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March 27, 2023

The 1968 White House Fashion Show

On February 29, 1968, Lady Bird Johnson hosted the first–and last–White House Fashion Show. The fashion show, intended both to highlight the fourth largest industry in the United States and to promote domestic tourism, inadvertently became one of the many PR missteps of the Johnson administration, as it occurred in the midst of the Tet Offensive. Just one month later LBJ announced on national television that he would not seek reelection, and today the fashion show is largely forgotten. 

Joining me to help us understand how and why Lady Bird Johnson ended up hosting a White House Fashion Show, and why it was never repeated, is fashion history Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, author of Red, White, and Blue on the Runway: The 1968 White House Fashion Show and the Politics of American Style.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-episode is “The Stars and Stripes Forever March,” composed by John Philip Sousa and performed by the United States Marine Corps Band; the audio is in the public domain. The episode image is from the 1968 “Discover America” White House Fashion Show, available via the National Archives (NAID: 218517833, Local ID: 306-SSA-68-8218-CC5), and is in the public domain.


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Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please, tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too. This week, we're discussing the one and only fashion show ever held at the White House, hosted on February 29, 1968, by Lady Bird Johnson. Claudia "Lady Bird" Taylor was born in Karnack, Texas on December 22, 1912. In 1934, she met then congressional aide Lyndon Baines Johnson in Austin, and in less than a year, they were married. When LBJ first ran for Congress, in a special election in 1937, Lady Bird supported him with $10,000 from her inheritance. When LBJ was called up to active duty in the Navy, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lady Bird ran his congressional office. In 1960, John F. Kennedy tapped LBJ, who was by then Senate majority leader to be his vice presidential running mate. Jackie Kennedy was pregnant with their second child, so Lady Bird played a large role in the campaign, traveling 35,000 miles and appearing at 150 events in 71 days. By this time, Lady Bird was also a successful businesswoman, having purchased a radio and TV station with her inheritance, which made the Johnsons millionaires. When President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas on November 22 ,1963, the Johnsons were two cars behind the Kennedys in the motorcade. Just two hours after Kennedy died, LBJ was sworn in as president. Lady Bird later remembered saying to Jackie, "Oh, Mrs. Kennedy, you know, we never even wanted to be vice president. And now, dear God, it's come to this." From November, 1963, until Hubert Humphrey was sworn in as vice president on January 20, 1965, LBJ had no official vice president and Lady Bird stood in as the de facto VP during the period that included the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. With everything she had going on, perhaps it's not surprising that Lady Bird thought fashion was too "frou frou," noting in her diary in 1967,  "I must have had a Puritan ancestor, because I always have a sort of guilty silly feeling when I have to make a big production of making up," But when she suddenly became first lady, she had no choice but to pay attention to fashion. As a Women's Wear Daily headline put it, "The eyes of fashion are upon her." Even so, hosting a fashion show at the White House was not her highest priority. That idea was the brainchild of journalist Nancy Dickerson, White House Social Secretary Bess Abell, and fashion publicist, Eleanor Lambert, the founder of New York Fashion Week. Bess Abell convinced Lady Bird of the importance of celebrating fashion, which was then the fourth largest industry in the United States. They planned the February 29, 1968 event to coincide with the National Governors Conference, and invited the governors' wives to attend the luncheon show titled, "How to Discover America in Style." The theme reflected both the administration's push to encourag domestic tourism and Lady Bird's project of highway beautification. In her words, "The word 'beautification' makes the concept sound merely cosmetic. It involves much more: clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal, and preservation of valued old landmarks, as well as great parks and wilderness areas. To me, beautification means our total concern for the physical and human quality we pass on to our children and the future." While Abell, and Lady Bird's press secretary Liz Carpenter, handled the complicated logistics of planning a fashion show in the White House on just a few weeks notice, an advisory committee of fashion editors, culled through some 400 designs from the spring collections of American designers to select 50 outfits to showcase. Unsurprisingly, they ended up showing 88 designs by 60 designers on the runway at a brisk pace. The fashion show was held in the State Dining Room, where the governors' wives and other guests, including many of the designers themselves, dined on Consomme White House, Chicken Curry Columbus, Arbor rice and spring greens. After Lady Bird's opening remarks, she turned things over to Nancy White, the editor of Harper's Bazaar, who narrated the show, which fittingly began with the US Marine Band playing a John Philip Sousa march. As slides of US landmarks, like the Grand Canyon, displayed behind them, the models walked the 600 foot borrowed runway. The show was divided into four segments: "Red, White and Blue," "Travel Fashions," "Festival Fashions," and "Gala Dresses." Afterward, guest, Happy Rockefeller, told reporters of the show, "There were many perfectly heavenly things, and it was in excellent taste." And Nancy White said that the show was, "one of the greatest things that ever happened to American fashion." Unfortunately, not everyone agreed, starting with the American designers whose designs had not been included in the show. The larger critique of the show, though, was from people upset that the First Lady was focused on fashion, while American troops were dying in Vietnam. Lady Bird's advisors had been suggesting a fashion show for years before she agreed, but the timing ended up being terrible, coming in the midst of the Tet Offensive, a series of violent attacks by the Viet Minh and North Vietnamese armies. In the week of February 11 to 17th, 1968, just prior to the fashion show, the US suffered its largest single week loss of life in the conflict, with 543 American deaths, causing many Americans to turn against the war. As one letter to Lady Bird read,,"Have you given up highway beautification for fashion shows? How much longer do you all in the White House expect to insult our hardcore servicemen, both in Vietnam and those poor suckers imprisoned in Korea?" A month later, on March 31, 1968, LBJ announced that he would not seek reelection. There was never again, a fashion show at the White House. Joining me now to tell the story of the 1968 White House Fashion Show is fashion historian, Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, author of, "Red, White and Blue on the Runway: the 1968 White House Fashion Show and the Politics of American Style," which was the source for much of this introduction.

