Whenever a new U.S. president gets elected, they have an inauguration. It is a ceremony followed by a ball. While the president takes center stage, the new First Lady receives special attention. First Ladies spend a lot of time on their inaugural gowns.
From Mamie Eisenhower to Jill Biden, every First Lady has gone all out on their inauguration dress. Some even planned their attire before the election concluded. They often hired talented designers, some famous, others not well known.
Mamie Eisenhower Revealed Her Gown Before The Ball
In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first American president to host two inaugural balls. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower needed a dress that could withstand both parties. She donned a light pink peau de soie gown by designer Nettie Rosenstein, which she showed the press a week before the event.
Over 2,000 rhinestones decorated the dress, which was a full a-line dress with a v-neck. The matching gloves and jewelry came from Trifari. Mamie topped the look with a purse by Judith Leiber and shoes that she had her name printed on.
Jackie Kennedy, The First Lady Of Fashion
Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy changed fashion as we know it. Instead of opting for detailed, lace-and-crystal clothes, she wore simple, streamlined gowns. Her inaugural ball dress is no exception. It was an off-white chiffon dress with no sleeves and a silk top.
Designer Ethel Frankau added a twist: a cape. The cape matched the dress and was tied in the front. Like the gown, it included pearl beading. Jackie and Frankau worked on sketches together to design all three of her inauguration dresses–yes, three! One before the inauguration, one during the ceremony, and one for the party.
Lady Bird Johnson’s Dress Represented Hope
In 1965, Lyndon Johnson became the 36th president of the United States. His First Lady was Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson. She requested designer John Moore for a yellow satin gown for the inauguration. Lady Bird chose yellow because she saw it as the color of hope; the inauguration took place one year after Kennedy’s assassination.
The understated dress had a high neckline and sleeves. Lady Bird wore long, white gloves that went over her elbows and a pearl necklace. Instead of a coat, she donned a brown fur shawl.
Michelle Obama Promoted An Unknown Designer
When Barack Obama first got inaugurated in 2009, Michelle wore a dress from an unknown designer. Although Jason Wu was not famous at the time, he excelled with her white chiffon gown. The one-shoulder dress is garnished with organza flowers and Swarovski crystals. Her shoes were from Jimmy Choo, and her jewelry was by Loree Rodkin.
Jason Wu is a Taiwanese-born Canadian and first-generation American citizen. Designing Michelle’s gown granted him mainstream success in designing. In 2013, Michelle hired Wu again for her second inaugural gown in an eye-catching red.
Michelle Obama’s Second Dress Is Striking
For Michelle Obama‘s second inaugural gown, designer Jason Wu opted for a sparkling ruby red. The dress had a cross-halter strap neckline with velvet details. Wu combined it with bracelets by Kimberly McDonald and shoes by Jimmy Choo. Obama had also just cut her stylish bangs.
In January 2013, the Smithsonian displayed Michelle Obama’s second inaugural dress. The gown joined the First Ladies exhibit and celebrated the museum’s 50th anniversary. The First Ladies exhibit still exists today and has featured inaugural dresses since 2011.
Barbara Bush Coined A New Color
A few years before George Bush entered the White House, George H.W. Bush got inaugurated in 1989. His wife, Barbara Bush, enlisted the help of designer Arnold Scaasi. Throughout his long career, Scaasi had designed dresses for First Ladies like Mamie Eisenhower.
The dress was called “Barbara Blue” for its two-tone blue hues. The bodice is navy blue velvet, and the skirt is royal blue satin. The sleeves have a classic Princess Diana puff that was popular in the ’80s. Designer Judith Leiber made her classic pearl necklace and matching purse.
Hillary Clinton Got Her Gown Before The Election Ended
Bill Clinton entered his first term in 1993. While he wore a classic black tux, the First Lady Hillary Clinton donned a violet gown. She reached out to one of her favorite, little-known designers, Sarah Phillips. Hillary asked Phillips to send her sketches before Clinton had even won the election.
The ball gown had an iridescent blue overskirt made from silk mousseline. Sparkling lace decorated long sleeves and a high neckline. Phillips hailed from Arkansas, Bill Clinton’s home state, where he had worked as governor. She had help from costume designer Barbara Matera Ltd.
Hillary Clinton Wore Her Second Dress To 14 Balls
In 1997, Bill Clinton held a record-breaking 14 inaugural balls, the most in American history. First Lady Hillary Clinton wore a dress from the famous designer Oscar de la Renta. For some of the night, she donned a golden cape with the gown as an homage to Jackie Kennedy’s fashion.
