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tv   The Presidency Pat Nixon Betty Ford  CSPAN  July 1, 2021 10:19am-11:11am EDT

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well-known today as watergate. >> michael dobbs on this episode of book notes plus. listen at or wherever you get your podcasts. >> next on american history tv, historian carl sferrazza anthony looks at the fashion choices of pat nixon and betty ford reflected the culture of their times. he is the author of a book on first ladies and fashion and this talk is one of a series. the richard nixon foundation hosted this 50-minute event. >> ladies and gentlemen, my name is chris nordyke i'm the richard nixon foundation's director and i'm honored to introduce today's speaker. the nixon library has presented first ladies exhibits before and offered lectures on similar
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topics, but we hadn't tackled the project of offering a first ladies exhibit and luncheon and lecture series all combined. when planning and coordinating the concept, we analyzed the needs and quickly noted the need for a specialized guest curator. carl anthony is one of the nation's foremost experts on presidential wives and their families. he's penned over a dozen books and has had the privilege to interview the clintons, laura bush, as well as the nixons and the fords. his accolades are vast and many. the staff of the nixon foundation and the richard nixon presidential library have enjoyed a long friendship and professional relationship with carl. in many ways we consider you part of the family, carl. when we called him back in april to propose the idea of a first ladies exhibit, lecture and luncheon series, carl's enthusiasm was contagious. in five months, five months, the concept has become a reality.
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ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming carl anthony. [ applause ] >> thank you. thank you for all of you who are here today, many of you here for all of the lectures. a special thanks also to chris. we have thanked a lot of individual staff members and everyone has contributed and played a role, but certainly chris has been very calm in overseeing that all of these events have gone smoothly. so special thanks to chris nordyke. [ applause ] and, you know, from bill director of the foundation to cheryl the secretary to jim, i'm giving you their first names,
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maybe some of you know them all, but really i gave 100% only because i saw that i was getting 100% back from everybody. this has been an amazing experience. it's the kind of professional experience that is ideal and i wish everyone would be able to have. i'm also especially happy to be making -- giving the final lecture today about two individuals that not only are important historically, and i think quite often overlooked, but were two individuals that held a very special personal meaning to me. pat nixon and betty ford. as i was saying earlier today, people do forget about these women. you know, we look at them and it's always so easy to look at
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historical figures, you know, in one dimension, but we forget that a woman that was born in nevada, but really grew up and considered herself californian, pat nixon and another from michigan, betty ford, were two women who made their way, their own way, in the world. they both worked as young women, in the case of mrs. nixon, getting an education she knew was going to be the answer for her chance to be part of a larger world, beyond that of her community. both women understood in coming to the white house at the time in the women's movement understood the real rational thinking behind the idea of equal pay for equal work, and they both in quiet yet forward
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and progressive ways were taking some of the more radical elements of what was then thought of as the women's movement or the feminist movement and integrating them into their remarks, into the way they responded to the press and in this sort of gentle way this notion of these two, quote, housewives or certainly mothers or as the public thought of them at that time traditional women, of course, overlooking their lives before they were married, in this way it helped move things forward. certainly not without controversy, but it was also as we were discussing today, i was mentioning as part of a strong traditional that it was the republican party that had first
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in the senate put up the equal rights amendment. that was 1922 and people forget that. it's just something people think of the equal rights amendment as something that occurred in the 1970s, but it actually had been proposed by a republican senator in 1922. so the struggle for women's equality was a long one and certainly these two women played a part. when we look at patricia ryan nixon and see that she worked her whole life, first on a family truck farm not far from here, just in what was then called artesia and now known as cerritos. we know that apart from going to school and working at a bank and working on the family truck farm and selling the produce she was
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also planting and with her two brothers, bill and tom, and her parents, picking the produce. so you would think often as she would at the time be wearing overalls, but this is a fascinating photograph because it actually shows her -- it's a close up with two other friends and she's a young woman here in southern california in orange county, mostly then, of course, farm country and they've climbed atop a water tower and there she is wearing pants. pants were actually something mrs. nixon even as a young woman always enjoyed wearing. in a letter she wrote to her aunt when -- during her junior year at usc, she was working
