First Ladies Who Broke All The Fashion Rules

There are hundreds of responsibilities that come with being first lady. While there aren't laws written defining the role (at least not in the United States), there are high expectations, like championing a particular cause such as education or healthy living, traveling across the country and across the world with her spouse to meet citizens and other world leaders, and hosting guests from around the globe to her home. Another expectation in modern times: the first lady will be well-dressed.

While all first ladies are judged by their appearance to a certain extent, some are more well-known for their particular fashion choices than others. All over the planet, lots of first ladies, both bygone and current, have garnered attention for their wardrobe while holding their position, exceeding the expectations of how a first lady should be dressed. These are the first ladies who broke — and who are breaking — all the fashion rules.

Michelle Obama was bold in her style

The moment Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States, his wife Michelle Obama became a fashion icon. Over the course of the Obama administration, Michelle became bolder and bolder with her fashion choices, moving from outfits more typical of a first lady to full-on looks that were entirely her own. By the end of Barack's second term, the American public had become used to seeing Michelle in bold cuts and bright colors that were more self-expressive than quintessential politician's wife. Before it was all said and done, Michelle went down in history as one of the best-dressed American first ladies of all time.

Since leaving the White House, Michelle's style has continued to evolve. The former first lady is still working with the same stylist as she did while her husband was in office, but her shift to dressing even more authentically herself is evident. As she told Harper's Bazaar, "As for the story I'm trying to tell with my clothes, this feels like a new era of self-discovery for me. These days, my fashion is about embracing who I am without feeling like I have anyone to answer to. It's funny because now, at 58, I finally feel like I can be my truest self and explore and experiment with my hair and clothes."

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau represents the designers of her country

The now-estranged wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau has been impressing the world with her style and shedding light on Canadian designers since her estranged husband took office in 2015. Grégoire Trudeau is known for her elegant taste, favoring certain style details, like round necklines and balloon sleeves, and colors, like pale pink and red. And as noted, Grégoire Trudeau is a champion of Canadian fashion. The political wife is often seen in brands like Aritzia, Wayne Clark, Marie Saint Pierre, and Denis Gagnon, among others she learned of while in her position.

Canadian-made products have long been important to Grégoire Trudeau, but as she shared with The Globe and Mail, it took on new importance when her estranged husband took his oath. "As a consumer and a mom, I've always been interested in local products. It wasn't just something that came to me out of the blue, like 'Oh my God! I should encourage local talent!' But when my husband had his official swearing-in ceremony in Ottawa, it really came to me, 'Whoa! I should be wearing Canadian!'" she said. "What I get on my side is letters from designers and artists and creators who are getting more light shed on their work, and that's what we want to do," Grégoire Trudeau added.

Queen Rania imbues her personality into her fashion choices

Queen Rania of Jordan has been breaking fashion rules since the day she got married. In 1993, Queen Rania wed King Abdullah in an incredibly lavish ceremony, and while Jordanian tradition dictated Queen Rania wear a tiara, she eschewed the rule in favor of a headband. Just a few years later her husband unexpectedly became king, therefore making her queen and putting the eyes of the world on her every move, including what she wears. Over 20 years later, the world is still obsessed with Queen Rania's glamorous and fashionable choices.

Queen Rania's style is both highly curated and highly personal. As she told Harper's Bazaar Arabia, "I am also very mindful that I have a duty to represent my country well. So, rather than follow the latest trends, I aim to dress in a way that reflects who I am. I find that I'm most comfortable in modest wear — partly because of my position, but mostly because it feels right for me, as a woman." And while Queen Rania is well aware that people love her style, that's not her main priority as queen. "I am very passionate about my work, and the clothes I wear don't have any bearing on that ... At the end of the day, I hope it is my work that defines me, not my wardrobe," she said.

Melania Trump always wore what she wanted

Although she spent years working as a model, the most attention Melania Trump received for her style was when she was first lady. Melania's husband Donald Trump served as President of the United States from 2017 to 2021, and during that time she received both praise and criticism for her fashion choices. The praise was for her often form-fitting attire and wide range of designers, while the criticism was for exorbitantly-priced clothing and pieces that sent messages whether Melania meant for them to or not.