Hi Kimberly. Thanks so much for joining me today. 

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  10:07  
Thank you, Kelly. It's great to be here.

Kelly Therese Pollock  10:09  
Yes, I am thrilled to be talking about the White House fashion show. It's a super exciting topic. So I want to hear a little bit about how you even knew about this topic to write about, how you how you got into this subject.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  10:22  
I found it completely by accident. I was working for a long time on a project on a designer called Chester Weinberg, who was one of the designers featured in the fashion show, and I was reading an interview with him in his archive, from a newspaper that said, "Oh, and he just got back from Washington, where he participated in the first ever White House fashion show." And I thought, "I've never heard about that. I've studied fashion my entire life, pretty much. And should I know about this? Does everybody know about this, and I'm the last person to hear about it?" And I made sort of a mental note to go back and flesh that out for a footnote. And eventually, that footnote, grew into a book and got published before the actual book it was supposed to be in.

Kelly Therese Pollock  11:06  
So listeners will know that I love this kind of micro history, this, you know, focused on one event or one day, but I want to hear a little bit about how you do research on something like that. I assume since this happened in the White House, that there's actually a fair amount of sources. But you know, what, how do you figure out what to include, what not to include when you're looking at this kind of project?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  11:30  
Well, once I started digging into this little mention, and what newspaper article I found out, there were a bunch of other newspaper articles about it. It was very famous in its time, and in fact, people thought this was going to be an annual event that was going to be repeated over and over. And of course it wasn't, and there's some interesting reasons why it wasn't. But I didn't really know where to go looking for more information about this. I thought maybe the White House Historical Association or the National Archives. I finally kind of hit paydirt, when I contacted the LBJ Library, which in retrospect makes a lot of sense. But it turns out, they had a whole host of information about this event that had never been looked at and ever been worked on. And as a fashion historian, I'm used to doing very interdisciplinary research, so not just archival materials, but surviving objects, interviews. I knew that the vast majority of people who attended this fashion show had died. It happened in 1968. And I figured some of the models were still alive. But you know, they were all kind of teenagers, they probably got married and changed their names. I had no way of tracking them down until a friend of mine who is or was a curator at the Phoenix Art Museum, heard I was working on this and and emailed me and said, "Oh, by the way, you know, one of our supporters here, in the costume textile department modeled in the show. Would you like to talk to her?" And I said, "Yes, of course." And so I called her and had a wonderful conversation. She had all sorts of memories and souvenirs that she had stolen from the White House when she went to model there. And at the end, I said, "This has been so great. Do you happen to keep in touch with any of the other girls who were in the show?" And she said, "Oh, yes, we were all from the same agency. We have reunions." And so she was able to put me in touch with a bunch more and then I tracked down a few others who were not with that agency, but who were there. And their perspective completely transformed the book, because, you know, they were there as teenagers, a lot of them had boyfriends in Vietnam, they were really at the forefront of the counterculture that was about to change America. And, of course, they were also very, very chatty, and had lots of gossip about the designers, the First Lady, the President, and were happy to share it with me. So I loved getting to do some oral history, as well as the archival work and the museum work I'm used to. There are about 10 garments that were on the runway of the White House that survived in museum collections. So I tracked down as many of those as I could and included them in the book.

