The First (Lady's) Hair - Hair Week


By Timothy Dillon

Oh, those bangs. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy. All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

We all remember the scandal that swept our most recent Presidential Inauguration. It wasn’t President Obama’s intimidation of the more extreme conservative agendas in the country, or how Beyonce felt the need to sing along with her prerecorded national anthem. We are talking about the first hair, not the greys Obama has acquired since becoming president, but those bangs.

Whether or not you tuned into the inauguration, no doubt you had to hear about the first lady’s hair and how she was rocking a new do for the special occasion. The way we present ourselves is already important, but even more so if we operate under the gaze of millions of onlookers. In this case of the first lady’s hair, the change was big enough to garner the attention of those millions of citizens, leaving them wondering what inspired the chop job on her mop?

Since the Secret Service won’t let her jump off a bridge or buy a car that isn’t bulletproof, one of her only vestiges of whole independence lies right on top of her head. The bangs were allegedly motivated by the first lady’s mid-life crisis. Who could blame her? She wanted to look good for the President’s second term, and a bob cut with bangs was just what she needed.

Perhaps it’s a sign that she is going to keep mixing things up. After all, this is the same first lady who put in an organic garden at the White House, exercises on the lawn regularly, is trying to end childhood obesity, and is obviously a serious fashion trendsetter. If you thought Zooey Deschanel made the bangs thing hip… well you weren’t wrong, but it’s not just official anymore, it’s political!

All this talk over the FLOTUS hairstyle got the editorial staff here at BTR wondering though, why has this cultivated such a mass following? Has it always been this way for the first hair? We decided to look back all the way to the Kennedys to see what we thought of all these Presidential hair ‘dos.

Disclaimer: There have been a lot of bouffants in The White House. You’re also about to see the word bouffant a lot. In case you are curious about bouffants and their history, it is a style mainly attributed to 18th Century France. The bouffant was later re-envisioned by Raymond Bessone, a Francophile Brit hairstylist living a working in London. Feel free to Google bouffant and you can get all the information on bouffants you want, or you can just wait and see several examples.

Laura Bush had a rather conservative cut (no pun intended) that seemed to suit her personality as someone who wanted to be taken seriously in the boys club that is our nation’s capitol. In fact she even clued us in that any first lady’s hair can cause quite the stir, all too aware of the pressure of the public eye.

First lady Laura Bush. White House photo by Krisanna Johnson. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hillary Clinton has gone through many variations of her own when it comes to hairstyles. Like Laura Bush, at one point she wore an off-the-shoulder cut that was very much acceptable in both the government and business world alike. That being said, you could fill a calendar with the different cuts she’s since gone through. From first lady Arkansas to THE first lady to Senator to Secretary of State, she has had a lot of roles to fill, and that meant a lot of haircuts.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to hundreds of American service members at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, thanking them for their humanitarian relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. Photo by Cpl. Chet Decker, USMC. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For obvious reasons, i.e. having thinning silvered hair, Barbara Bush blew out her hair and wore a bouffant during her time in The White House. Mysteriously, it never seemed to change, much like her age, which appeared to be 100 from 1980 onward. (Note: Barbara Bush is not yet 100.)

First lady Barbara Bush. Photo by David Valdez, White House Photo Office. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Nancy Reagan has a variation on the bouffant in that it sits higher up, above her ears, almost above herself. This “helmet” variation was flattering, straightforward, and like her husband’s Presidency, a product of the conservative ’80s.

Official White House photograph of first lady Nancy Reagan. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Rose Carter may appear like the model of a perfect housewife, but she was also a close advisor to her husband during his tenure in office. For that, she needed something that was inviting and simultaneously professional and clean. You guessed it, a nice tight bouffant with an off-center part.

First lady Rose Carter. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This bouffant was blown up and then combed back. If you think we’re done with the word bouffant, you’re wrong.

First lady Betty Ford sporting a button expressing her support for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Pat Nixon was a fan of the blowout, a variation on the bouffant but with the same end result: a big round head of hair. Her hair’s light golden complexion did make it easier on the eyes though, which is more than we could say for her husband by the end of his Presidency.

First lady Pat Nixon. Image courtesy of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, official government record.

Lady Bird Johnson sported the textbook definition of a bouffant cut. It was big, smooth, and had curves in all the right places. Just like President Johnson’s manhood, a match made in America.

First lady Lady Bird Johnson. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The bouffant cut was popularized by many celebrities in the early ‘60s, but perhaps the most well known, and certainly the most world renowned, was Jackie O herself. Lady Bird and all those who followed would look back to this iconic first lady who set the precedent for the Presidential hairstyles.

First lady Jacqueline Kennedy after State Dinner in May 1962. Photo by White House photographer Robert Knudsen. Image courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

So maybe what caused the stir of media attention was that not only was Michelle Obama changing her hair, but also it wasn’t a bouffant! (Thank goodness.) What her hairstyle really tells us is that she wanted a change of pace. We can all relate to that, but then again, not everyone gets to see your new cut, usually just the people around you. Problem is, the first lady is around us all the time. Considering this was the first set of bangs to be featured in the past 50 years, it’s no wonder people couldn’t stop staring.