No matter how hot of water Melania was swimming in, she always had at least one fan — her stylist, Hervé Pierre. As Pierre told The New York Times, "The beauty of this country is it's a democracy, so some people want to dress certain people and some people don't want to. I choose to. If you forget about the political, or whatever, that's behind it, the needs are so interesting to answer." And the stylist noted that styling a first lady is not a perfect science. "Even if I'm not creating the clothes, it is very creative to consider how it's going to be perceived. And when you decide, you divide. I'm not always right. I make mistakes, and same for her. There's no 'How to Be the Perfect First Lady' book. You learn on the spot," he said.

Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser marries tradition with glamour

With nearly 200 countries in the world today, it can be hard to track each one's dignitaries, especially what said dignitaries are wearing. But if there's one to commit to memory, it's Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser of Qatar. Sheikha Mozah is always impeccably dressed and has stunning glam. Her accessories are beautiful, and she has a fabulous aura about her. Per Vogue Arabia, British designer Julien MacDonald said of Sheikha Mozah, "Not since Jackie O has any first lady had such global resonance in terms of fashion." If someone is being compared to Jackie O, it means they know how to dress.

What's even more amazing is that Sheikha Mozah dresses so well without any help. "I don't have a stylist because I wouldn't find anyone that would understand what I want ... When I'm exhausted, I go to my dressing room and go through my closets, and I try to mix things and fix things," her highness said. Sheikha Mozah also keeps modesty in mind when dressing as she lives in a predominantly Islamic country. "My style is to be in something that respects tradition and is at the same time modern and practical," she said.

Jackie Kennedy was the ultimate political style icon

Speaking of Jackie O, what first lady, of any time period or country, is known for her style more than Jackie Kennedy? The wife of President John F. Kennedy, Jackie held the position of first lady for only a couple of years, 1961-1963, making her legacy as one of the most stylish first ladies of all time even more impressive. Jackie embodied style. She was perfectly dressed for every occasion, and she set the standard for all first ladies who followed her. To this day, first ladies in the United States at both the federal and state levels look to Jackie O for fashion inspiration. Jackie O made it stylish for first ladies to be stylish.

While Jackie O left a legacy of style and beauty, those who knew her personally wish she would be remembered for more than just what she wore and how she looked. As her daughter Caroline Kennedy told The Boston Globe, "I think people had a sense of her style but probably didn't understand how well-read and interesting she was." Jackie sought higher education at Vassar College and spent one year of it studying in Paris. "I loved it more than any year of my life ... I learned not to be ashamed of a real hunger for knowledge, something I had always tried to hide," Jackie said of her time abroad (via JFK Library).

Jetsun Pema expresses herself within the parameters of tradition

Jetsun Pema became Queen of Bhutan when she married King Jigme Khesar in 2011. Since then, she's been leading her country in a style revolution. Queen Jetsun is making the traditional garb of Bhutanese people all her own by wearing rich colors and patterns that express herself. The queen is also heralded for her beautiful skin and hair, and because of her beauty and grace, many have compared her to Kate Middleton. "She doesn't have any airs. I think she didn't even dream of becoming a queen," her former teacher said of Queen Jetsun, per the Daily Mail. The queen follows Bhutan's dress code while she's home, but while she's abroad she often wears clothing more customary to the country she's visiting.

What's more than her style, Queen Jetsun is helping King Jigme to bring about change to their country. At the time of their engagement, King Jigme shared that he would not be marrying multiple women as was tradition in Bhutan prior to his reign. The king seemed to have found all he wanted in Queen Jetsun, as he announced, "She is a kind-hearted girl who is very supportive and whom I can trust. I don't know what my people will say about her, but I find her complete with all the qualities a woman needs to have."

Empress Michiko takes a classic approach to style

Empress Michiko of Japan became a style icon around the same time Princess Diana became one. In the late '80s and early '90s, the world took notice of the Empress's elegant style, which favored muted tones on classic pieces. It became expected that the Empress would arrive in something soft, but still chic. A high compliment to many a first lady, Empress Michiko has been compared to Jackie Kennedy in terms of style. Like many other dignitaries across the world, Empress Michiko wears the traditional clothing of her country when the occasion calls for it, but she is sure to express herself through her choices.