Oscar de la Renta created an A-line gown with golden lace. It had long sleeves and a high neckline. Clinton first met the designer when she ran into him at the Kennedy Convention. He said that she was wearing one of his dresses, which she didn’t know at the time.
Grace Coolidge Wore A Top Hat
Calvin Coolidge’s wife, Grace, preferred to wear pants and keep her hair short. But she was also known for her lavish outfits. Her inauguration outfit broke boundaries with her feathered top hat. Along with her grey dress, of course.
Grace Coolidge sported a white, fur-trimmed jacket that matched the hat. She completed the unique look with fitted gloves and a beaded clutch. Coolidge’s style has been described as “modern.” While in France, she was awarded a gold medal for her fashion sense from Charles Worth of the French garment industry.
Media Swarmed Over Rosalynn Carter’s Dress
In 1977, Jimmy Carter began his presidency. His First Lady, Eleanor Rosalynn Carter (sometimes just called Rosalynn Carter), wore an elaborate dress. Designer Mary Matise created a gold-trimmed blue chiffon gown. She also donned a gold-and-blue coat over her dress.
The dress had translucent sleeves and a gold T-shaped neckline. Rosalynn also carried a simple, gold purse by After Five. The news pounced on her dress, discussing the lavishness and symbolism of bringing glamor into the White House. Carter called his wife his “best friend and chief advisor.”
Nancy Reagan’s First Gown For The “Most Lavish” Ball
The New York Times called Ronald Reagan’s inauguration ball the “most lavish” in American history. In 1981, First Lady Nancy Reagan entered the ball in a white gown with rose decorations. The designer, James Galanos, was known to create garments for high-profile customers.
The one-shoulder gown was made with silk satin, and its designs had white beads and sheaths of lace. Galanos also made the matching white gloves, which went with Ronald Regan’s tux shirt and bow. David Evins designed Nancy’s white purse, and her jewelry was from Judith Leiber. All are on display in the Smithsonian.
Pat Nixon Went Yellow For Her First Inaugural Dress
In 1969, Richard Nixon began his first presidential term. His wife, Thelema “Pat” Nixon, wore a pale yellow gown to the ball. Designer Karen Stark made it with silk satin and embroidered it with silver and gold. The long-sleeved top is encrusted with Austrian crystals.
Pat also wore matching shoes created by Herbert Levine. They included carvings of her name and the date. She completed the look with white gloves and a yellow purse by Morris Moskowitz. On that night, Richard Nixon said, “When [Pat] gets finished with [the dress], you’ll get it at the Smithsonian.”
Laura Bush Represented Her Home State
George Bush was inaugurated into his first term in 2001. Then, First Lady Laura Bush decided to represent her home state by choosing the Dallas-based designer, Michael Faircloth. Although many First Ladies wear white to the inauguration, Laura donned a fiery red.
The dress was embroidered with Chantilly lace and red crystals. Underneath was a silk mermaid gown with a scoop neckline and long sleeves. Laura also carried a matching red purse by designer Judith Leiber. She completed the look with a dainty silver choker.
Laura’s Second Inaugural Designer Dressed Many First Ladies
In January 2005, George W. Bush went into his second term in office. Oscar de la Renta, who created gowns for many other first ladies such as Hillary Clinton and Jacqueline Kennedy, designed Laura Bush‘s dress. It was an ice-blue v-neck covered in sparkles.
The dress had a slit down the middle and long, translucent sleeves. It was heavily embroidered with Austrian and bugle beads. De la Renta chose the color to match Laura’s eyes. Throughout the years, Laura Bush wore several of Oscar de la Renta’s clothes, even appearing in Vogue.
Jill Biden Wore An Inaugural Outfit That Conveyed “Trust, Confidence, And Stability”
For her husband Joe Biden’s 2021 Presidential Inauguration ceremony, Dr. Jill Biden went with a lovely blue dress and jacket ensemble from Markarian, an American label from designer Alexandra O’Neill.
The designer said that the outfit used several shades of blue as well as a variety of fabrics in order to “signify trust, confidence, and stability.” Due to the unusual circumstance of the global pandemic, Biden paired a matching face mask with her look.
