My no-holds-barred, tell-it-like-it-is list of the fiercest, most fashionable First Ladies of all time is after the jump. And I think you’ll be SHOCKED by who made the list and who didn’t.
5) Yes, Jackie is at number five. No, we aren’t counting upwards. I just think she’s over-rated as a First Lady, that’s all. Sure, she brought peddle-pushers and ballet flats to the White House – but really, what’s so great about peddle pushers and ballet flats? And between her goo-goo little girl voice and the “aren’t-I-clever” boarding school French, I sometimes just want to throw up. I MUCH prefer the manic, point-and-charge “I’ll-take-ten-in-every-color” Hurricane Jackie O of the ‘70s, blowing through the upscale dress shops of Athens, Rome, and Capri, filling the hole in her loveless marriage to Aristotle Onassis with MORE jewelry, MORE clothes, all the while her sunglasses kept getting bigger and bigger – OH! YES! That’s MY Jackie. The Jackie of the disco era who hung out with Truman and Andy and went to the premiere of Deep Throat. Hell, I’ll even take dilettante Book Editor Jackie over First Lady Jackie any day, THAT’S how strongly I feel about it. So number five she is.
4) Lady Bird Johnson. We had a First Lady called Lady Bird. Who did A LOT of gardening. And feuded with Eartha Kitt. That’s all.
3) The criminally underappreciated Pat Nixon. She’s been unfortunately tarred with the same brush that painted her husband, I suspect, but was actually quite the fashion icon. The very embodiment of that early ‘70s/mother-of-the-bride chic that I love so much (and she was a LEGENDARY mother of the bride, see pic above). As the country dissolved into chaos and social unrest and hippyism – and the kids stopped washing their hair and wore peasant dresses and granny glasses, yuck – Pat was a class act and stayed prim and buttoned up for her country’s sake. THANK YOU FOR THAT! And when the scandal of Watergate hit, Pat knew that looking proper and putting her best foot forward was the way to rise above it. Way to keep your head held high, honey!
2) Nancy! Nancy! Nancy! WHAT a woman! Not since Eva Peron has anyone worked so hard, climbed so high, and held on with such tenacity! Has there ever been a first lady who so perfectly epitomized the era in which she ruled? Never. And make no mistake about it, Nancy WAS America’s ruler for eight opulent years of Republican glory. In the greed-is-good age of conspicuous consumption, Nancy was THE supreme tastemaker and social arbiter. She opened the White House doors to the glittery doyennes of New York’s nouvelle society who, in return, made her their queen. Her reign was full of THEATER! DRAMA! GLAMOUR! And those wonderful BLOOD RED ADOLFO SUITS FOR DAY! She was the brittle yang to Jackie Kennedy’s yin. Whereas Jackie’s brand of chic was easy-breezy and to the manner born, Nancy came by her sense of style through sheer determination. She fought her way up from the Hollywood trenches, BY GOD, and treated this as THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME. When she walked through those White House doors it was NOUVEAU RICHE IN DA HOUSE, BITCH. Sèvres chafing dishes for everyone! Sure she was a horrible harpy and a soulless human being –and if you were gay in the ‘80s you no doubt hated the Reagan administration for their homophobic non-response to the AIDS epidemic – but think of Nancy as an unwritten Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. Maybe then you’ll able to see her for what she is: One of the great camp figures of the 20th century. Remember, it took 240 years and Kirsten Dunst to make Marie Antoinette fun again.
And my NUMBER ONE favorite First Lady:
You probably thought I was going to go with one of the obvious choices like Dolly Madison or Edith Wilson or, hell, even crazy old Mary Todd Lincoln. But no. I’m going with my girl Mamie Eisenhower. Just look at that ugly little face! I love her SO MUCH! She looks like a turtle with a merkin on its head! I want to hug her and squeeze her and tell her looks aren’t everything. But she knew that. She was fine with who she was. She doesn’t try and hide her ugliness or gussy it up. No. She rolled those bangs up as high as she could and exposed as much of that billboard forehead as she pleased. You think to yourself: Maybe if she tried sausage curls or peekaboo bangs or perhaps a cunning hat? But that’s not Mamie’s style. And to her eternal credit, she made that hideous hairdo into THE de facto look of the ’50s. EVERYONE copied her. Think about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and Jane Wyman and June Allison and every TV mom of that period. They were ALL sporting the Mamie bangs. Why, even Bettie Page and Joey Arias owe a debt to my lady-lover! So. What do I take away from that? The knowledge that you don’t need to be young and beautiful to start trends or be in vogue. Even us ugly, old gals can still have our day in the sun. Thank you, darling Mamie. I’ll always love you most of all! YAY!
Go ahead, yell at me on Twitter @JSJdarling or Facebook for including Nancy Reagan (and calling Mamie ugly), then tell me YOUR favorite first lady. And for the record, I love Michelle Obama, but I need some historical distance to judge her properly. Let’s talk in five years and see if her shadow is bigger or smaller.