Empress Michiko broke barriers as soon as she became a royal. Born a commoner and raised a Catholic, there were many who believed the Empress was unfit to marry into royalty, but true love prevailed, and Empress Michiko married Crown Prince Akihito, the Emperor of Japan, in 1959. The Empress wore the same kimono that Akihito's sister wore for her wedding over 15 years prior, and as the Edmonton Journal detailed, getting ready for her wedding day was quite the process. "It will take Miss Shoda two hours and 40 minutes to slip into her wedding dress. She will be forced to bear up under 12 layers of kimono with the outer one a silk piece in orange red," the publication reported (via The Court Jeweller).

Betty Ford dressed modernly

Media has changed incredibly over the past few decades. While it's long been important for a first lady to look her best while standing beside her spouse, a first lady's style wasn't written about in the press when Betty Ford held the political position quite at the magnitude to which it is today. Betty was first lady from 1974-1977 while her husband, Gerald Ford, was President of the United States. Betty was well-known for her candor, particularly concerning her addiction to alcohol, but she was also a very stylish first lady. Had she been in office a few decades later, her trendy and fun clothing might've been reported on more heavily.

The world had the opportunity to be reacquainted with Betty's style in 2022 when the series "The First Lady" aired on Showtime. Betty was played by Michelle Pfeiffer, and the costumes worn by her and the other cast members were stellar enough to garner the costume designers an Emmy nomination. One such costume designer was Signe Sejlund, who said to The Hollywood Reporter of Betty's style, "Betty was so sassy and sexy and had the most fun with her wardrobe. She had a teeny tiny body [similar to Pfeiffer] and loved styles with a Chinese collar and a range of color, very green, orange, yellow and blue — so '60s and '70s."

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Brigitte Macron always keeps her appearance in mind

We admit this is completely based on stereotypes, but we expect a French woman in a notable position to be well-dressed. Brigitte Macron, the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron, certainly lives up to our expectations. Brigitte has a classic sense of style, often opting for pieces with structure, solid colors, and minute details that make her outfits sing. The French first lady (though that's not her official title) wears timeless ensembles that will keep her reputation as a well-dressed dignitary intact in perpetuity.

As Brigitte said in an interview, dressing well is nothing new for her — she practiced this long before her husband was in office. "I've always paid close attention to how I dress — just ask my daughters or my students! I have never left the house without being well groomed and dressed. Sometimes it works better than others, but I don't know any other way of going about it," Brigitte said to Elle. Brigitte also noted to the publication some of her favorite designers, with Karl Lagerfeld, Nicolas Ghesquière, Olivier Rousteing, Alexandre Vauthier, and Alaïa receiving special mention. And she won't be offended if she's asked about her clothes. "If it's good for French fashion, why not? I'm very sensitive to fashion. The world has a certain idea of French women," Brigitte added.

Nancy Reagan was known for wearing a favorite color

When it comes to first ladies who broke fashion rules, we typically don't think of those rules being actual laws. But Nancy Reagan, who was first lady while her husband, Ronald Reagan, was President of the United States from 1981-1989, had some wardrobe choices that caught the attention of the IRS. While she was the first lady, Nancy's style garnered lots of attention. The items she wore sold out, making her a desirable mannequin for designers. It was reported that Nancy was routinely given clothing, leading many to believe she should file the clothing as taxable income. Reports stated that the IRS was investigating Nancy's gifts, but no public information was shared regarding the outcome.

Aside from the IRS blip on her fashion legacy, Nancy's wardrobe is looked back upon as being chic yet no-nonsense. As Nancy said in an interview with W, "I don't like a lot of frills and fusses. I've always gone for the more understated look." The first lady was also known for wearing a signature color, the shade even garnering an alliterative appellation thanks to Nancy's affinity for it. "I always liked red. It's a picker-upper. I didn't give it the name of Reagan Red, but that became its name," she said.