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part-time at bullochs wilshire in los angeles she revealed that she always wore pants to work and that many of her co-workers were disappointed because they said they wanted to see her beautiful figure in dresses, but she considered it more professional to wear pants. and that becomes a little bit of a metaphor for pat nixon. she went about her work whether it was as a young woman, whether it was as a wife and a mother, whether it was as first lady quietly and effectively without a need for publicity, always with the intention of truly helping those she was intending to assist. richard nixon in 1952 when he gives his famous checkers speech
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mentioned for the first time by a political figure, vice presidential candidate, but enters for the first time into the popular imagination the idea of clothing and politics when he talks about, as he put it, pat's respectable cloth coat. republican cloth coat. of course, it was meant as a point to be made that they were not wealthy and that his wife did not have a mink coat. but in doing that he formally unwittingly, i believe, but formally introduced to the public this idea of clothing carrying a political symbolism. before that it had been done, of course, but without the subtext necessarily being revealed. of course, here is mrs. nixon in her famous cloth coat during the
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1952 presidential campaign. pat nixon as vice president's wife for eight years traveled the globe and went without any personal assistant. she packed all of her own clothing and she ironed not only her husband's clothes, but her own, and arranged it so that she could wear clothing that was appropriate to each culture of each nation that she was visiting, always careful not to repeat wearing the clothing, you know, in a way that timewise that coverage of her in one country would not get to the next country so that it wouldn't look like she was wearing anything of the same and kind of trying to show respect to each
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country she was visiting by appearing in something different. it was during the 1960 campaign that the issue of potential first ladies and their clothing was really thrust into national headlines and made a political issue. the media had essentially created an artificial, quote, race for the first lady between pat nixon and jackie kennedy. it began with a story claiming that mrs. kennedy and her mother-in-law rose kennedy spent $30,000 a year on clothes in paris, to which jackie very famously responded i couldn't spend that much money on clothing unless i wore sable underwear. she then made a remark talking about, well, mrs. nixon -- it was a back-handed compliment but of course a political one and so
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she said, mrs. nixon dresses very well. she buys her clothes at elizabeth arden's and those are not inexpensive. so you saw coverage of the two candidates' wives from an image of news week magazine and the lower center image was a composite put together on ladies home journal. of course, the cartoon at the far left, i hope dick and jack finally realize what their destiny hangs on. and if the two candidates' wives are walking down a fashion runway. and the center image at the top is inauguration day the morning of the kennedy inaugural, january '61. you have with her back to the camera lady bird johnson, the incoming vice president's wife, then seated mamie eisenhower the
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outgoing first lady, jackie kennedy the incoming and pat nixon the outgoing vice president's wife and in the famous tapes that jackie kennedy later made, her oral history released in 2011, she commented on how attractive mrs. nixon appeared that day at the inauguration and what she called a california style. pat nixon became first lady in an era where according to newspaper coverage that i certainly did a lot of research on for our book, there was a wild and radical variety of clothing. women in pants, women in mini skirts, women in maxi skirts which reached the floor, solid colors but also patterns of all kinds. so pat nixon generally refrained from wearing some of the more
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radical look of the period, although she did wear kind of a wild pattern dress but that was actually for a halloween party at the far right, and then what was popular sort of beach wear of the time, lilly pulitzer as she's seen in the center in florida with president nixon. pat nixon was described as wearing cheery california colors or the california look, and one does find that in her wardrobe there is a strong element of oranges, greens and yellows. the cheery colors that she always ended up going to as her best default choices, and she very rarely except for the most solemn of occasions would wear
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black because president nixon disliked seeing women in black. he said it reminded him of some of the more severe aspects of his quaker upbringing and childhood. so she tried to always wear the bright colors that reflected her beloved california. she was also perhaps more than -- certainly before any first lady before her, wore the shortest skirts ever seen on a first lady, well above the knee. this was something commented on in the press, again, at a time when people were trying to figure out what was appropriate and what was inappropriate. mrs. nixon, as i said, tended to modulate or moderate, if you will, what were some of the more