Kelly Therese Pollock  13:58  
Yeah, that's excellent. So you know, I imagine if you polled a bunch of people and said which first lady hosted the only fashion show, they probably wouldn't guess Lady Bird Johnson. So let's talk a little bit about her kind of complicated relationship with fashion.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  14:14  
Yeah, you know, Lady Bird we have to remember never expected to become first lady. She was she was second lady and was quite happy doing that. And it was a bit of a shock to the system when suddenly she found herself thrust into the national spotlight as first lady. She was not a big fan of fashion. She called it "frou frou." She was from Texas, you know she grew up on a ranch. She had a reputation as being kind of dowdy and of course, anybody who had to stand next to Jackie Kennedy at events would probably get that reputation. Of course she was older. She was the age of Jackie's mother. She really loved and admired Jackie Kennedy, but she did not try to compete with her in any way. And it took her many years in the White House to realize that not only was the first lady expected to dress a certain way, but that American fashion was worth supporting and celebrating. It was America's fourth largest industry at the time. So it was very important for the First Lady to show her support for what was a major part of the American economy.

Kelly Therese Pollock  15:12  
Could you talk a little bit about it turns out that LBJ had very strong feelings about what his wife and daughters should be wearing?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  15:20  
Oh not just his wife and daughters, but his staff, his secretary, I mean, he would unashamedly tell women what to wear. He would give his employees time off to get their hair done. He was very concerned with appearances. And he had very strong tastes. In fact, the day I showed up at the LBJ Library to begin my research, the archivists took one look at me and said, "Oh, he would have hated that." Because I was wearing purple, which was not a color he liked at all.

Kelly Therese Pollock  15:46  
That is so great. What is happening in obviously, a lot is happening in 1968. But what's happening in the world of fashion around this time? What what does that look like?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  15:59  
Well, this show gives you a perfect snapshot of everything that was happening in fashion in America in 1968. And it was going in some interesting directions. You had sort of the old guard of the very high end designers like James Galanos, and Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene, but then also all of these junior labels that were the new boutique lines. Designers were starting to branch into what we would now call fast fashion, really. It was inexpensive, designed for a younger clientele. The skirts were very short, the fabrics were kind of cheap. And all of it was brought together on the runway in a way that didn't really happen in fashion magazines at the time.

Kelly Therese Pollock  16:36  
Yeah, and you took some in the book, I hadn't realized this, but there were sometimes labels where a designer who would later become famous, would be designing first for another label. Could you talk about what's happening there with designers and fashion labels?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  16:53  
Yes, well, Geoffrey Beene was really the first designer to break free of this old system and put his own name on the label. Up until the early 60s, designers were employed by giant manufacturing houses whose names were on the label. So people like Teal Traina or Herbert Sondheim, labels that we don't really recognize today, but who had major designers behind them. Townley, for example is where Claire McCardell designed. You won't find Claire McCardell's name on a label. It will only say "Townley" because that was her employer. So that was beginning to change in the 60s. And by 1968, quite a few designers had gone solo and started their own labels, some of which failed pretty quickly because these were designers and not businessmen.

Kelly Therese Pollock  17:35  
So of course, it's not Lady Bird's idea to have this fashion show. So let's talk about how it actually came to be that there was a fashion show at the White House.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  17:43  
While going through the archival records, I discovered that this whole show came together in about two weeks. It was a really fast process. And it just shows you how organized and how influential the White House was that they could pull this together in a very short amount of time. That said, however, the idea for the fashion show had been around for a couple of years. It was the journalist, Nancy Dickerson, who cooked up the idea together with Bess Abell, who was the First Lady's Social Secretary. They were friends. Dickerson was an old Johnson family friend from Texas. And they were they were both two extremely fashionable women who had a lot of contacts in the fashion world. And they were pushing the First Lady to do something involving the fashion industry for about two years on and off before the show actually happened.

