First Ladies of Fashion


Can you name the top three fashion highlights in the last 50 years in this country? Your wedding doesn’t count, but Lynda Bird Johnson Robb’s and Tricia Nixon Cox’s weddings do, at least to fashion illustrator Steven Stipelman, who spoke last week at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda.

His presentation was the first of six lectures in the Dressing the First Lady series that runs through June 12.

What about the third highlight? Stipelman went political again, saying it was the Reagan Inaugural Week because of Nancy’s influence on styles at the time.


But the mother of all modern fashion events, says Stipelman, was beyond our coasts--Prince Charles’ and Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981. Not only were style-watchers wondering what she would wear, they also wondered what the 2,500 people attending the ceremony would parade in in front of the cameras.

“A dress is part of time and records a moment of history,” Stipelman told the audience, many of whom were fashion students. “Without knowledge of the past, you can’t really be in the present.”

As a teacher at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Parsons School of Design, both in New York, Stipelman said that a designer needs to study the past to see how much fashion runs in cycles. The resurgence of the Jackie Kennedy look, as created by Oleg Cassini in the ‘60s, is the latest evidence of this.

As an illustrator for Women’s Wear Daily for 25 years, Stipelman recalled the competitive moments, when everyone wanted to see a preview of a wedding dress or inaugural ball gown.

He remembers staffers at WWD once sneaking out a 1-inch piece of fabric so they could illustrate a gown before the world saw it on television.


The lecture series, which focuses on the changing trends of First Lady fashions, continues March 7 with Victor Costa, who designed gowns for Lady Bird Johnson and Rosalynn Carter. On April 17, Arnold Scaasi will talk about his creations for Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and Barbara Bush, followed May 8 with Albert Capraro, one of Betty Ford’s favorite designers, and on May 21, Herbert Kasper will talk about his work for Rosalynn Carter and Lady Bird Johnson.


The last presentation, on June 12, will feature Priscilla Kidder, who designed bridal dresses for the Johnson and Nixon daughters. There will be a bridal fashion show, and Tricia and Edward Cox will be on hand to watch a re-creation of their wedding that took place June 1971 in the White House Rose Garden.