The 40 Most Controversial First Lady Fashion Moments in History

Heels are always a great choice for a natural disaster.

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When you're the first lady, everyone's watching your every move. When successful, a first lady can use her clothing to her advantage to relay a message. Other times not so much. Some past first ladies like Hillary Clinton were criticized for her fashion choices long before becoming a presidential candidate. Others like Melania Trump are currently winning the tally for how many times she can make the public question her outfits. Here, all the first lady fashion moments that have ruffled feathers over the years.

portrait of edith roosevelt
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Edith Kermit Roosevelt

Most first ladies in the 19th century were very open, but Edith Roosevelt didn't like to be in the spotlight. This led people to obsess over her every move, from her children to what she would wear. One of the things she did to keep the press at bay was wear the same outfit over and over to throw off reporters and make them believe she had a larger closet than she did. The "horrible" truth wouldn't come out until years after she lived in the White House.

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Abigail Smith Adams

Wearing French fashion in the 19th century was a very on-trend thing to do, but not everyone was on board. Unlike other first ladies, Abigail Adams rejected the popular French style and frowned upon other women wearing it. In a letter to her sister, she wrote about her agreement with a local preacher against the latest fashion, noting that he "thinks there are some ladies in this city, who stand in need of admonition, and I fully agree with him." Uh, rude?

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frances folsom cleveland in gown
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Frances Folsom Cleveland

Younger than most first ladies (she took on the role at age 21), Frances Folsom Cleveland liked to wear dresses that showed off her bare neck, shoulders, and arms. According to Time, the Women's Christian Temperance Union found it so concerning they issued a petition asking her to stop wearing these dresses, but that didn't stop her.

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Louisa Catherine Adams

Alright, this one is more about beauty than fashion, but it still caused quite a stir. Reportedly, Louisa Catherine Adams is the first first lady to wear makeup, using homemade face powder and lipstick against her husband's wishes. John Quincy Adams was so against it that when he saw the blush on her cheeks, he picked up a towel himself and washed it all away.

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Mary Todd Lincoln

1861 ball gowns, but make it fashun. Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd, was often criticized by the public for her ball gown purchases during the Civil War, which would cost upward of $2,000 (yes, that is a lot for the time period). Lincoln would defend her by stating, "The President glances at my rich dresses and is happy to believe that the few hundred dollars that I obtain from him supply all my wants." Same.

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Dolley Madison

Throwback to 1809. Dolley Madison was the wife of former president James Madison, and was often criticized for showing a little more cleavage than usual for the times.

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Rosalynn Carter

Before sustainability became a trend, Rosalynn Carter wore this blue dress with gold trim for President Jimmy Carter's 1977 Inaugural Ball. According to Time, she had worn the dress publicly two times before the event, thus making this her third appearance in the outfit. This raised many eyebrows because she chose such a high-profile event to be an outfit repeater.

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president nixon and wife visiting china
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Patricia Nixon

On the famous 1972 trip to China, Patricia Nixon wore a bright red coat, but it wasn't for nothing. Knowing international cameras were going to be on her all the time, she wore the colored coat so it'd be easier for the cameras and people back home watching to spot her. Not as "controversial" as most, but definitely a statement.

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Michelle Obama

Despite her major style evolution throughout her eight years in office, Michelle Obama's first fashion statement on stage at the 2008 election gathering had the public buzzing. Would this be a preview of her style in the White House? Will she *always* wear three-quarter sleeve dresses? Will she *always* smile this big?

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Melania Trump

There's always conversation about who will dress the first lady on inauguration day, but Trump didn't seem to have too many designers lining up for her last year. The first lady ended up wearing a Ralph Lauren dress, and the fashion community had a lot to say about it—specifically designers like Zac Posen who refused to dress her. There had also been a lot of comparison to Jackie O's style, and how Trump would compare to the iconic first lady.

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Melania Trump

At President Trump's first State of the Union address in January 2018, Melania Trump wore a tailored white Christian Dior pantsuit and a Dolce & Gabbana blouse. Many people thought this was a nod to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic women who wore white to the presidential address in 2017 to pay homage to the suffragette movement and women's rights.

