Style and Influence: First Ladies’ Fashions

From the first days on a campaign trail to the final days living in the White House, the First Ladies of the United States have attracted attention in numerous ways. Both historic and modern First Ladies have harnessed the power of fashion to build identity and inform Americans. In conjunction with our exhibition “Making Their Mark,” we present a distinguished panel to discuss and examine the fashions of America’s First Ladies through conversation and photos. Moderated by Tim Gunn, star of Project Runway, panelists include Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology; Lisa Kathleen Graddy, Deputy Chair and Chief Curator of Political History and the First Ladies Collection, Smithsonian National Museum of American History; and Tracy Reese, a fashion designer who has designed for First Lady Michelle Obama. Presented in partnership with the White House Historical Association.

Tuesday, September 30, at 7 p.m. in the William G. McGowan Theater

The discussion will be streamed live on YouTube.

Corsets on the brain

These days I’ve been cramming as many corset books and writings onto my noggin as possible.  “Corset Magic” by Ann Grogan on the tablet while I use the elliptical at the gym, “The Corset: A Cultural History” by Valerie Steele in the dry sauna (because it’s saddle stitched!), and “Fashion and Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing, and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture” by David Kunzle in bed before turning out the light.

Unfortunately, I am a slow reader with minimal time on my hands.  Here’s my pitch to any author that I will happily assist in creating audiobook versions of your corset-relevant writings for other busy enthusiasts.  Experience: public speaking to groups sized 5 to 2,000+ for 10 years, both with prepared content and impromptu speeches.


Some individuals act so damaged. So broken and aloof. For fear of what? The individual who has truly lost everything loves with all of their heart and has no fear of it breaking. These souls fear nothing. They have already been run through the deepest tunnels of sorrow. They have seen the darkest side of the moon. You cannot even tell what they have been through. It is excruciatingly difficult to even glance a glimmer; they are quite secretive really. So for individuals to act so….affected….it just looks….yeah.

”In academia, fashion is frivolous, sexist, bourgeois, materialist and beneath contempt,” Valerie Steele said. But one day in 1978, she was taking a seminar on European history when a classmate gave a presentation on the Victorian corset, questioning whether or not it was oppressive. The proverbial light bulb went on. ”I could have this new field in cultural history, in material culture, and study gender, sex and social psychology in fashion,” Ms. Steele said. That seminar led to her doctoral dissertation, which turned into her first book, ”Fashion and Eroticism,” published by Oxford University Press in 1985.
…..The exhibition was also the setting for the Metropolitan’s “Party of the Year”, on the night of December 9, where guests of honor were Galliano and Diana, former princess of Wales, who wore Galliano’s inaugural design for Dior. Tickets for the dinner party cost $1,ooo per person; those who came for just the drinks and dancing paid $140 each. In the crush to enter the dance party, one woman stepped on the hem of another woman’s dress and tore it. “You bitch, you’re ruined my $7,000 dress!”, screamed the victim, who punched the other woman in the face. Their escorts stood awkwardly aside, while the two women fought on the entrance stairs.
—  Exhibition Review: Christian Dior, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Valerie Steele. Fashion Theory, volume 1 issue 2.
Fashion School 101: Valerie Steele Weighs In

The chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology talks fashion scholarships and taking clothes seriously.

Valerie Steele is one of the most coveted people at FIT. She is fabulous, knowledgable (the woman went to Yale), and a walking fashion encyclopedia. She curates some of the best fashion exhibits in the industry and runs one of the most unique places a college campus could ever have. 

This week, Harper’s Bazaar interviewed Ms. Steele to get insights on her opinions about scholarships, internships and what her education background is.