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extreme fashions of the day, but you could even see in the white dress at the far right, at that point in history -- this is mostly from 1969 and 1970s, the first two years of the nixon presidency -- she is appearing in dresses shorter than any first lady had ever worn before. she told reporters that women invited to the white house were encouraged to wear, as she put it, whatever they choose to be the most appropriate and appealing on them. and she, in fact, made reference to some of the issues of the era, roe versus wade, like the equal rights amendment and like the idea of women on the
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supreme court. three issues that pat nixon supported as first lady. that it was the year of choice for women and you certainly did see that not only with the women guests who came to the white house, some of whom wore long dresses, some of whom wore trouser suits and some of whom wore the very short dresses as you see here at an evening reception, the first lady held with two of her guests. but you also saw that reflected in her daughters who tended to wear very short dresses in the beginning of the presidency, although while julie attended -- tended to stick to the mini dress tricia began to adopt the maxi dress and appropriately enough mrs. nixon eventually seemed to settle on what was called the midi dress, m-i-d-i,
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so it was short, medium and long. and the question of how short pat nixon's dresses were for a brief time did become one of public speculation and kind of a point of cultural reference. one magazine looking at some of the dresses that she was seen in and trying to examine exactly what the length of her hem was. in fact, it was while her daughters were shopping in new york for a wardrobe for the 1968 campaign that mrs. nixon complimented her daughter julie when she tried on a green mini skirt. it was in the showroom of a designer in new york at the time called vincent minion and of course the knicks ens at the time lived in new york and julie
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told her mom why don't you try it on because they wore the exact same size. from the best we could find that is how it is that mrs. nixon came to try the mini dress.size. from the best we could find that is how it is that mrs. nixon came to try the mini dress. she also adapted another style that actually started or it's believed to have started in southern california in the glendale area, although some accounts claim it started in london, and that was called the granny dress. what mrs. nixon did was worked with designers and taking different motifs from those granny dresses which were of course evoked a little bit more of a rustic kind of natural feel and adapted it to her own style. of course, she was first lady and so she couldn't appear at
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receptions at one of those begun gunny sack dresses but she did adapt it and i think it looked quite flattering on her. she was also a first lady unusual from all of her predecessors in that she literally touched people. when pat nixon went along a rope line she did not merely shake hands. she hugged people, she kissed people, she was very physically demonstrative. what this led to was her asking designers to begin making dresses with large pockets because many people gave her letters or notes for her or for the president and she did not want an intermediary editing them out or not giving them to
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her. what i think is the guiding principle of pat nixon as first lady is this idea of serving the people. she in every way -- and it was subtle, but you begin to see a through line of her five years as first lady and it is about making herself and about making the white house itself as accessible to the public and the common man as woman as much as was possible and as much as security would permit. so you really did see -- especially when she traveled alone when the security detail was not as intense as of course it naturally is whenever you travel with the president, you really see her genuinely, warmly interacting with people. of course, perhaps her most
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iconic piece of clothing was the red coat, red overcoat that she wore to china while accompanying the president on his historic 1972 visit to china. this took place the very same year that american households at that point had more color tvs than black and white. 1972. it also came at a time when the technology of film was giving way to video and so there was a more immediate ability to transmit footage, live footage, and so it was not just americans, but people all over the world who were watching the footage and the video that was
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coming back each day from china with pat nixon in her bright red coat. now, you have to remember not only was it of course an eye popping color, but that at the time all chinese citizens, male and female, were expected to dress uniformly in either drab green or dark blue. with all of the men who were traveling with her husband's official entourage, being in black or dark navy or other dark colors, pat nixon really was the bright spot of the several day visit to china. many questioned whether somehow this was a nod to communism
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because as some reporters who went on that trip noted, as they came into the -- as they were leaving the airport of beijing, the only sign of color were the massive propaganda posters that surrounded the perimeter of the airport and those all were in the bright red of communist china. in fact, mrs. nixon later suggested that she wore that red as a sign of peace and good luck. and the good luck, the symbolism of red signifying good luck in the chinese culture of course is far ancient preceded by hundreds of years the mao takeover in the mid 20th century. in the fall of 1971 pat nixon
