Rosalynn Carter, the wife of former President Jimmy Carter, passed away at the age of 96. Despite not being a trailblazer in her fashion choices as first lady, Mrs. Carter’s approach to clothing strategically conveyed messages of simplicity and approachability during her time in Washington. In 1976, Mrs. Carter symbolically brought her sewing machine from Georgia to the White House, signaling her administration’s prioritization of economy and accessibility. This alternative approach to image-making was further highlighted by a controversial fashion choice during the 1977 inauguration, when Mrs. Carter decided to wear a previously worn dress to the event.
Mrs. Carter’s emphasis on simplicity and practicality was a reflection of the Carter administration’s values, and it set a precedent for her stint in the White House. Throughout her time as first lady, she continued to break sartorial rules, establishing an office in the East Wing and carrying a briefcase, both firsts for a first lady. Even her more traditional fashion choices, such as shirtwaist dresses and modest colors, reflected her commitment to displaying a sense of modesty. While her fashion approach was initially seen as a cautionary tale, it now appears unexpectedly relevant, as it is reminiscent of the current first lady Jill Biden’s style and her emphasis on sustainability and a non-flashy fashion approach. Rosalynn Carter’s fashion choices may not have been on-trend or stylish, but they ultimately paved the way for a different, sustainable approach to first lady fashion that endures today.