Kelly Therese Pollock  18:32  
So what was it then that got her finally to agree? Was there one thing or was it just sort of a preponderance of them bugging her?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  18:40  
That's a great question. I think they wore her down over time. But also what happened in February, 1968 was the National Governors Convention, when all of the state governors would come to Washington and to meet with the President. And many of them brought their wives and the First Lady had to come up with something to entertain these women while their husbands were off having meetings with the President. And I think that was what gave the excuse for finally doing this fashion show. And of course, if you look through the Johnson Library papers, there's a folder two inches thick of fashion show invitations that the First Lady and her daughters received. It was extremely common, in fact very predictable for any women's group to have a fashion show luncheon to raise money or celebrate an occasion. This happened all the time. It was it was just what women did, who did not work with their time. They went to fashion shows and lunches. So the First Lady had been invited to a lot of these. It wasn't rocket science to throw a fashion show. However, in practice, she and her daughter's always turned down these invitations because: A.)They were very busy and B.) If they turned down one they would have to they would offend somebody if they accepted a different one. So they had to be very careful about their social engagements and often the First Lady would donate a door prize to a fashion show she was invited to even though she wouldn't actually go.

Kelly Therese Pollock  20:02  
Yeah, it was funny when I was reading about how common it was to have fashion shows. I recall, I grew up in the 80s. And I actually was in a fashion show in the 80s, because that's still in, at least in suburban Ohio, what you did, had fashion shows. So yes, it took a while for that trend to die down, I think.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  20:22  
Well, and I found a video in the Johnson Library Archives of the First Lady on a trip to California a couple of years before the White House Fashion Show. And on the jet, a friend of the President who owns a department store in San Francisco had arranged a fashion show in flight. And I talked about this in the book. And there is one moment in this video where our films, it's newsreel footage, where the model kind of opens her jacket, and she's wearing red, white and blue striped top underneath. And the idea of red, white and blue on the runway kind of came from that, where we know, Mrs. Johnson went to a fashion show on an airplane, where there was this sort of moment of red, white and blue. And she clapped she, you could see her kind of laughing and clapping. It's a silent film. But she's obviously very impressed by this. So I wonder if that maybe stuck in her head and set the tone for the fashion show that happened at the White House years later.

Kelly Therese Pollock  21:21  
Yeah, so let's talk about that some. It seems like they're trying to do an awful lot in this fashion show. How did they decide what who all was going to be there, what was going to be there, what they were going to showcase?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  21:36  
Well, it was a struggle. Remember that they only had a few weeks to pull this together. So a lot of drama was compressed into a very small amount of time, because the First Lady's staff of course, was on the ground, and they were making a lot of the logistical arrangements for the show; but the actual fashions were chosen by a committee of fashion editors, and Eleanor Lambert, who was an influential fashion publicist in New York, and who was also a friend of the Johnsons and served on presidential committees and such. So it was two Washington based fashion editors, Nancy White from Harper's Bazaar. They are they are the women who sort of called in all the clothes and decided, yes, we're going to show these fashions. They originally wanted 50 garments, and they ended up with about 85 because obviously it was very hard to narrow it down. And they only had about half an hour to do this show. So it was a lot. And the First Lady and her staff wanted this fashion show theme to be "Discover America," which was Lady Bird Johnson's pet cause, trying to encourage domestic tourism at a time when many Americans could suddenly afford to go to Europe and spend their tourism dollars there. So she was very interested in getting Americans excited about America. And of course, she was not a fashionista, she wanted to show practical clothes, travel clothes, things that were good looking, but not necessarily high end. And of course, that's not what was happening in fashion at the time. That wasn't the fashion editors' priority. They wanted very avant garde clothes, very high end clothes. So there was this constant struggle and push and pull. And quite a few of the designers who ended up in the show were actually designers who dressed the First Lady. So she clearly had an influence there. But they also brought in some of the big names in fashion and some some of the smaller names who were really making clothes for teenagers who were not in the audience that day. A lot of the guests said, you know, "That might work for my daughter, my granddaughter, but it's not for me."

