As a First Lady, the country will scrutinize their attire if something is considered too risque for the White House, such as showing their shoulders or re-wearing a dress. These First Ladies didn’t back away from wearing some daring gowns throughout history, though.
From Jackie O and Todd Lincoln to Michelle Obama and Melania Trump, here are some of the most controversial First Lady gowns in history.
Rosalynn Carter’s Three-Peat Gown
It’s not uncommon for someone to wear an outfit more than once unless that person is the First Lady. Designed by Mary Matise for Jimmae, Rosalynn Carter wore this gold-trimmed blue chiffon gown to the 1977 inaugural ball.
The thing is, it wasn’t the first time she wore the gown. Rosalynn raised many eyebrows when she wore the gown for the third time. Critics thought she had a responsibility as the First Lady to wear something more current.
Frances Cleveland’s Shoulders Showing
Traditionally, First Ladies don’t wear revealing clothing, especially during public events. That didn’t stop Frances Cleveland, though! Wife of Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, Frances stirred up a lot of gossip due to her “revealing” wardrobe.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union even petitioned Frances to stop wearing her revealing gowns that showcased her shoulders!
Nancy Reagan’s Off-The-Shoulder Gown
Inaugural ball gowns are traditionally very classy and conservative. So when Nancy Reagan, wife of 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, stepped into the 1981 ball wearing a daring one-shoulder James Galanos gown worth $10,000, people were stunned.
It was a very risque look for a First Lady, especially for the time. The Washington Post critic Robin Givhan wrote, “It was surprisingly bare for a first lady…”
Mary Todd Lincoln’s $2,000 Gowns During The War
During the American Civil War, many people struggle to make ends meet. This is why former First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s gowns were such a heated topic of conversation — they’d cost upwards of $2,000, a huge sum at the time.
According to a correspondence from Mary, “The President glances at my rich dresses and is happy to believe that the few hundred dollars that I obtain from him supply all my wants.”
Jackie O In A Strapless Pink Gown
While Jackie O was a fashion icon during her time as the nation’s First Lady, she had some daring looks. One such look was the strapless pink gown she wore to a White House dinner honoring André Malraux, then France’s Minister of Cultural Affairs, on May 11, 1962.
A black-tie event, the light pink gown was a bit out of place. Not to mention the amount of skin she was showing as the First Lady!
Dolley Madison Was Criticised For Showing Too Much Skin
Dolley Madison was the wife of the fourth President of the United States, James Madison. In the White House from 1809 to 1817, Dolley was frequently scrutinized for wearing gowns that, apparently, were showing a bit too much skin.
Her attire was considered scandalous, especially for such a prominent woman in society.
Michelle Obama’s “Informal” Gown
A First Lady tends to wear formal attire during various aspects of their husband’s presidency. That’s why when Michelle Obama stepped out for her husband, Barack Obama’s, first joint session with Congress, she left people speechless.
The former first lady wore a sleeveless purple Jason Wu gown, a very informal gown, according to critics. Chicago Tribune style reporter Wendy Donahue wrote, “Most of the complaints centered on the dress conveying a sense of informality on a serious occasion.”
Melania Trump’s Internationally Designed Dress
Nobody likes a hypocrite, and that is the exact reason why so many people were up in arms about former First Lady Melania Trump’s choice of attire during a trip back to Washington D.C. and the White House.
During the trip, she wore a $2,300 yellow and white summer dress designed by Spanish designer Delpoz’s. Critics were not thrilled, considering one of Melania’s husband’s statements during his Inaugural Address was, “We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.”
Michelle Obama’s Plunging Neckline
Classic attire is typically the name of the game when it comes to hosting foreign diplomats at the White House. Former First Lady Michelle Obama decided to do something different, opting for a daring look while entertaining China’s President and First Lady Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan in 2015.
Her form-fitting mermaid-style gown featured a risque plunging neckline!
Mamie Eisenhower Showing Off Her Arms
When Mamie Eisenhower’s husband was in the White House, it was the 1950s. During the time, a woman showcasing her arms, especially a prominent member of society, was a bit controversial.