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breaks another cultural taboo and that is she is the first first lady who is seen wearing pants. now, when the nixon presidency started there were articles about whether women who worked at the white house would be, quote, allowed to wear pants, and the word came down that the president did not want any women wearing pants in the white house. mrs. nixon did not wear pants in the white house itself, but she gave a -- granted a very extensive interview for abc, virginia sherwood was the reporter who did an hour-long special on the first lady and with the portions that were filmed at the nixon home in san
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clemente, overlooking the pacific ocean, mrs. nixon was there on film in that national tv special wearing pants. you see a picture of her in the upper left corner there from that interview. several months later in january of 1972 ladies home journal featured the first lady in a fashion spread and there she was posed in two of the -- i think it was five fashion spreads also wearing pants. as if to signal that this was not just a mere coincidence, but a very conscious thing that the first lady was doing are the two images you see that match below on the far left. that's a rather famous image of
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the president and mrs. nixon walking along the pacific right outside of san clemente, there's the first lady in a windbreaker, black slacks and a kerchief. that image was chosen to be used on a presidential -- on president nixon's reelection campaign, his poster that was talking about his environmental protection. really extraordinary environmental protection laws that came in under president nixon. that's the one that the -- from the poster you can perhaps tell is far left there. of course, this was going out to the president's supporters. at that time of course in '72 running against george mcgovern richard nixon of course had the base of more conservative voters. so it was really a little bit of
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a gentle push to depict the first lady of the united states publicly on a campaign poster wearing pants. and then that september 1972 pat nixon went to a national park celebrating its centennial, she was actually there to mark the centennial of the national park system, and there she is, you know, wearing a pair of pants at a public ceremony. now, doing that four times within a year, as i said, makes it rather clear that she is not only more comfortable wearing what she wants to wear, but sending a cultural and somewhat of a political statement. it's gentle, but it's firm.
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she still liked to try to get out to shop. mrs. nixon told virginia sherwood in her interview, because she liked to keep current and see what stores were selling and what prices they were going for. of course, because she was first lady and always traveled with a security entourage, it was not always something that she was able to do easily. in november of 1973 president nixon addressed the nation from the oval office about the oncoming winter and the shorter supply, national supply, of home heating oil and how everyone in the country would have to on a volunteer basis pull together
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and reduce the heating temperature -- the temperatures in their homes to save on oil. this was a message he reaffirmed in his 1974 state of the union address. it was then perhaps no accident that mrs. nixon appeared at that state of the union address wearing a warm sweater suit for the first time in public. in the spring of 1974 pat nixon made a trip to several south american countries and she began wearing some of the new blends as she liked to call them, the noncrushables of synthetic fabrics that allowed her to travel more easily without concern for wrinkles in the clothing and, again, that was also a reflection of a popular
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trend at the time, polyester blends, cotton blends, but those were most in evidence on that trip and the series of appearances she made. appearances that she made. in june of 1974, the first lady accompanied president nixon on a trip as first lady to saudi arabia, and she chose as was her prerogative to not wear a head covering. and while there was a little criticism as commented on in the american press, what it had the effect of doing was setting an
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american precedent that all first ladies subsequent to pat nixon who went to saudi arabia also chose not to wear a head covering. pat nixon and bettie ford were friends of long-standing as a result of their husbands both being in congress together. there was something called the march inning the chowder club which was sort of a social club for congressional and senate families, and this is how the two women became friends. bettie ford said that the day that her husband became
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president was one of the saddest days for her. not because it had anything to do with what was on her shoulders, but because of the departure of her friend pat nixon. bettie ford was truly not prepared to be first lady, and in many of her appearances, her apparel in her initial weeks and months as first lady, what you really saw was what she was a suburban mother. and so, she wore simple clothing and also that she and her husband did not have much discretionary income, and so bettie ford at that time bought everything off of the rack.