Helen Taft Pioneered The Smithsonian’s First Lady Exhibit
Helen Taft, the wife of William Howard Taft, encouraged the creation of the First Lady exhibit in the Smithsonian. When curators asked for her to contribute a dress, she donated her 1909 inaugural gown. The white silk chiffon gown had floral embroideries and a train.
The designs on her dress were a combination of appliqués and rhinestones. Strings of crystals also hung off of the sleeves. The gown had an unusual but stunning square neckline. For accessories, Helen wore long white gloves and a lace choker that matched the dress. Today, the dress appears yellow because it discolored over time.
Mamie Sparkled During The Second Inauguration
For Dwight Eisenhower’s second inaugural ball, Mamie wore another design from Nettie Rosenstein. Her yellow ballgown had a pretty off-the-shoulder neckline. The taffeta is covered with pearls, lace, crystal drops, and topaz. It is no secret that Mamie loved bling.
Like the previous inauguration, Mamie customized part of her outfit. This time, she carried a Trifari bag with the letter “M” on one side and the date “1957” on the other. She accessorized her look with an elegant pearl neckline and long, white gloves.
Nancy’s Second Inaugural Gown Took 300 Hours To Make And Cost $46,000
In 1985, Ronald Reagan was elected president for a second term. For her second inauguration ball, Nancy once again hired designer James Galanos. Her sparkling dress had a bolero-esque and art deco design. Galanos spent 300 hours applying all of the beads by hand and reportedly cost a whopping $46,000.
Nancy Reagan was known to love handmade clothes, but she also adored high fashion. Her second inaugural dress combined both. It was carefully made with white chiffon and glass beads from Austria and Czechoslovakia. Throughout her life, designer Galanos continued to create dresses for her.
Melania Trump’s Dress Is In The Smithsonian
During the 2017 presidential inauguration, Melania Trump wore a dress by designer Hervé Pierre. It is a figure-hugging white gown with a slit skirt and ruffle that wraps around the body. Pierre designed the gown while collaborating with Melania. After Melania wore the dress on January 20, 2017, she gave it to the Smithsonian.
The museum displays the dress in a section titled First Ladies. It explores the changing roles of American first ladies throughout the past 200 years. Melania was both surprised and grateful that her dress had gone on display.
Michelle Obama In Carolina Herrera At The 2014 State Dinner
Michelle Obama chose a Venezuelan-American designer to put together her look for the 2014 state dinner where she and her husband welcomed French President Francois Hollande. The Carolina Herrera gown had an intricate beaded black bodice, with a full skirt made of liberty blue material.
Author of Michelle Obama: First Lady of Fashion and Style, Susan Swimmer, said, “From the White House to Versailles, it’s not that far…It’s much more keeping in a French aesthetic than I’ve seen her wear before. It’s very French in terms of how ornate it is and the use of lace and the velvet sash.”
Michelle Obama Wearing Naeem Khan In 2009
During the 2009 state dinner with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur, former First Lady Michelle Obama dazzled in a silver sequined evening gown. Custom made by Naeem Khan, the strapless gown was adorned with beads forming an abstract floral pattern in the cream-colored silk. The matching wrap, stacked bangle bracelets, and dangling earrings were just the icing on the cake.
Of the evening gown, author Mary Tomer said, “She walked out in something that’s figure-flattering and chic. Mr. Naeem’s work is known for glamour and embellishment, and this dress seems to embody that. She’s sparkling and radiant.”
Lucretia Rudolph Garfield’s Inaugural Gown From 1881
Obviously, fashion has come a long way since Lucretia Rudolph Garfield‘s time. Her husband, James A. Garfield, was the United States president from March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881. Needless to say, high necklines, full sleeves, and floor-length gowns were the name for not only the First Lady but women in general.
But for her inaugural gown, Garfield opted for a fancier take on the typical evening gown, adding in more than one ruffled accent and a coat-type overlay. In 2017, the dress was on display at the James A. Garfield National Historic Site.
Lucy Webb Hayes’ Inaugural Gown In 1877
Lucy Webb Hayes wore this gown to her husband, Rutherford B. Hayes’, inauguration in 1877. Full of ruffles and various patterns, this was more than likely peak, high-end fashion during the time, including the long train and hip enhancers.
Hand-sewn by Mrs. M. A. Connelly of New York, the old damask and cream satin gown was perfect of Hayes, who, historically, favored more modest clothing that covered her arms, neck, and legs. During her time as First Lady, she was both praised and criticized for her choice of clothing.
