and the great outdoors, but Grace made her focal point her home and family. President Coolidge was one of the funniest presidents ever. He regularly told jokes and Grace had a gentle personality that joined in on the fun. She often made jokes about her own cooking and housekeeping. She learned how to ice skate and learned to play in numerous sports in an effort to keep up with her sons.

In 1920, the quiet, and private Grace was suddenly on display when her husband was nominated as Vice President on the ticket with Warren G. Harding of Ohio. After the 1920 election, Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge moved to Washington.

President Harding dies of a hart attack suddenly in 1923 and Mrs. Harding suffered from kidney failure. Grace took over her official duties. Vice President Coolidge and Grace were visiting Calvin’s family home in Vermont when they learned that President Warren Harding had died suddenly.

Grace Coolidge witnessed her husband being sworn is as President by his father, Colonel John Coolidge. Grace had already begun to feel the distance created by becoming First Lady.

President Coolidge and Grace were sympathetic to Mrs. Harding and did not push her to leave the White House.

Grace was an animal lover who took in many dogs and nursed injured racoons, and numerous others.

She maintained a chic look that was imitated throughout the country. Grace was the first thoroughly modern first lady.

Jackie Kennedy

Jackie Kennedy was a fashion icon. She was like Audrey Hepburn as first lady; the ultimate clothes horse. She was still a young woman during JFKs Presidency, and because she was also pretty, slender, and petite, she could wear trendy, yet elegant clothes with an air of sophistication. In the early 1960s, when Jackie Kennedy reigned as first lady, fashions were still classy and showing signs of 1950s femininity.

Over the years the real dirt on the Kennedy marriage as leaked out, and as we are aware that there was no real happiness between Jackie and her wandering husband, but it makes Jackie all the more interesting. Somehow even with the torturous communication she undoubtedly had with her husband, she maintained a look of quiet elegance and dignity.

Nancy in her famous Red

Nancy Reagan

Fresh out of the 70s fashions came Nancy Reagan, who added old world glamor to the White House.

Her husband stepped into the white house during the most difficult economic time since the great depression. But, unlike the FDR presidency, the Reagan years quickly became prosperous after Reagan famously cut taxes across the board for all Americans without any discrimination. Nancy Reagan was model thin and wore her clothes as a charming lady that belied her strength, and courage. Nancy is a levelheaded and kind lady who adopted her husband, Ronald Reagan's son from a previous marriage, and on moving into the white house, rather than use government funds to redecorate and renovate, she used private funds, as she did when she purchased her new china.

Sadly, much of who Nancy really is was hidden from the public as the liberal press referred to her as "Queen Nancy," in an effort to arouse public resentment to her polished appearance and lifestyle in the white house. Nancy Reagan was perhaps the most active public benefactor first lady ever. She supported the Foster Grandparents program, and promoted a drug education project, traveling around the country she made "just say no" a part of American youth. Her clothes were dominating the public's attention about her persona, and she was being compared to Jackie Kennedy. Friends and associates remarked that, while fashionable like Kennedy, she would be different than other first ladies. Close friend Mrs.Deutsch was quoted as saying, "Nancy will shine, and do more than any other first lady".

Her white house wardrobe consisted mostly of gowns, and suits; with red being used often. Fire engine red became known in the 1980s as "Reagan Red".

Laura Bush

Laura Bush is undoubtedly a beautiful woman who wears her clothes in a very down to earth fashion. Her elegance is simple and unpretentious. The classically down played lines of a shy lady who desires to look neat and polished, but not gaudy in any way. Sometimes simplicity is king, and with a classic beauty like Laura Bush it definitely is.

Her gowns are often muted in color, with smaller, and simpler use of jewelry. Her suits are polished lines and with little color variation. When she wears red, she does not pair it with red chunky jewelry but with small and barely there white gold chains. She is a classic, no doubt, but her down played style also makes her one of the most down to earth first ladies in modern times.

Many of her duties while in the white house centered around women's issues. She established the Women's Health and Wellness Initiative and became involved in many campaigns.

She was also busy with emergency services for neglected children, breast cancer research, and research for Alzheimer's disease.


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    • Skarlet profile image

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      @ I would love to see the gowns in person some day. Mary Lincoln had some of the most amazing hoop skirts. Thank you very much for commenting.

      @ Sis- Thank you. I think first ladies can be fascinating. They have to live in a bubble. Jackie kind of personified that glamor, and sophistication, combined with total emotional privacy.

      @The Frog- Haha. That is too funny.

      @Fpherj48- Thank you for stopping by. I love Coolidge too. I think that if I had to deal with being first lady, I would want my animals by my side at all times.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Skarlet...I enjoyed this hub. Am very impressed with Grace Coolidge....quite pretty, tall and slender...and any First Lady who is an animal lover...even having her portrait done with one of her dogs, is OK with me!! Interesting mini-bios on each of these lovely ladies. ......UP++

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 5 years ago from Arlington, TX

      The present pooch needs to wander on back to the dog pound.

      The Frog

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      Amazing -- these are, to me, the most interesting first ladies ever to grace the white house -- great selection! I was particularly interested in Jackie Kennedy as I was tall -- and she was tall -- and I felt a definite kinship to her style/fashion. Super Hub! Best/Sis

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

      Most of the first ladies are amazing, it was fun to see their gowns at the Smithsonian. Mary Todd Lincoln fascinated me and I read the books they had about her. Both were a very good read.