I usually think of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as the iconic political woman of fashion, but Mamie Eisenhower was also well known for her fashion choices. Mamie greatly contributed to the fashion of the 1950s by wearing what was in style and, for the most part, wearing pieces that could be duplicated and afforded by the middle class. I have a feeling that people loved seeing what she wore almost as much as I love seeing what Kate Middleton wears. Certainly, her hair style was widely copied! Mamie Eisenhower may not be the first person you think of when you think of fashion, but she certainly does have her place in the fashion history of the 1950s.
1. Love of Fashion
In 1948, Mamie Eisenhower was 51, and she wanted to look young and stylish, which she accomplished by being as fashionable as she could. She did not let her age dictate what she wore, which I think is great! In fact, she famously stated, “I hate old-lady clothes. And I shall never wear them.” Mamie attended as many fashion shows as she could, even the shows in Paris. Her love of fashion shows was so well documented that the running joke was that she would definitely come to a charity event if there was a fashion show!
2. The New Look
In 1947, Christian Dior presented the New Look to the world, which was characterized by a cinched in waist and full skirt. It was not unlike my favorite full skirt that is currently in style! Like me, Mamie adored this look and was absolutely devoted to it. In fact, she essentially created her own version of it, consisting of a dress with a full skirt made of silk or taffeta with a 13 inch hemline. This is a little too restrictive for my taste, but Mamie loved the look. Despite this almost uniform nature of her wardrobe, the beauty of Mrs. Eisenhower was that she didn’t feel the need to stick to high fashion. Her New Look was a toned down version of the couture look, which meant that many women could relate to her and emulate her style. In this sense, she was not unlike Michelle Obama or Kate Middleton. I guess we will always adore someone in power who has a great fashion sense!
3. Pink and More Pink
I love the color purple, but I must admit that I don’t wear it that often. However, Mamie Eisenhower brought her favorite color, pink, into almost every aspect of her life. “First Lady Pink” was a color that adorned everything from the White House bathroom fixtures to Mamie’s Inaugural Ball gown! I think all of that pink would have made my eyes cross, but it was an extremely popular color in the 50s. Men had pink shoes, teen girls wore hot pink, toasters were pink, and even cars were pink. It covered everything in the 50s, but pink’s status as a feminine color today just might be attributed to Mamie’s devotion of the color! Just think, you could have worn pink as a baby girl because Mamie wore it everywhere!
4. Extravagant Fur
When I would visit my grandma as a little girl, I would play dress-up with her fur coat. It was a gift she received from her father in the 1950s, and I thought I looked really chic in the oversized coat and giant high heels! I may have had fun playing with the coat, but fur was a serious fashion statement in the 1950s. Mamie adored her fur coat and wore it like an accessory, not just as something that would keep her warm. It was an extravagant look, and when a reporter asked what her coat was made of she replied, “Mink, of course.” There was no question it could have been made of something else!
5. Charm Bracelets
I once tried to start a charm bracelet, but it didn’t go very far because I got bored. However, charm bracelets were extremely popular in the 1950s among teens, debutantes, and college girls, and they were made even more popular by the First Lady’s love of them. Mamie loved young things, and charm bracelets were very popular among the youth. She took the charm bracelet to another level and popularized it even more. Mamie’s version was more expensive, and she often posed so she could showcase her bracelet. She had more than one, but her charm bracelet with 21 charms from milestones in Ike’s career speaks to her position as a political wife in the 1950s. If I ever started a charm bracelet again, I am pretty sure I would only get charms representing my life, but maybe I will change my mind one day!
Although not very popular now, hats once covered almost every woman’s head. Mrs. Eisenhower’s head was no different. Mamie loved hats and felt they were the answer to making every woman feel pretty. She wore a hat everywhere. Not surprisingly, the “airwave” hat that adorned her head during President Eisenhower’s inauguration was so popular that knockoffs flew off the shelves at Macy’s. She made this bowl shaped hat as popular as Michelle Obama has made J. Crew!
7. Those Bangs
Every picture of my mother taken during her childhood shows her with these incredibly short bangs that hit the middle of her forehead. Personally, I don’t think it was the most flattering look, but my grandparents had her get her hair cut this way. Whether they knew it or not, they were styling my mother’s hair after Mamie Eisenhower’s. Mamie was famous for wearing her bangs very short. It was her signature look, and it resulted in her bangs being called “the famous bangs”. Many women, my mother included, had their hair styled in a similar fashion. Although Mamie’s bangs were probably not demanded like Jennifer Aniston’s “Rachel haircut,” they were popular. See if you can find any pictures of your female relatives with this haircut. I bet you can.
Today, Jackie Kennedy eclipses Mamie Eisenhower as a fashion star, but Mamie did have an influence on fashion that is not to be forgotten. She popularized many styles. Even today, her favorite full skirt is making a comeback, which I am thankful for as it is a favorite of mine. What is a favorite look of yours from the 1950s?
Marling, Karal Ann. As Seen on TV -The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994. Print