Liz Claiborne at the White House

At the White House, 1991

What would you wear to a White House reception? In 1991, fashion designer Liz Claiborne (1929-2007) chose a sporty white pantsuit with a striped top. She looks like she might be headed for the yacht club. In contrast, First Lady Nancy Reagan looks ready for the opera in her long dress and pearls.

She might look like a fish out of water in this picture, but Claiborne was only being true to her own design style. When she started her own company in 1976, her focus was on adaptable clothing for women in the work force. She wanted her mix and match clothing to have more fun, color, and flexibility than the “Dressed for Success” look.

Many credit Claiborne for making the American workplace a more casual clothing environment. In a 1986 interview in Vogue, (“Dressing America: The Success of Liz Claiborne,” August 1, 1986) she explained her approach: “Casual clothes can look OK even when they are a little messy or have obviously been worked in.  Casual clothes make a woman look younger.”

I offer the picture above as proof of Claiborne’s statement. Would you guess that the First Lady is only eight years older than the designer?

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