Kelly Therese Pollock  23:32  
So you mentioned that the red, white and blue or the you know, stripes on the plane. And so there's a section of this fashion show where they're doing red, white and blue clothes. That must have been difficult to find, especially you know, designers aren't designing for this show. They're just finding clothes that already exist.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  23:49  
Absolutely. And it kind of showed that it was a bit awkward. But when I started  researching the show, I thought the entire show was red, white and blue. Because if you look at any of the media coverage of it, that's all you see. But in fact, that was only the first section of four sections of the show. And the organizers clearly struggled to find enough red, white and blue clothes to put together a whole section. This was a very eclectic mix of designers just whoever was doing red, white and blue got in that section. And it was it was very photogenic obviously. They had a scarf designed for the occasion by Frankie Welch, who went on to become a major scarf designer based in Alexandria. And she made a red, white and blue scarf that had kind of a map of America and it said "Discover America" on it. And they use that scarf in that first section. It was on hats. It was on umbrellas. The models were wearing it, so that was a big part of tying together all these somewhat random red, white and blue clothes. But the more I started digging into the history of the fashion show I realized, "Okay, the red, white, and blue was only you know, the first 10 minutes or maybe even less. Then they went on to travel clothes, festival fashions, they call them, which was set up for going out to the theatres and events. And then they ended with evening gowns and the evening gowns were a big hit with the political ladies in the audience.

Kelly Therese Pollock  25:08  
The other people in the audience, besides the governors' wives were the designers themselves, or at least some of the designers themselves. So talk to me a little bit about what what they were trying to do there.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  25:19  
Well, this had to be a very pro USA event. So this was all about American design and Seventh Avenue. Of course, not all of those designers were born in America. Many of them had emigrated, were working in New York, but weren't actually, you know, native native to America. So it was slightly broader than it than it might sound. And there were, oh, gosh, I want to say more and more than 50 designers involved. It was it was a big group, a few, a few exceptions. And the White House decided to invite all of these designers to the show, or at least most of them, and many of them ended up not being there at the last minute, because there was a snowstorm in New York, the day of the show, and they all their flights all got grounded. Several did show up, but there was a lot of last minute rearranging of seating charts, because many of the designers that were coming from New York ended up getting stuck, and were very sad about it. They were absolutely gutted that they missed their big chance to have lunch at the White House.

Kelly Therese Pollock  26:18  
Their one chance and so for the models too, presumably, for most of them, this is the one and only time they were at the White House. So tell me about their memories of that day.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  26:28  
It was great to hear their memories, even the ones who were very anti Vietnam and didn't necessarily like the Johnson administration, were thrilled to be at the White House and really treasured their memories. Like I said, many of them stole things from the White House and have kept them 55 years later. They they remember this as a highlight of their career. A few of them don't. For a few of them, it was just another day at the office. Or maybe it's just so long ago they don't remember it that well. You know, they they traveled a lot. They did a lot of glamorous events, but many of them talked about how special it was to be at the White House, to shake the President's hand, to be in that room. And the designers as well talked about what a thrill this was. So these are you know, jaded New York fashion celebrities who were so touched to be included in this and who were so excited to see their clothes on runway in the State Dining Room of the White House.

Kelly Therese Pollock  27:17  
Yeah, so in the State Dining or so let's talk about this because the White House, of course, does not have a standing runway. How in the world inside the White House did they create this fashion show?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  27:29  
They built a runway which I believe that they borrowed from a department store. They borrowed a lot of things from department stores  locally in Washington like mirrors and racks of clothes and ironing boards and all that. The fittings were done the night before, in the Lincoln Bedroom, the Queen's bedroom upstairs so you have their pictures of the Lincoln Bedroom just stuffed with racks of clothes, and tables of jewelry and shoes and all the models were kind of running around there the night before trying things on and swapping outfits. They had a rehearsal in the State Dining Room, the day of the show in the morning, a full dress rehearsal, and then everybody went into the Red Room and the Blue Room to get dressed while the luncheon guests filed in. So it was a very tight schedule. It came together very quickly. And it was it was a lot of work for a lot of different people working behind the scenes and for the models who were there until very late the night before trying to get their outfits organized. And of course back then models did their own makeup. They had hairdressers on site that they brought in for the show but the models had to bring their own girdles, their own hairpieces, their own makeup. And so they're kind of running around trying to get dressed. The Secret Service is trying to search their bags of you know finding all sorts of exotic lingerie. They had a lot of great stories about just you know the the chaos backstage and trying to get get prepared for this show. It's some of them. There was one outfit that never actually made it on the runway because they were changing clothes so fast and going out there that, you know, she she missed her her turn and had to kind of come out at the end.

