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First Lady Locks: A Hair History of the USA

“First Lady” may not be an official title in the United States, but over the years, the position has evolved substantially, from White House hostess to full-fledged political advisor. Yet ever since Martha Washington, there’s one role the First Lady has always been responsible for fulfilling: fashion icon. The public has often obsessed over its First Lady’s hairstyle and wardrobe choices. Some have been trendy, some have been traditional, but they’ve all been uniquely themselves. To honor these world leaders of good looks, we’re counting down our 10 favorite First Lady hairstyles.

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10. Barbara Bush: One of the least ostentatious First Ladies in history, Barbara Bush drove the Secret Service crazy by refusing to ride in limousines and insisting on flying commercial instead of wasting fuel on private jets. This no-frills approach to life extended to her clothes and hair as well. Her wardrobe choices all favored comfort and practicality over trendiness. And she never once dyed her hair after it turned snow white at a very young age. While some criticized her for looking too grandmotherly, we have to give it up for a woman who has the confidence to let her locks age naturally.

9. Louisa Adams: Bonnet or no bonnet? That was the big choice our earliest few First Ladies had to make about their hair. Bonnets were common headwear for women during colonial times. They allowed hair to look dressed without being styled, and they protected it from dirt and dust at a time when you couldn’t wash on a daily basis. Some First Ladies, like Martha Washington, wore them. Others, like Martha Jefferson, preferred to indulge in some high-fashion hairdos. But our sixth First Lady, Louisa Adams, managed to strike a delicate balance between the two. She allowed a few styled, light brown ringlets to peek out from her ornate headdress and frame her face. It was a look that married First Lady glamor with Old World prudence.

8. Eleanor Roosevelt: She was the model for the modern-day First Lady. No mere White House hostess, Eleanor Roosevelt was a politician, a diplomat and an activist famed for her humanitarian work in her own country and abroad. In an age when gender roles in America were rapidly evolving, she served as an ideal role model for a generation of newly independent women, ready to take the world by storm. She also offered an ideal template for the modern woman’s hair. Short, minimal and a little more masculine than any haircut worn by any previous First Lady, Eleanor’s locks suggested she was a woman ready to take her seat at a table previously reserved only for men.

7. Mamie Eisenhower: Talk about trendsetters! Mamie Eisenhower was responsible for defining a single color’s entire role in the world of fashion. She was so obsessed with pink that by the end of her husband’s two terms in office, the American public had come to associate the color with femininity. She’s the reason you paint your baby’s room pink once you find out you’re having a girl. But we love her because she originated one of history’s most amazing hairdos: the double side bun! That’s right, the cut we all associate with Princess Leia was actually dreamed up in the White House decades before Star Wars.

6. Mary Todd Lincoln: People have debated the mental well-being of Abraham Lincoln’s wife for centuries. Her erratic behavior and obsessive spending, along with a stay in an insane asylum later in life, have led historians to label her as crazy, or possibly bi-polar (a diagnosis that didn’t exist while she was alive.) But we prefer to think of Mary Todd Lincoln as the original manic pixie dream girl, and she has the hairdo to back that claim up. After all, it takes a woman totally confident in her own quirkiness to wear flowers in her hair on a regular basis — even more so when you’re hosting White House dinners for major heads of state.

5. Lady Bird Johnson: Lyndon B. Johnson ascended to the presidency after the tragic assassination of JFK. His wife, Lady Bird, opted to adopt the bouffant hairstyle of her First Lady predecessor, Jackie Kennedy, who was arguably the most popular and most stylish First Lady of all time. While we can’t give Lady Bird points on originality, we totally respect her choice to pay tribute to the woman who came before her, and at a time when the nation was in turmoil, a familiar hairstyle must have offered the public a small feeling of stability.

4. Nancy Reagan: If there was one thing Nancy Reagan couldn’t say “no” to, it was hairspray. You would never catch the First Lady of the ‘80s with a single hair out of place. And her helmet-like hairdo incurred its fair share of mockery in the media; it was a frequent target of Johnny Carson’s late night monologue jokes. But for the pure nostalgia of it, we love Nancy’s hair. Has a First Lady’s hair ever been more a product of its time? Looking at it brings us back to one of our favorite decades faster than playing Nintendo while blasting the Safety Dance in our parents’ basement.

3. Bill Clinton: Alright, this one may be a little preemptive, but we’re really looking forward to our nation’s very first First Man. And we think his silver fox locks are the perfect hairstyle to usher in the position.

2. Michelle Obama: Buns, ponytails, elegant flips — our current First Lady has rocked all these hairstyles and more, and she’s made them all look amazing. Michelle has worked with a celebrity stylist for years to create dozens of awesome dos, and the nation is always on the edge of its seat to see what she’ll come out with next. But this doesn’t mean she’s just some fashion-obsessed housewife. Mrs. Obama is one of the most active First Ladies in history, campaigning and creating support programs for numerous personal causes, including childhood obesity and LGBT rights. She’s living proof that a woman who cares about her looks can still care about a whole lot more.

1. Jackie Kennedy: It’s often said that the Kennedys are the closest thing America has ever had to royalty, and Jackie was more than up to the task of dressing like a queen. And like a queen, the entire country obsessed over her every fashion choice. She created dozens of iconic looks, including her signature bouffant flip. It’s a hairstyle that will forever be associated with her, even after millions of women all over the world copied it. It’s impossible to overstate the impact Jackie Kennedy had on fashion in our country. She was an icon in a way no First Lady was ever before or ever has again.

 

Sources:
http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1989-01-16/lifestyle/8901170217_1_barbara-bush-fashion-slaves-victor-costa
http://www.divinecaroline.com/entertainment/fun/hair-history-10-first-ladies-and-their-famous-dos
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamie_Eisenhower
http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/11/09/mary_todd_lincoln_crazy_bipolar_while_historians_argue_new_spielberg_movie.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joanna-charnas/how-i-learned-to-apprecia_b_9394388.html
http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/05/from_relaxed_to_all_natural_johnny_wright_the_man_behind_first_lady_michelle.html
About the Author
Jeff Chiarelli

Jeff Chiarelli

Jeff Chiarelli is the Director of Marketing at Ogle School. His responsibilities include managing Ogle School's online, print, TV and outdoor advertising and branding and spreading the Ogle gospel.