White House History Journal › Fashion

Sarah Polk Dress / "Back on the Job," Theodore Roosevelt in Puck Magazine

Left: This silk day dress from the collection of the James K. Polk Ancestral Home may have been worn by First Lady Sarah Polk at the White House (Bruce White For The White House Historical Association). Right: A satirical cartoon from Puck Magazine lampooning President Theodore Roosevelt’s introduction of a new usher’s uniform, September 26, 1906. (Library of Congress)

This issue of White House History, the award-winning journal of the White House Historical Association, introduces costume to the White House. Looking good speaks for itself. At the White House, it is a requirement. The desired image for presidents and first ladies traditionally mingles simplicity with appropriateness.

“They need not be fashion plates, although some have been that, as, for example Dolley Madison and Jacqueline Kennedy — and as you will see from this issue, Sarah Polk, Edith Wilson, and Frances Cleveland,” writes editor, William Seale. “Casualness is hard to sustain, and can send an undesirable message of laxness, so some level of formality and organization has always been needed to frame the president and first lady in their house.”

This issue of the journal begins with “Presidential Valets: Confidants of the Wardrobe” by Sam Childers. “Fashion and Frugality: First Lady Sarah Polk” is addressed by Conover Hunt and Annette M. Dunlop looks at “Frances Folsom Cleveland’s White House Wardrobe.” Elaine M. Gibbs showcases “Woodrow and Edith Wilson: Costumed for the World Stage” while Gaye Wilson shares her impressions in “Dressing Down for the Presidency: Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Simplicity.” In his article “Livery at the White House: The Failed Plan to Establish a Whiff of Monarchy,” Matthew C. Sherman writes about American sentiment against aping the airs of monarchy. White House History also features “Outfitting Jefferson Today: Bill Barker at Colonial Williamsburg” and “The Press was not Impressed: President Nixon’s Stylish Security Uniforms.”

White House History is published twice each year by the White House Historical Association and features articles on White House history, architecture, fine and decorative arts, and gardens as well as stories about the occupants of the White House and their experiences living there. White House History is available for $6.95 per copy. To order please call toll-free 1-800-555-2451 or visit our website whitehousehistory.org/whitehousehistory

The White House Historical Association, established in 1961, is a charitable nonprofit organization whose goal is to enhance the understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the White House. To fulfill its purpose, the White House Historical Association produces educational literature and films, develops special programs, and maintains a website interpreting the White House and its history and the persons and events associated with it. From private funding and the sale of its educational products, the association supports the acquisition of artwork and historic furnishings for the White House, contributes to the conservation of the public rooms, and furthers its educational mission.