Kelly Therese Pollock  29:03  
So you mentioned they shook the hand of the President but he didn't go to the show itself.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  29:08  
He stopped by the lunch to make an appearance and he shook hands with some friends and gave his daughter a kiss and sort of made made the rounds and then he went backstage where the models were still getting dressed.

Kelly Therese Pollock  29:20  
Very LBJ.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  29:22  
Yes. And, and he, you know, shook hands with them. And he said, "It's so nice to see so many pretty girls at the White House." And then he went upstairs to take a nap. He missed the show because he wanted to take a nap. He'd had a busy day with the governors and had had more meetings to go to. They also they also had a party that night for the governors. So he had a long day.

Kelly Therese Pollock  29:43  
All right, so you said earlier that there are lots of reasons that this didn't happen again. So let's talk about that. Why? Why was this the one and only show fashion show at the White House?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  29:53  
Well, as I said this has been in the works for about two years by the time it finally happened. Unfortunately it finally happened at the worst possible time, right in the middle of the Tet Offensive. And I got my first clue as to how big of a problem this was. But I went to the LBJ Library and I was in the photo department trying to find the negatives from February 29. And the archivist told me, "Well they're all in a folder, but you can't see it right now, because we have another scholar here working on the Tet Offensive, and he's got all those negatives from that day." I thought, "Okay, so there were other things going on in the world at this time that that may have had a factor in its reception." And in fact, the White House got hate mail about this saying, "How dare you have a fashion show while our boys are dying in Vietnam?" And it ended up being really bad optics. It was meant to be a very positive morale boosting PR stunt, and really backfired because the timing was so bad. And there was no way they could have predicted that when they started planning the show. And when they started talking about the show, nobody knew that the week before the show will be the highest head count yet in Vietnam.

Kelly Therese Pollock  31:01  
Yeah. And of course, 1968 has a lot going on, shall we say? 

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  31:06  
Absolutely. Everything that happened in the 60s happened in 1968. And this was just the beginning. This was still February. Nobody knew how bad it was about to get. But there are clues. If you look at the runway, and as you look at the extremes of fashion, you know, catering to younger people and to a more conservative audience. It was going in a lot of different directions and trying to be a lot of different things to different people. It was just a month after the fashion show that LBJ announced he would not run for re election, which was a big surprise. And it was because of several, you know, PR failures, including this one that he ended up being seen as as the bad guy. And that's how Richard Nixon got elected.

Kelly Therese Pollock  31:46  
Yeah, probably not surprising that the Nixons didn't host a fashion show.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  31:51  
No, I and even though the people who went to the show thought this was going to be the first event, that it would become an annual event. they quickly stopped talking about it. It was forgotten pretty quickly after the additional flurry of glowing news articles about this amazing event.

