Jane and I have discussed the role of first lady on the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. We've explained that the office is an unofficial one (it's mentioned nowhere in the Constitution), and it's a position that a woman falls into by virtue of marriage. Some first ladies are active hostesses of their nation, others enjoy the legislative side and serve as informal advisors to their husbands.
First lady Jackie Kennedy was a real style icon, and women the world over copied her hairstyle, dresses, hats, handbags and much more. I don't think many women were quick to don Hillary Clinton's infamous headbands, and Laura Bush's style may have been a bit too matronly for the masses to emulate. However, with a young mother back in the White House, Michelle Obama is driving some pretty significant fashion trends.
Even when Mrs. Obama was on the campaign trail, she was influencing women's style. Remember the White House/Black Market dress she wore on The View? (See it here.) It sold out in stores. When Malia and Sasha wore coats from the J.Crew children's collection Crewcuts, hordes of eager shoppers crashed J.Crew's Web site, according to NBC Chicago and several other news outlets. In March, you'll be seeing Mrs. Obama on the cover of Vogue. Naturally, she's wearing Jason Wu, one of the lesser-known designers she's ushered into the spotlight (he also designed her inauguration gown).
But the style-savvy Mrs. Obama isn't the only first lady to have graced the much-coveted magazine cover. The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton appeared on it in December 1998. And I was surprised to learn that it's been a long-standing tradition for the first lady to be featured in Vogue. According to the New York Times, the first lady feature photograph started with Lou Hoover, whose husband's administration ran from 1929-1933. The only first lady not to be featured was Bess Truman.
If you were reading Vogue during the summer and fall preceding the 2008 elections, you saw a lot of political contenders featured. There was Mrs. Obama, of course, but also Cindy McCain and Jill Biden. And Vogue even had the foresight to feature President Obama way back when, in 2006. Yes, as per the Washington Post, he was looking toward the White House even then.
You can say it until you're blue in the face: What really matters is a first lady's intelligence, graciousness and compassion. But given the overwhelming response to Michelle Obama's sartorial choices, it's pretty obvious that it also matters what she's wearing (sneak peek here, or wait until March Vogue hits newsstands).
So for the rest of the week, I'll be profiling first ladies and sharing some surprising facts about them. What's in their closets: couture or skeletons?