January 18, 2009
It's the closest thing to a crown that America's small-r republican first ladies get -- the simultaneously regal and egalitarian Inauguration Day hat.
Plus, it's cold in D.C. in January. In 1969, Pat Nixon wore a big fur toque with her big-R Republican cloth coat. Even when Inauguration Day was in March or April, it wasn't necessarily balmy.
An ideal inaugural chapeau must be large and striking enough to be seen -- like Nancy Reagan's red number and Eleanor Roosevelt's insouciant feathered one -- and small enough not to overwhelm the wearer like a hovering UFO. In 1993, Hillary Clinton was all but obscured by her bright blue bonnet.
Being a slave to hat fashion -- well, you see the perils for first ladies in history. The 1920s cloche style that looked so glam on Greta Garbo resembled a festive bucket on the heads of Grace Coolidge and Lou Henry Hoover. With hats generally out of fashion now, contemporary first ladies only have to worry about making a singular statement, not following a fashionista diktat.
So, WWMD? What will the new, fashion-forward first lady, Michelle Obama, add to the millinery history of America? Laura Bush went hatless; will she? Flip you for it -- heads, I win.
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