Kelly Therese Pollock  32:06  
You mentioned in the book, how both presidents and first ladies really need to be careful about what they wear, and that they usually wear clothes by American designers made in America, right up until the Trumps. And you said that you know of all the norms that the Trumps broke that this was one that sort of gets swept under the rug. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  32:29  
Well, for me, it's a fashion story that was always extremely shocking, because the one rule about first lady and presidential fashion that has been true since George Washington's inauguration, is that you you buy American and you wear American. George Washington went to ridiculous lengths to have American made wool woven for his inaugural suit. Because at the time that that was very hard to find high quality American broadcloth that could compete with something imported from England. Yet he did it. And he sort of set the tone for many generations of presidents. It's always been very controversial for a first lady to wear a foreign designer. And often when she does, it's because of diplomatic reasons. For example, you know, the French president is coming. So she wears Chanel, or when Jackie Kennedy went to Paris as First lady, she got to wear French designers finally, because it was a tribute to the host. But you know, Michelle Obama when she wore an Alexander McQueen gown to a state dinner, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the body that, you know, helped organize this fashion show issued a press release saying you can't do this. This is not right. Where's your support for American designers? And suddenly, with the Trump administration, you know, among many other norms sort of falling by the wayside that that went too and nobody seemed to notice or care. I cared. But there were many other more important issues to care about at that time. So this this seems to have come back a bit with the Biden administration. Joe Biden's wearing a lot of Oscar de la Renta. Even Kamala Harris, wore wonderful Black American designers for the inauguration, for example. So I do see that effort returning and I hope people will pay attention. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  34:20  
 Yeah. So let's talk about your book itself. You have a ton of photographs in here. And I know that that's difficult to get done in a book. So can you talk a little bit about the production of the book itself?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  34:31  
Well, photographs are very difficult in books, and I've struggled with that in all my books. However, I learned that anything in a presidential library or the National Archives of the Library of Congress is the property of all Americans. You don't need to get copyright permission to use it or pay for it in the way you do with many other types of images. So that made things much easier for me. However, this book did go into production during the pandemic and the Johnson Library was shut down for almost a year. And the poor archivists trying desperately to help me but literally were locked out of their building and their collections. So I am so grateful to a lot of people, both the Johnson Library and the National Archives, who went to extreme lengths to make sure I could get the photos I needed for this book. I had had a lot of a lot of favors done that I so appreciate. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  35:27  
Yeah. And they're, they're wonderful photos. I just really enjoy looking at them. And I think it's so it tells you so much about the event, but also about 1968, just to see these fashions.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  35:39  
Yeah, they're  a lot of fun. It's a great period in fashion and was really fun to dig into.

Kelly Therese Pollock  35:45  
Yeah. So how can people get a copy of the book?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  35:49  
It was published by Kent State University Press, and you can get it on Amazon or wherever books are sold. Yeah, there's also a lot of material in the book that you can find on YouTube, for example, all those news reels are on the Johnson Library YouTube channel, as well as their website. Many of them you can find, in fact, a lot of the the documentation has also been digitized that it wasn't when I first started working on the book, but since it has been. So you can do do your own research and look into some of the photos I couldn't couldn't fit into the book. Although I did get most of them in the end. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  36:25  
Can you talk too, a little bit about the other books that you've written? Usually, you're not doing this kind of micro history. Usually you're doing a broader sweep of history. So can you talk a little bit about those books?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  36:36  
Well, I do love a micro history. Actually, I started out working on 18th century French fashion in the reign of Louis XVI. That was my first book. And one thing I keep coming back to is this theme of fashion and politics, whether we're talking about the French Revolution, or 1968 America, and that's something that always gets me really excited because they don't go together very easily. And there it often reveals sort of cracks in the system, and other other tensions beyond just the fashion world. I also did a book called, "Worn on This Day: the Clothes That Made History," which goes through every day of the year with a garment or an outfit worn on that day, in some year in history. It's a nonlinear history. But I felt like by narrowing it down to that extremely specific micro history, you could tell wider stories in a way that doesn't often happen in fashion books, which tend to be here's what happened in this decade, and this decade in this decade. Fashion changes over the decades, but it also changes through the seasons. And the the intersection of fashion and history is something that I've long wanted to write about. But it's very hard to explain, and I had to show it. And I think that that book does it very well, by narrowing in on this extremely focused criteria, namely that we have to know the date something was worn. It allows you so much freedom. You're not confined to one country or one class or one time period. It really allowed me to take a much broader and more inclusive view of history that then I could do in a different, more traditional type of book.

Kelly Therese Pollock  38:11  
And then you have a book about weddings too. 

