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Glamour and Innovation: Frankie Welch

Frankie Welch was one of the first designers to design “across the aisle,” creating gowns and scarves for first ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, and Rosalynn Carter. After earning a degree in clothing and design at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, Welch relocated with her husband to Virginia, where she taught “clothes coordination” classes at the University of Maryland.

Frankie Welch

(March 29, 1924 - September 2, 2021)

Frankie Welch was one of the first designers to design “across the aisle,” creating gowns and scarves for first ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, and Rosalynn Carter. After earning a degree in clothing and design at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, Welch moved with her husband to Virginia, where she taught “clothes coordination” classes at the University of Maryland. Welch’s work is frequently described as “Americana,” and she often used the proceeds of her designs to give back to communities. For example, in 1967, one dollar from each purchase of Welch’s first scarf design, the Cherokee Alphabet, was donated to a higher education fund for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Shortly after this, Welch was approached by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson to create a scarf to promote her “Discover America” travel program. Welch continued to design scarves for Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and incorporated themes such as “Nixon Forward,” “Congressional,” and “Forward Together.” Welch integrated her love of American culture and history in her designs, leaving a unique mark on the lexicon of American fashion.