That didn’t stop Mamie from wearing this low-cut, sleeveless peau de soie Nettie Rosenstein design with 2,000 rhinestones number to the Inaugural Ball.
Michelle Obama’s Sleeveless Inaugural Gala Gown
There are some White House events that are very formal, such as the Inaugural Gala. That didn’t stop former First Lady Michelle Obama from making a risque statement with her Jason Wu gown.
She wore a bright red chiffon gown, sleeveless with a cinched neckline that showed even more skin! Not to mention the dress is red, the color of the Republican party, aka the opposition.
Melania Trump’s Repeat Ralph Lauren Dress
It wasn’t the fact that Melania Trump opted to forego a traditional headscarf during her trip to Saudi Arabia, but that her dress didn’t even reach the ground. While visiting the foreign country, Melania opted to wear a $1,590 khaki Ralph Lauren shirtdress, a bold move for the very conservative country.
Not only that, but she re-wore the dress during another event, a big no-no for First Lady critics.
Jackie O’s Strapless Evening Gown
On January 08, 1963, Jackie Kennedy, one of the biggest fashion icons to grace the White House, wore one of the most daring outfits during her time as First Lady. During the Unveiling ceremony of the Mona Lisa at the National Gallery of Art, Jackie O wore a strapless evening gown.
At a formal event, the lack of sleeves and the abundant amount of skin was very controversial.
Michelle Obama’s Off-The-Shoulder Gown
Michelle Obama doesn’t shy away from fashion she believes is pretty, classic, and effective for a White House event. That’s why she didn’t bat an eyelash when wearing a gown of white silk chiffon with organza flowers and Swarovski crystals designed by Jason Wu to the 2009 inaugural ball.
A gorgeous dress, the style was a bit daring for the time, as the ball is a formal event and Michelle was showcasing her arms and shoulders.
Barbara Bush’s “Democratic” Dress
Barbara Bush was the First Lady during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, a Republican. Because of their political affiliation, people were stunned when the former First Lady wore a sapphire blue dress with a velvet bodice by Arnold Scaasi to her husband’s Inaugural Ball.
There was nothing wrong with the dress, per se, just that the color was “wrong” because it represented Democrats, something that made the otherwise formal gown scandalous.
Melania Trump’s Innapropriately Priced Delpozo Dress
While speaking of child hunger during the United Nations General Assembly, former First Lady Melania Trump came under a lot of flack for wearing a very inappropriate dress. The fuchsia pink dress from designer Delpozo wasn’t daring, but the price was very high when speaking of child hunger.
The dress cost $2,950, making her seem completely out of touch with the topic she was discussing.
Michelle Obama’s Sheer Givenchy Couture Gown
At the White House Correspondents’ dinner in 2016, Michelle Obama stunned the public wearing a sheer sequined overlay dress and plunging neckline. It was a very daring look for the former First Lady.
Of course, Michelle wasn’t concerned, as her fashion choices had been a major topic of conversation throughout her husband’s presidency.
Melania Trump’s Sheer Sequined Overlay
For the White House Historical Association Dinner in 2017, former First Lady Melania Trump wore a pretty daring gown. Designed by Monique Lhuiller, the gown featured a glimmering sequined overlay, showcasing her shoulders.
While it isn’t the most controversial look, traditionally, First Ladies are more covered up for formal dinner parties.
Michelle Obama’s Strapless Gown
During the India State Dinner in 2009, former First Lady Michelle Obama wore a strapless champagne and silver chiffon dress by Naeem Khan. Albeit gorgeous, the gown was a bit daring for such a formal event!
According to the designer, a total of 40 people worked on making the dress and styling Michelle.
Melania Trump’s High Slit And Off-The-Shoulder Gown
Melania Trump might have looked stunning in her 2017 Inaugural Ball gown, but it was a bit daring for the formal event. The silk column gown was designed by Hervé Pierre and featured a risque leg slit up one side and was completely off-the-shoulder.
For a First Lady, the dress was considered revealing.