Mary Todd Lincoln’s Inaugural Gown In 1861
In 1861, Mary Todd Lincoln wore this full ball gown to her husband’s inaugural ball. Complete with a flower sash and crown, Mary Todd was known for her love of clothing and spending more than a few dollars on her extensive wardrobe, much to her husband’s displeasure.
Either way, she stunned during the ball with the off-the-shoulder number, little white gloves, flower accents, and stunning jewelry to complete the ensemble. Needless to say, this type of fashion most likely won’t be gracing the White House anytime soon.
Ida Saxton McKinley In Feathers And Lace
Nothing says high fashion, quite like Ida Saxton McKinley striking a pose on this plush chair while wearing layers upon layers of lace and feathers. The former First Lady actually wore this Venetian lace and ivory silk, with gold trim accents to her husband’s inaugural ball in 1897.
It was an intricate work of art. And, no surprise, considering Ida was something of a handicrafter herself. During her time, it’s said that Ida crocheted over 4,000 slippers for orphans, friends, and even veterans.
Jackie-O Knows How To Serve A Look
On May 11, 1962, former First Lady Jackie Kennedy wowed during a dinner in honor of the Minister of State for Cultural Affairs of France, Andre Malroux. Jackie O wore a pale pink silk gown for the engagement, opting to ditch the sleeves and adding elbow-length gloves as an accessory.
The look is complete with a subtle yet beautiful gold clutch bag, dangling earrings, and an accented clip to hold her hair in an elegant up-do. There’s a reason she stands out in this picture!
Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison Supported Local Businesses
To her husband’s inaugural ball, former First Lady Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison wore this stunning Ghormley, Robes et Manteaux gown. With silk procured from New York by the Logan Silk Company, Harrison’s entire vision for the gown was based on her husband’s America-first economic policy.
So, she ordered materials domestically, wanting to make sure to support local businesses instead of foreign ones. She even hired Indiana artist Mary Williamson to design the brocaded silk pattern on the dress, a design of burr oak tree leaves.
Betty Ford Stunned During A Royal Dinner
During a white-tie dinner at the White House in 1976 with honorary guests Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, former First Lady Betty Ford pulled out what might look like a familiar dress. Designed by Frankie Welch, Ford wore this pale-green sequined chiffon gown by Luis Estevez to more than one state dinner.
Embroidered with a chrysanthemum pattern and paired with dazzling earrings, this particular dress has since been donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History as her inaugural gown, even though Ford didn’t necessarily have a typical inauguration.
Nancy Reagan Making History In Red
If there was one thing former First Lady Nancy Reagan contributed to fashion, it was taking the concept of a simple red dress and making it iconic. While greeting the press on May 7, 1981, she is seen adorning one such red dress. While it might not be simple, Reagan definitely made it a statement piece.
Complete with puffy shoulder sleeves, a cinched waist, and an accent bow, this red floor-length gown does everything and more to complement the delicate frame of the former First Lady. The press even dubbed her preferred shade “Reagan Red.”
Jackie Kennedy In This Black And Yellow Chez Ninon
On September 19, 1961, Jackie Kennedy once again stepped out looking gorgeous. During the White House state dinner honoring President Manuel Prado of Peru, Jackie wore a black silk velvet and Chinese yellow silk satin evening dress by Chez Ninon, paired with elbow-high gloves and a stunning accent bow on the skirt.
As of 2001, this particular Jackie O look is actually on display at the “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years” exhibition at the Costume Institue of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lady Bird Johnson In Red With Multiple Pearl Accessories
Before Lyndon B. Johnson’s election, Lady Bird Johnson was known for wearing what her husband called “muley” colors, aka browns and grays. Once elected, the former First Lady changed her color palette to include vibrant colors, such as yellows, greens, and the occasional orange.
Here, she found an even middle ground, going with a wine red evening gown with a delicate accent bow in the middle. It isn’t as eye-catching as some of her other gowns, but this is elegant in an entirely different way, especially with the multiple strands of pearls around her neck and think gold bracelet accessory.
Jackie Kennedy’s Last-Minute Wedding Gown
In 1953, Jackie Bouvier tasked fashion designer Anne Lowe with making her wedding dress, but tragedy struck. Ten days before the wedding, a water pipe broke and caused havoc at Lowe’s studio on Madison Avenue. It ruined 10 of the dresses for the wedding, including Jackie’s gown, which had taken two months to construct.