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she did have a special friend in alexandria, virginia, not far from the ford home called frankie welch who had a dress shop. and frankie welch did not only design a few original dresses for mrs. ford, but also popularized the scarf. and so the neck scarf became one of the trademark icons of this particular first lady, and in many photographs of bettie ford, you will see that she is wearing a scarf. she also had a preference for the low cut mandarin collar chinese-styled dress. there was an important reason for this. because of course a month after she became first lady, she discovered that she had breast cancer. it required surgery and the
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removal of one of her breasts. she told the american cancer society that once a person who has had breast cancer is elated, of course, to discover that their life has been saved, that there's a second part to dealing with breast cancer, and that was the sense of a stigma of some kind of disfigurement. so, she pointed out that she liked to wear low cut dresses as she evidenced that a woman could wear whatever she wanted, and she discussed it publicly and continued to wear this particular style. of course, because there was no ford inauguration, it was that
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green mandarin collar dress at the far right that represents mrs. ford in the smithsonian collection. mrs. ford also tended to wear a lot of capes and drapery, caftans of course very '70s style. i think that the one there on the far left definitely marks her era well. and there were other trends going on with the women's clothing, and the so-called cowl neck with the sweater or blouse as you can see on the right and the sort of open collar which was a more of a unisex style on
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the left. and of course, the bicentennial, and she said she tried to refrain from getting too corny of wearing the bicentennial, and there were some notable exceptions with the red dresses with the red, white and blue scarves and also dresses with the bald eagle motif. that is now in the library, and she also broke away from the first lady tradition of wearing solid mono chromatic colors. she liked to wear plaids and
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geometric designs, and the yellow piping or the red piping that she wore on the actual bicentennial day on july 4th, 1976. so that is a little bit of an overview of these two women, and what they were wore and why they wore it. i would say in concluding not just today's lecture, but the series that i start where i began, and on this stage in 1990 that i had a chance, and my only chance as it turns out to interact as i will put it with pat nixon. it is tonight before the richard nixon presidential museum was dedicated and there was a reception for the former nixon
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white house staff. at that point i had written my two books, and mrs. nixon although frail had not been doing interviews is or granting them agreed to answer questions that i submitted in writing to her through her daughter julie. both with the help of helen smith who was her press secretary, and her daughter julie, knew that i would be in the audience, and she would signal to me, and i would signal, and she came out and nodded and she gave me a big wink and a wave. bettie ford, i really got to know well, and i must say perhaps breaking the boundaries of professionalism really came to love as a friend. i visited her many times at her
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home in desert before president ford became very frail, and of course, he died at the end of 2005 or 2006, but mrs. ford had a great love of history and a love of the history of first ladies and spoke often about her affection for pat nixon. so, even though between the two of them they represent eight years in the white house, and so from bill clinton to george bush to barack obama, we have had the unusual historic occurrence of three consecutive presidencies of eight years, the last time that happened was jefferson, madison and monroe. so it is easy to forget, of course, the nixon and ford years
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like the johnson and kennedy years that were truncated. but had pat nixon and bettie ford served in the white house at timef enormous change and they were agents of a gentle change towards the future. thank you very much. [ applause ] >> well done. thank you, carl. carl has agreed to take a couple of questions and so we will do that now. so raise your hand, but i want to ask the first onem as i mentioned before, carl is the author of more than a dozen books, and his latest this one "why they wore it" done in collaboration with the exhibit in the series, and it is also available for sale in museum store, and carl would sign it for you if you buy it. but this is done in four months.
