Rosalyn Carter, who died Sunday at the age of 96, is rarely included in lists of best-dressed first ladies. She is not usually called “stylish” or “trendsetting”. She didn’t play the White House dress-up game designed by predecessors like Dolly Madison and Jackie Kennedy. For the most part, she seemed to actively reject it.
But that doesn’t mean Mrs. Carter didn’t fully understand the power and political utility of clothes or how to use them strategically during her time in Washington. In fact, her time as First Lady can be seen as a blueprint for an alternative approach to image making that is still used today.
Beginning with Mrs. Carter’s declaration after Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976 that the one thing she would take with her from Georgia to the White House was her sewing machine. As a symbol, it was actually a brief message to anyone asking that this is a recession-era administration that prioritizes economics and accessibility. It was a nod to her own country roots as the daughter of a dressmaker. And it set the tone for what came next — the administration’s biggest clothing scandal.
This happened after the 1977 inauguration, when the Carters made history by becoming the first couple to walk instead of ride during the inaugural parade. (Ms. Carter’s surf-appropriate high-neck teal coat, knee-high leather boots, and leather gloves all look remarkably modern by New York designer Dominic Rombollo.)
Instead of wearing a new gown at the commencement balls, Mrs. Carter wore the same caftan-like high neck. Blue chiffon dress with gold embroidery As the Governor of Georgia in 1971 Mr. Bought and worn by Mary Mattis at Carter’s inauguration.
Shock and horror are common reactions. Inauguration Dresses! Mrs. Carter added a new gold-trimmed cape, which Mr. Rombollo also bought at Jason’s in America. The New York Times labeled the dress “outdated” and called Ms. Carter a “sentimentalist” for wearing the frock again. The new first lady’s support for Seventh Avenue drew scorn from the fashion industry, despite the fact that glamor had never been Carter’s selling point, as much as her ability to represent America on the world stage. Subordinate morality is like that.
To that end, the Inaugural Dress and the values it represents have become a part of the White House for Mrs. Establishing the precedent for Carter’s work was that she shopped off the rack — another favorite boutique was A. Cohen & Sons, also in the U.S. — and she decorated Christmas White House With pine cones, peanuts and eggshells.
But she continued to break sartorial rules, becoming the first First Lady (another of her first ladies) to set up an office on the East Side, not to mention the first to carry a briefcase to work every morning. A briefcase!
Ms. Carter was careful to pair those controversial office accessories with a more traditional shirt. Pie-crust collars or other traditionally feminine embellishments, often in colors like pink and fuchsia—are garments often associated with well-behaved housewives, as opposed to policy makers. Nina Hyde of the The Washington Post Calling them “beautiful and elegant, comfortable and appropriate and always an American product.”
They appeared modest in every sense of the word, which was also the ethos of the Carter administration.
The Carters, of course, were replaced by the Reagans, whose approach to executive office display was the opposite of “humble.” Mrs. Carter’s just-folks style has been relegated to a cautionary tale in the political playbook. It’s conventional wisdom that the American people don’t want their first hostess to look like them — at least not when she (or her husband) is chosen.
Yet just as history turned out to be kind to the Carter administration, Mr. It’s true that Mrs. Carter’s style as first lady suddenly seems unexpectedly appropriate, just as Carter herself became a model for the former president. After all, Jill Biden, the East Wing’s current resident, is also known for her folksiness, her penchant for wearing shirts, her disinterest in telegraphing her fashion choices, and her penchant for appearing in the same thing twice. or three times.
In fact, she is celebrated for it, although the viewing world no longer calls it wearing old clothes. They call it sustainability. Rosalyn Carter did it – yes – first.