In a panic, Lowe ordered additional ivory French taffeta and pink silk faille to remake the dress. She and her team of seamstresses were able to do it in the nick of time. With a classic neckline and bouffant skirt, the gown is one of history’s most iconic wedding gowns.
Betty Ford Didn’t Wear White At Her Second Wedding
Elizabeth Anne “Betty” Bloomer married Gerald R. Ford at the Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, MI, in 1948. Unlike most brides, she did not wear white on her wedding day. But she looked fabulous in her shiny sapphire blue dress with matching pumps. It was Betty’s second marriage. She divorced her first husband, William G. Warren, in 1947.
After she met Ford, they delayed their wedding while he was running for the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the New York Times, “Jerry was running for Congress and wasn’t sure how voters might feel about his marrying a divorced ex-dancer.”
Nancy Reagan Hid A Baby Bump Under Her Wedding Gown
Nancy Davis was an actress in the 1940s and 1950s, and she dated many stars before meeting Ronald Reagan, including Clark Gable. She met Ronald in 1949 when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. Ronald was not big on marriage, particularly following his divorce from Jane Wyman.
He and Nancy wed in 1952 after three years of dating. The wedding was last minute to avoid the press, and only the best man and matron of honor were in attendance. Nancy was pregnant during the ceremony at the Little Brown Church in Los Angeles. She wore a simple, no-frills dress.
Laura Bush In Ice Blue
Laura Bush is the wife of George W. Bush. For the first inauguration, Laura wore a red-crystal embroidered gown designed by a Texas, similar to her predecessor Hillary. She also wore pearls as a nod to her mother-in-law and former First Lady Barbara.
After Bush was elected a second time, the nation was different. Laura took another note from Hillary and wore Oscar De La Renta. She wore an embroidered ice blue and silver tulle gown encrusted with Austrian crystals. Clearly, fashion knows no political bounds, and it doesn’t matter what political party you might affiliate with if you like good design.
Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston’s Wedding Dress
Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston was a trendsetter of her time. She had appeared on the covers of Leslie’s and Harper’s and back then, both huge publications, so it slingshotted her into the trendsetter conversation. Even at her wedding, the New York Times had high praise for her.
The publication wrote, “Accustomed as were the ladies gathered in the Blue Room to the dazzle of rich costumes, they could barely restrain expressions of wonder and admiration at the beautiful picture presented by the bride.”
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington
As the first first lady of the nation, there were many challenges for Martha Washington and her husband, George Washington. One thing that she had down pat was her fashion.
Because she was one of the richest women in that era, she had her pick of the crop when it came to clothes. Martha’s descendants have said her “she wore a gown of yellow silk damask with a petticoat of cream silk highlighted with interwoven silver threads.”
Eleanor Roosevelt’s Wedding Dress
In 1905, Eleanor Roosevelt, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt’s brother, married Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president’s fifth cousin. They first met when she was 14-years-old, and he was 18-years-old. After losing touch, they reconnected four years later when they crossed paths at a horse show in Madison Square Garden.
Eleanor wrote about her wedding gown in her autobiography, This Is My Story, saying, “My own dress was heavy stiff satin with shirred tulle in the neck and long sleeves. My grandmother Hall’s rose point Brussels lace covered the dress, and the veil of the same lace fell from my head over my long train.”
Barbara Bush Wore Her Mother-In-Law’s Veil
George H.W. Bush met his future wife, Barbara Pierce, when they were teenagers in 1941. The former president talked about their first meeting in the documentary titled 41. He said, “They called it a holiday dance at Christmas time, and here she was in this red and green dress. I said, ‘Who is this good-looking girl, that beautiful girl over there?’ ‘That’s Barbara Pierce from Rye, New York.’ So then a guy named Wozencraft introduced us. And the rest is history.”
The couple got married in 1945 at First Presbyterian Church in Rye, N.Y. Barbara wore the wedding veil that George’s mother donned in her own ceremony.
Grace Coolidge’s Favorite Fashion Accessory: Her Dogs
Grace Coolidge fell in love with collies after watching one of them perform in a circus. In 1922, she adopted one named Rob Roy, who lived until 1928 and spent time at the White House with the first family. Grace posed in many photos with their dogs, including this one with their Boston bulldog named Beans.
Her husband, President Calvin Coolidge, was also a fan of dogs. He is quoted as saying: “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.” They also acquired lions, a wallaby, a pygmy hippo, and a raccoon.