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betty ford
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Betty Ford

File under: iconic first lady moments. Betty Ford made waves not only when she was captured on top of the presidential cabinet table, but also as one of the first women to don a pantsuit.

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Melania Trump

Ah, the infamous pussy-bow blouse (yes, that's the real name). Melania chose to wear the $1,100 top just days after a video surfaced of her husband stating in a conversation with Billy Bush, "When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.” One of the first of many eyebrow-raising fashion choices made by the first lady.

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Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama wore shorts on a trip to the Grand Canyon with her family in 2009, and it caused a complete uproar. People thought it was "inappropriate" and questioned whether it was right for her to bare her legs. Obama admits it was one of her biggest fashion regrets because it "created a huge stink."

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first lady melania trump visits immigrant detention center on us border
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Melania Trump

It's safe to say this is probably the most talked-about first lady fashion moment of all time. Melania Trump wore this Zara jacket which read, "I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?," when visiting separated families at the U.S. Mexico border in June 2018. Some people thought it was a terrible fashion mistake, but President Trump confirmed on Twitter that it was worn on purpose.

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Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was the first first lady to be photographed in a bathing suit during her 12-year (!) tenure in the White House from 1933-1945 (four-term offices were once a thing).

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melania trump
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Melania Trump

For the G7 economic summit in Italy back in May 2017, the first lady thought it was fitting to wear a $51,000 Dolce & Gabbana coat. Dolce & Gabbana decided to fire back at Melania Trump "haters" by designing $245 #BoycottDolceandGabbana shirts. So, uh, yeah.

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us first lady michelle obama l speaks
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Michelle Obama

While at a 2009 food bank event in Washington D.C., former first lady Michelle Obama wore a pair of $540 Lanvin sneakers that caused her to appear in a couple of headlines. When asked about the shoes later by reporters, Obama reportedly told them, “They’re shoes.”

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melania trump
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Melania Trump

Melania opted for a pair of Gucci sunnies while visiting Arlington National Cemetery, and Twitter was definitely not pleased. The American people saw them as a sign of disrespect (from the size of the sunglasses to the actual sunglasses themselves).

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Melania Trump

Melania Trump went to visit Hurricane Harvey victims in heels and the internet lost it.

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Melania Trump

Stilettos don't exactly scream, "I'm here to help." The first lady's footwear ended up distracting from the issue at-hand: the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey.

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Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton's pantsuits have been a running joke since her days in the White House with former President Bill Clinton. There's still a handful of people who make fun of her appearance—including Donald Trump.

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melania trump
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Melania Trump

The is the first time Melania Trump wore *that* Ralph Lauren Collection shirtdress abroad (more on that later). Aside from her outfit choice, Trump was criticized for the great mood she was *clearly* in while visiting Saudi Arabia.

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Melania Trump

On the same trip back in May she didn't wear a headscarf, despite Donald Trump criticizing Michelle Obama for doing the same when she made the trip.

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Nancy Reagan

Oh, Nancy. Reagan secretly "borrowed" $2,000 Adolfo suits and $22,000 Galanos gowns despite warnings by White House lawyers that this had to be disclosed under the Ethics in Government Act. So, pretty much every time Reagan walked into public in a gown or a seemingly nicer outfit she was scrutinized.

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Nancy Reagan

Like this time she met with the Queen...

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Nancy Reagan

...And this time she met with Princess Diana...

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Nancy Reagan

...And this time again with the Queen.

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melania trump
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Melania Trump

In case you didn't know, Melania Trump is FLOTUS now. The internet immediately started mocking the hat, as the internet does, which is unfortunately not available for purchase.

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melania trump
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Melania Trump

The Delpozo dress that everyone loves to hate. Melania Trump has a history of wearing internationally-designed dresses despite President Trump stating in his Inaugural Address, “We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.” Even Fox News reported on the controversy...so there's that.

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