In 1980, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the world’s first woman to be elected head of state. A new exhibition of her presidential wardrobe highlights her impeccable style, combining fashion and tradition, protocol and a personal touch; a style that allowed her voice to be heard.
Published in the 2014 April-May issue of Iceland Review – IR 02.14. By Ásta Andrésdóttir. Photos by Páll Stefánsson and courtesy of the Museum of Design and Applied Art.
On August 1, 1980, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was sworn into office as President of Iceland. For the occasion she wore an understated blue silk gown she had created with the seamstress of the Reykjavík City Theater, which she directed up until her presidency. Wearing that gown, as opposed to the national costume skautbúningur, was a deliberate choice. “The fjallkona (‘Mountain Woman’) who traditionally wears this costume is symbolic, whereas I was voted into this office as a citizen of Iceland. The point I was making is that I was the men’s equal,” she says with conviction. “I always knew that the color blue suited me well, but more importantly I knew it would allow me to stand out from the men in their black and white tails.” The epitome of intelligence, beauty and grace, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir charmed the nation—and the entire world—throughout her 16 successful years as President of Iceland. A renowned academic with degrees in literature, drama, education and languages, during her presidency she campaigned for the preservation of the Icelandic language, culture and nature.
Despite being in her mid-80s, she is still going strong; a patron of various charities and organizations and active with the University of Iceland’s Institute of Foreign Languages, which bears her name. Today, she has kindly taken time from her busy schedule to reminisce about the presidency, a few of her most iconic outfits and the true significance of her wardrobe. “I welcomed the idea of this retrospective,” she says with her signature charismatic smile. “I had kept my entire presidential wardrobe, and my daughter Ástríður, who is one of the curators, knew the stories behind them all. Every piece of clothing exhibited here brings back fond memories from my presidency; there is nothing but positivity in this room. Although this is a first in Iceland, exhibitions of this kind are held all over the world. After all, clothing is a reflection of a given age. Actually, this exhibition is just as relevant to men as it is to women—it’s about so much more than the dresses. It’s about history.”
You can read the remainder of this article in the April-May issue of Iceland Review – IR 02.14. Five times a year the print edition of Iceland Review & Atlantica brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson’s latest images of the country’s majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe.