The Vainest Presidents of All Time (and How Donald Trump Compares)
Presidents aren’t perfect. They’re only human. And sometimes they have undesirable qualities, like bad tempers, unpresidential personalities, or foul mouths. Plus, just as some presidents are pretty narcissistic, others have proven themselves to be pretty vain, taking a little too much pride in their appearances.
The Washington Post reports that among presidents and other politicians, you can observe “a specific Washington kind of vanity.” Most politicians don’t try to look younger, since their age is a matter of public record. But many want to look like a well-rested, most attractive version of themselves.
Ahead, discover which commanders-in-chief were the vainest presidents of all time. And learn how our current president, Donald Trump, compares.
1. James Monroe
- 5th president of the United States
Many people who care about their appearance want to wear the latest fashions. But James Monroe’s vanity pushed his taste in the opposite direction. Racked reports, “There was something strange going on with Monroe’s style.” The publication explains, “Everyone noticed it. He dressed like an 18th-century gentleman, well into the 19th century. Habitually wearing clothes that are decades out of date must have been some kind of statement.”
Biography adds that “Monroe was the last president to dress in the style of the Revolutionary War era, which, by that time, was considered outdated and earned him the nickname ‘The Last Cocked Hat.'”
Next: This president’s vanity led to a very short tenure in office.
2. William Henry Harrison
- 9th president of the United States
William Henry Harrison had a very short tenure as president. And his vanity could be partially to blame. As the Miller Center explains, Harrison delivered an inaugural address that lasted nearly two hours. During the speech, he didn’t wear a hat or a coat, believing he was making a statement.
“As a soldier, farmer, and outdoorsman, Harrison had spent much of his life in bad weather,” the Miller Center explains. “But he was far from young now, and when he followed the address with a round of receptions in his wet clothing, it resulted in a bad chill.” That cold developed into pneumonia. And the pneumonia killed him just a month after he took the oath of office.
Next: This president took style advice from a letter-writer.
3. Abraham Lincoln
- 16th president of the United States
Abraham Lincoln didn’t try to look particularly fashionable. Plus, his contemporaries reportedly criticized his appearance and often described his clothes as “shabby.” But Lincoln did care about another aspect of his appearance: his facial hair. Racked reports that Abraham Lincoln “grew his famous beard when an 11-year-old girl wrote him criticizing his face and noting that ‘all the ladies like whiskers.'”
But not everybody thinks highly of Lincoln’s facial hair. Describing how to “get the look” of each American president, The Washington Post advises would-be Lincoln lookalikes, “Never sleep, ever. Look like you have forgotten the meaning of the word sleep. Grow a beard, but the wrong beard.”
Next: This president insisted on making his own clothes.
4. Andrew Johnson
- 17th president of the United States
Racked reports that Andrew Johnson is the only U.S. president who worked as a tailor before assuming office. You’d think that he’d have let somebody else make his suits once he became busy with everything involved in running the country. But he apparently wanted everything to look exactly right.
Johnson reportedly remains the only president who not only made his own clothes but also made clothes for the members of his cabinet. We understand the impulse to make sure that things are done correctly. But if Johnson had spent more time governing, instead of sewing, he might have had a better chance of avoiding a place on the list of the most hated presidents.
Next: This president became one of the most fashionable occupants of the Oval Office.
5. Chester Arthur
- 21st president of the United States
Racked characterizes Chester Arthur as “by far our most fashionable president.” The publication quips, “In an age of earnest, bearded Ohioans, Arthur was a flashy Manhattan dandy, always ready with a joke or a bribe. Renowned for his 80 pairs of pants, his artfully folded handkerchiefs, and for pulling off the difficult muttonchops-to-mustache pipeline.”
History adds that during his time “in the White House, Arthur became known for his sartorial style and taste for fine furnishings. Nicknamed the Gentleman Boss and Elegant Arthur, he reportedly owned 80 pairs of pants.”
Next: This president dressed well despite his challenging size.
6. William Howard Taft
- 27th president of the United States
William Howard Taft is another president who paid a lot of attention to his appearance. Racked reports that though Taft was much larger than many other presidents, “he dressed well for his size — the era’s bulking three-piece suits helped.”
Complex also puts Taft on its list of the “most stylish fat guys of all time.” The publication reports, “The 27th President of the United States was a very, very, steezy Republican. Besides his formidable handlebar mustache and sheer girth, he looked awesome in pretty much every photo.”
Next: This narcissistic president cared about his wardrobe.
