Pat Nixon – The Unlikely First Lady Fashionista

Call her tainted by her husband’s legacy. Or forgotten because she seemed to be the shy, retiring type. But during her five years and eight months in the White House, Pat Nixon exhibited a sense of style that helped American women feel good about themselves.

In 1972, at the age of 60, she was the cover model for Ladies’ Home Journal. She wore red embroidered kimono-style dress for the cover shot. There were plenty of belted outfits on the fashion spread inside the magazine, too. And even though she was nearly always seen in public wearing a dress or a skirt (rumor was that Richard Nixon did not like women in pants), she modeled several stylish pants suits in the spread. In the era of the mini-skirt, she wore her dresses just above the knee, but she maintained a tailored look that conveyed a stylish conservatism that was in keeping with her image.

One thing Pat was not conservative about was color. She wore a varied palette of vivid hues – pinks, turquoises, deep blues, yellows, and greens. She had a complexion that allowed her to wear a variety of colors across the warm/cool spectrum, all of which looked good on her.

In the summer of 2014, I had the privilege of seeing Pat Nixon’s 1969 inaugural gown when it was on display as part of a special exhibit at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (in West Branch, Iowa). The gown was a standout among many standouts. Made of silk satin in a vivid mimosa yellow, the gown’s long-sleeved waist length jacket was embroidered in gold and silver metallic thread and encrusted with turquoise, purple and silver Austrian crystals. The designer was Karen Stark of Harvey Berin, an American couturier noted for adapting French fashions to American tastes. Stark had also been a favorite of Lady Bird Johnson.

Pat Nixon’s choice of color also conveyed her own sense of purpose: Yellow is a color that is considered unifying, and she was, although many do not realize this, one who worked to bring people together.

Pat Nixon in a colorful pink dress

Pat Nixon in a colorful pink dress