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can you tell us a little bit about doing this book in four months? >> i don't know if i should, but it was insane. it was insane, and yet, everybody was doing their part, and i would send images and photographs and they would say, well, we have to find one that is public domain, and so there were various staff members here who were diligent in tracking down that event and finding an image, and it was a lot of back and forth. my now favorite moment of the whole thing was a few days after the fourth of july when my brother, my sister and her husband and my niece and nephew were going down to disneyland and visiting from the east coast, and i said that i need to go to anaheim to get these photographs to our book
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producers. and diana who is here today, and it is one of those days where it was like 110 degrees. the only place with air conditioning was the motel 6 in anaheim, and so we went to disneyland, and din ya and i -- and diana and i were trying to coordinate where with jim, and i was seated in a section of the california experience that was like for kids and i was in a plastic kid's chair and taking notes, and meeting with cheryl's office with cheryl and olivia and going through everything, and all there were like crayons and coloring books, and so i was like in 110 degrees, slathered in sun block, and my cell phone kept sliding off my face, and
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taking notes, and it was crazy. it was crazy. i now know what clinical exhaustion is. but at the end of the day, we all knew we wanted the give the best product and that there was only so much room for information on the panels, and the which would be on the wall with the exhibit. that there was only so much information to be conveyed in the lectures, and so really the book is a summary of the really a compact history of this particular topic. >> thank, carl. our first question. >> first, i would like to say that i like the time for the very important lecture. i was coming through the exhibition, and i was so curious to know why the recent lady's
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first outfit is not in the lobby? >> because except for the very first dress which you saw which is really rare and extraordinary loan by the current first lady, and we have some intermediaries really to thank for that, because it is really amazing gesture. i would say that when we did, and i did an exhibit here with olivia in the 1990s on presidential marriages, and i said to her that at the time that olivia is not here today, but i said, what if -- and this is in 1990s and hillary clinton is in the white house, and i said, what if we went to hillary clinton and asked her to loan us the wedding dress. it was such a crazy idea, and we did it, and sure enough she said yes, and they had to find it in some storage unit in arkansas, but that is really wonderful, because it is kind of what set a
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precedent for this. so it was so generous of mrs. trump to loan that dress. but the others are reproductions of course of the smithsonian collection. and the collection that we borrowed it from which is the eisenhower presidential museum only has the collection going up to barbara bush, so there is nothing of hillary clinton's, laura bush's or michelle obama's. next question. >> this is very good. thank you very much. i wondered because jackie onassis is fmous for her pill box hat, and then pat nixon came about, and then there were no more hats worn by pat nixon or bettie ford, and is that the
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period of no more hats? >> you are very correct. because lady bird johnson wore a hat famously to her husband's 1965 inauguration swearing in ceremony and to hold the bible, and pat nixon decided against it, and she did not want to wear a hat. that was a precedent. i am glad that you mentioned it. only so much that you can mention. but there are so many things that mrs. nixon did in terms of her choices of what she wore that indicated this really frankly independent streak that she was going to do things her way. and actually the hat started back again with hillary clinton, but it was as a sun protector, so it is kind of funny that hillary who was so, and associated with being involved in policy and rather than
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clothing and fashion brings back the hat for first ladies, but as a form of sun protection. we will take one last question, and then afterwards, i will ask you the follow the docents where we will be having lunch. with that, our last question. >> who do you consider the best dressed first lady in dress, and second, who would you consider the one with the most influence on dress? >> i have no question that jacqueline kennedy had the most influence, because it was global. and you will see two images in the book that show it. even in the midst of the cold war behind the iron curtain, there were soviet women's magazines showing off the jackie look which is so extraordinary, and secondly, when she appeared in a leopard coat, there was
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such a instant global demand for leopard coats that the leopard was placed on the endangered species list. so, i mean, it was, and i mean, it was a big business, and it was just, and i could go on about that, and you will see more about that in the book. and as far as the best dressed, and each era does honestly speak about that, and as i said for beginning of the project, i don't know a lot about fashion per se, and i'm not even all that interested, and i say it with great respect for what is a craft, and business and important industry. but, the politics, in the popular culture that it reflects, whereas there is a statement about what i know about, and so i am not necessarily the best judge as you can tell by my own clothing
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of what is looking good on people, men or women, but i do think that each era, and for example ms. harding really captured the spirit of the roaring '20s and the new woman as they were called just given the right to vote. and grace coolidge wearing the very short skirts of the flapper era and kind of what mrs. nixon did modulating what are some of the more exaggerated things, and in a way, bess truman is kind of fun, because as i said in the first lecture, she wore gray and she wore navy blue and a statement of don't pay any attention to me. thank you very much. >> carl, thank you. we will see you all in the east room. i hope you enjoy your lunch.
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