7. Woodrow Wilson
- 28th president of the United States
Woodrow Wilson lands on the list of the most narcissistic presidents. And some researchers think that had an “acquired personality disorder,” or an acquired form of narcissistic personality disorder, called hubris syndrome. One of the main characteristics of the syndrome? Showing “disproportionate concern for image and presentation.”
The Miller Center reports that under the influence of his second wife, Edith, Wilson “took a greater interest in clothes” and “marched in step with men’s fashion.” When the first couple traveled abroad, they “had to look perfect,” even finding out what was in style in Europe so that they could dress accordingly.
Next: This president chose very formal clothing.
8. Calvin Coolidge
- 30th president of the United States
Calvin Coolidge notoriously favored very formal attire. Racked reports that “Sometimes, it seemed like Coolidge was playing a stereotype of a sour New England Yankee.” As the publication explains, “He didn’t like talking to strangers. He didn’t like attending events. He dressed formally, and even wore a hat when shaving.”
In fact, The New Yorker reports that that’s exactly what he was doing when his future wife first laid eyes on him. “Calvin heard Grace laughing through a window; she’d just noticed the bachelor lawyer shaving with his hat on.”
Next: This president loved choosing his outfit each morning.
9. Franklin D. Roosevelt
- 32nd president of the United States
Some modern presidents have streamlined their wardrobes to pare down decisions. But Franklin D. Roosevelt loved choosing his own clothes in the morning. The White House Historical Association reports that though Franklin D. Roosevelt had a valet to care for his clothes, it was the president, “who delighted in mundane domestic decisions, who chose his attire for the day.”
Roosevelt would choose from among two or three suits and a rack of ties that his valet had laid out for him. And he knew what he liked. He reportedly preferred blue and gray suits, white shirts, solid-colored ties, and blue and gray socks.
Next: This president chose his clothes very carefully.
10. Harry S. Truman
- 33rd president of the United States
Racked reports that Harry S. Truman was “the one-time owner of a Kansas City haberdashery and dressed in impeccably tailored suits.” The National Park Service reports that Truman “was known for his neat appearance.” He favored double-breasted suits, Stetsons, and spectator shoes.
But “his clothing choices were scrutinized by the media, leading him to take greater care when selecting appropriate dress as leader of a nation.” Truman always wore tailored suits, not suits sold off the rack. And he took risks only with his colorful neckties — until he started buying tropical sport shirts to wear in Key West.
Next: This president had the military create a new jacket for him.
11. Dwight D. Eisenhower
- 34th president of the United States
Racked reports that because he was a general, Dwight D. Eisenhower had to wear a uniform. “But he didn’t wear just any uniform,” the publication reports. “Dissatisfied with the field jacket offered to him, he designed one himself. According to an aide, Eisenhower wanted the jacket to be ‘very short, very comfortable, and very natty looking.’ The ‘Ike jacket’ became standard issue for U.S. troops beginning in November 1944.”
Plus, Eisenhower’s jacket wasn’t his only fashion statement. Unwound reports that Eisenhower wore a Rolex watch: a gold Datejust on a Jubilee bracelet. He clearly cared about looking fashionable.
Next: Many people consider this president a style icon.
12. John F. Kennedy
- 35th president of the United States
Many people consider John F. Kennedy a style icon. However, The Rake reports, “He dressed, simply, as men of his class and education did. Ivy League style may have much in its favour.” Kennedy “was a Brooks Brothers man right down to his boxer shorts,” the publication notes.
The White House Historical Association reports that John F. Kennedy was known to change clothes three to four times per day. Plus, Unwound reports that Kennedy “had quite a collection of watches.” Kennedy’s favorite timepieces were a Cartier Tank that Jackie Kennedy gave him for their fourth anniversary and an Omega that he received from a friend during his presidential campaign.
Next: This president wore expensive watches.
13. Lyndon B. Johnson
- 36th president of the United States
Lyndon B. Johnson is another president who owned and wore expensive watches. Unwound reports that “President Johnson’s gold Rolex Day-Date gave the watch its popular nickname: the President.” But that wasn’t the only expensive timepiece that Johnson owned. He also wore a Vulcain Cricket — a common choice among presidents at the time — a Patek Philippe, and a Hamilton Pacer.
After his time in office, Johnson grew his hair out. The Atlantic reports, “Hair has always been political, whether long or short, but the late 1960s and early 1970s were truly a time when one’s do defined their place in a deeply divided culture.” The publication adds, “it’s striking that Johnson, the president who’d escalated the war, would style himself in the fashion of Hair’s draft dodgers.”