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  38:14  
That's right. The wedding book is sort of a sequel to "Worn on This Day" because of course, most wedding gowns with survivor wedding photos that survived do have a date attached to them. So I ended up finding a bunch of wedding pictures and wedding garments that I just couldn't use in "Worn on This Day," and thought "Well, this actually could be a book on its own." The history of wedding fashion is something I never thought I would write about, you know, white people in white dresses. It's been done so much. And there's not much to say about it. But actually, there's much more than than white people in white dresses. I looked at grooms, wedding parties, guests, royal weddings, presidential weddings. Wartime weddings was one of my favorite chapters. I talked about what you wear when you when you get remarried, which for about 100 years was a very specific category of clothing that doesn't really exist anymore. If you want to get remarried today, wear the big white dress, you're fine. But for a long time, that wasn't fine. And that that ended up being a whole chapter in the book because there were so many very interesting and creative solutions to getting married when you don't have the freedom to wear what a bride traditionally wears. And I think weddings are so fraught with conflict and drama when you're talking about joining two people and two families and two cultures, that clothing does a lot to mitigate that that we maybe don't really appreciate, because we're so used to it. But it's actually an extremely powerful form of communication and community building. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  39:44  
Yeah. And then your most recent book, of course, is "Skirts."

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  39:47  
Yes, yes. And right after the White House book was published, I published a book called, "Skirts: Fashioning Modern Femininity in the 20th Century." It's very easy to dismiss skirts as something old fashioned and retrograde and even oppressive to women. But it was actually only in the late 1970s that pants became acceptable in most of American life. I mean, they were banned from restaurants. They were banned from schools, they were banned from workplaces. Sure women wore them. But they tended to be women like Marlena Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn. If you think of the, you know, the great pants wearing icons, like Coco Chanel in the 20s. These were extremely wealthy, privileged women. So not only did they have a bit more social freedom, but they had their pants custom made. That's why they looked good, and they fit well. It was very hard to actually buy pants that looked good and fit a wide range of sizes for a long time. So you can't ignore skirts, if you're talking about 20th century history. And you can't dismiss them because you know, all the things that women did in them, whether physical or political, they played such an important part. And I think we do a disservice not just to the women who wore them, but to the designers who made them if we think of pants as being the, you know, the modern progressive, practical garment for women at the 20th century. It just doesn't hold up historically.

Kelly Therese Pollock  41:17  
 Is there anything else you wanted to talk about about the fashion show?

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  41:22  
Well, I think a good question that I often get asked is, "Why do we care about any of this? It's fashion. Why does it matter?" That was kind of Lady Bird's attitude and it's frou frou, it's clothes. Why does it matter? Well, it's not just that. It's it's communication. It's, you know, it's optics, in modern political parlance. It's something that that was this huge economic engine, in 1968, maybe less so today. In 1968, 95% of American clothing designers did their manufacturing in the US. It was it was a domestic industry. Today, it's 97% outside the US. It's completely flipped, and very few American clothes are actually made here. And that's brought a lot of problems with it that some designers are trying to change. So it's never just clothes. And I think that that when you when you bring politics into the mix, you discover very quickly that okay, people do care about this, it does mean something, perhaps more than we anticipated. The First Lady's office was shocked that this fashion show wasn't received, as you know, a highlight of American history and that not only were people mad about the timing, and the fact that the war was going so badly. They were mad about things like well, you didn't have I needed any models from my city or you didn't show enough slides of my city backstage. There were all these somewhat petty issues that they did not anticipate being a problem because they thought they were celebrating American fashion. And it turns out, they actually offended a lot of people along the way.

Kelly Therese Pollock  42:58  
Kimberly, thank you so much. This was a really fun topic to get to read about and to talk about. So I really appreciate you joining me.

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell  43:05  
Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Kelly. It's been fun talking with you.

Teddy  43:44  
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Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an award-winning fashion historian, curator, and journalist based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette (Yale, 2015), Worn on This Day: The Clothes That Made History (Running Press, 2019), The Way We Wed: A Global History of Wedding Fashion (Running Press, 2020), Red, White, and Blue on the Runway: The 1968 White House Fashion Show and the Politics of American Style (Kent State University Press, 2022), and Skirts: Fashioning Modern Femininity in the 20th Century (St. Martin's Press, 2022). She has written about fashion, art, and culture for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Politico, Slate, and The Wall Street Journal and has appeared on NPR, the Biography Channel, and Reelz, along with several podcasts. She was a 2020-21 NEH Public Scholar and a 2021-22 USC Libraries Fellow. As well as writing books and articles, she does writing, lecturing, curating, and consulting for the museums, universities, and the entertainment industry.