Fashion

By November 14, 2018 No Comments

The Transformation of Lady Bird

How fashion changed the perception of Lady Bird

From the time Lady Bird Johnson’s husband was elected Vice President, Claudia Johnson was from then on always under the eye of the public for how she dressed. This is how Lady Bird Johnson revitalized her wardrobe.
First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson had a proclivity for what her husband derisively called
“muley” colors of grays and browns. In the age of teenage rebellion and rock and roll, Johnson managed to retain a conservative style. It wasn’t until her husband was elected as vice president in 1964, however, she brightened her appearance overnight – wearing a array of citrus colors of yellows, oranges and greens. She would retain, in the age of teenage rebellion and rock and roll, Johnson a conservative style despite the radical change in women’s clothing by the end of her tenure. The measure against which Lady Bird Johnson was judged as having negligible influence on clothing style was the industry suggestion was that her garments were too plain and that she was unwilling to make an indelible impression with color, cut or any other innovation. She may well be most remembered in the comfortable and casual style clothing, including pants, western boots and rancher hats, that she naturally wore while relaxing on the LBJ Ranch in Texas.

When Parnis dressed the first ladies, she created an attainable material manifestation of the fantasies of women wished to be thrust into the spotlight.

Housed in the Texas Fashion Collection are pieces that once belonged to Lady Bird, during her years as Americas most compared to Jackie Onassis First Lady. And although her style was regarded as “plain”, many of her dresses were designed by Mollie Parnis, an American designer who found success through “knowing what people want to wear” and by casting herself as one of those people. Blurring the lines between designer, editor, and socialite, Parnis forged a path of commercial success through her role as a tastemaker. Like Parnis, many of her clients – either through their own work or that of their spouses -gained their power, prestige, and income through routes characterized by highly visible lifestyles. Often associated with the media or the political world, these women relied on their public images. Parnis’s most public proponents were American first ladies, women embodied Parnis’s ethos. When Parnis dressed the first ladies, she created an attainable material manifestation of the fantasies of women wished to be thrust into the spotlight.

Closer Look

This ensemble was acquired by Mrs. Johnson at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, Texas. Mrs. Johnson wore the ensemble while her husband was Vice President of the United States, including the ceremony for the Swearing-in and reception for assistant secretaries and Presidential appointees, held in the East Room of the White House, Washington, D.C., on January 29, 1961, and in the Blue Room of the White House on the same day for a ceremony greeting Cadets from Service Academies. In 1966, Mrs. Johnson donated the ensemble to the Les Femmes du Monde charity auction in Dallas, from which it was purchased by Mrs. Clint Murchison, Jr. Mrs. Murchison donated the garment to the Dallas Museum of Fashion after the sale. October 16, 1966 Dallas Morning News, p.1, has an article on the Les Femmes du Monde sale, mentioning the ensemble.
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Lady Bird revitalized her wardrobe with Parnis’s assistance, articles in newspapers and magazines favorably described Lady Bird’s clothing and recasted her as a member of the social aristocracy.

Parnis continued her ascent as a fashion figure through her relationship with Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson. Though active in her husband’s presidential campaign and a successful businesswoman in her own right, Lady Bird failed to meet the press’s expectations for fashionability. Working together, the two women reinvented the first lady’s public image. Once Lady Bird revitalized her wardrobe with Parnis’s assistance, articles in newspapers and magazines favorably described Lady Bird’s clothing and recasted her as a member of the social aristocracy. Towards the end of her time as First Lady, Lady Bird – like Parnis – found herself at the height of her fashion celebrity. Both women appeared on “best dressed” lists, illustrating the media exposure that came from their fashionability. A 1967 Associated Press article named Lady Bird among the twelve best dressed women in the United States, as selected by American fashion editors.