Next: This president felt self-conscious about his thinning hair.
14. Gerald Ford
- 38th president of the United States
MEL Magazine reports that the object of Gerald Ford’s vanity was his thinning hair. “The issue so troubled him that Ford’s advisers reportedly asked for neutral backdrops to camouflage his thinning hair.” As Slate reports, “uncertain hair,” or hair “that has been foofed and whomped and putzed-with,” doesn’t bode well for presidents.
“The good people of America will eventually call foul. ‘I am not sure I trust a bloke who obviously spends so much time in a salon chair/under a dryer attempting to persuade me that he is not graying/balding/thinning. What else is he trying to conceal?’ is the line of thinking.” The publication adds, “Blatant expressions of vanity are very unpresidential.”
Next: This president made careful decisions about how he looked.
15. Ronald Reagan
- 40th president of the United States
The Rake characterizes Ronald Reagan as “a Hollywood man who understood the power of the image.” Racked reports that Reagan was known as “the dandy from Hollywood,” who once scandalized Europe by wearing a gray-and-blue glen plaid suit. Another object of Reagan’s vanity? His hair.
MEL Magazine reports that it “became a running joke” about Reagan “that he maintained his coif by way of dye jobs. His minders denied it, but the topic became, to some, a metaphor for the 1980s. ‘Mr. Reagan is legendary for his ability to insist with seeming sincerity that black is white (or, in this case, that white is black),’ The Baltimore Sun wrote in 1991.” An unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan later reported that the first lady’s hairdresser had been dyeing the president’s gray roots since the late 1960s.
Next: This president is another icon of preppy style.
16. George H.W. Bush
- 41st president of the United States
Many Americans dress very casually. So how do they feel about presidents who dress to the nines? If they dislike such presidents, that wouldn’t bode well for the first President Bush. GQ refers to George H.W. Bush as a “prep style icon.”
Racked adds, “Always a buttoned-up peddler of the preppy look during his presidency, the first Bush continued to set fashion standards into old age with a colorful run of fancy socks.” Ivy Style notes that “Although JFK often gets credit for being America’s preppiest president, the honor really goes to Bush 41.”
Next: This president reportedly underwent plastic surgery.
17. Bill Clinton
- 42nd president of the United States
A few recent presidents have found another expression of vanity: The effort to soften the signs of aging with the help of a plastic surgeon. As Pret-a-Reporter notes, plastic surgeons speculate that Bill Clinton has probably undergone several cosmetic procedures. Plastic surgeon Lawrence Koplin told the publication, “He’s had his eyelids done (blepharoplasty), both uppers and lowers. I was not his surgeon, but I can absolutely guarantee you that ‘the eyes are the prize’ here.”
Another surgeon, Joubin Gabbay, said that Clinton also “might have had fat injected into his cheeks, to bring back volume, lost in time, and I think he had a judicious use of Botox.”
Next: This president drew criticism for wearing makeup on TV.
18. Barack Obama
- 44th president of the United States
Barack Obama’s wardrobe hasn’t attracted much controversy — outside of the tan suit incident — probably because he adopted a uniform during his time in office. But critics have found another reason to think Obama is vain. Some people have made fun of Obama for wearing makeup when he has to appear on TV, including when he seemingly wore bronzer to his 2013 inauguration.
But as Allure learned from one presidential makeup artist, “All the presidents do. And they’d be nuts not to.” Obama reportedly wore foundation, concealer, and powder to even out his skin tone, just like the other presidents whose makeup artists talked to Cracked about their experiences.
Next: How does Donald Trump compare to America’s vainest presidents?
How does Donald Trump compare?
- 45th president of the United States
Donald Trump seems to hold his own among the vainest presidents in American history. Vanity Fair reports that Ivana Trump said under oath that her then-husband had a scalp reduction surgery in 1989 to correct balding. And The Daily Beast reports that footage of Donald Trump’s hair blowing in the wind as he boards Air Force One “appears to show an incision line down the middle of Trump’s rear scalp,” seemingly confirming a scalp reduction or a hair transplant. Vanity Fair reports that Donald Trump reportedly had liposuction on his chin and waist.
Plus, according to MEL Magazine, Trump “maintains a peculiar hue of orange that stems from spray tanning, tanning booths, or both, whitens his teeth, and takes a variety of measures to hide and halt his decades-long slog into baldness through ample Propecia prescriptions.”
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