First ladies' inaugural gowns through the years

Laura Bush (2001-2009) The wife of President


Laura Bush (2001-2009)

The wife of President George W. Bush wore this ruby red gown of crystal-embroidered Chantilly lace over silk georgette to the 2001 presidential inauguration. It was designed by Michael Faircloth. She also carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

As everyone wonders what first lady Michelle Obama will wear to her second Inaugural Ball on Monday, we're taking a look back at the fashion choices of other first ladies throughout history, including inaugural gowns and dresses worn to state dinners and other important events. These photos, from an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History called "The First Ladies," start with Mary Lincoln's purple velvet dress from the 1860s and take us on a style journey all the way to Michelle Obama's 2009 silk chiffon gown that put designer Jason Wu on the map.

Mary Lincoln (1861-1865) This outfit, believed to
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Mary Lincoln (1861-1865)

This outfit, believed to have been made by African-American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly, was worn by President Abraham Lincoln's wife during the winter social season of 1861-62. All three pieces are piped with white satin. The daytime bodice is trimmed with mother-of pearl buttons. Its lace collar is of the period but is not original to the bodice. The evening bodice is trimmed with lace and chenille fringed braid.

Julia Grant (1869-1877) The wife of president
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Julia Grant (1869-1877)
The wife of president Ulysses S. Grant wore this white silk damask evening gown in the early 1870s. According to the Grant family, the rose-patterned fabric was a gift from the emperor of China. The underskirt is a reproduction.

Lucy Hayes (1877-1881) The wife of President
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Lucy Hayes (1877-1881)

The wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes wore this gold damask and cream satin grown in 1880 to the White House New Year's reception and later to a February reception for diplomats and members of Congress. It was made by Mrs. M.A. Connelly, a New York dressmaker.

Frances Cleveland (1885-1889; 1893-1897) The original floral
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.


Frances Cleveland (1885-1889; 1893-1897)
The original floral chine skirt and peach velvet bodice were probably made around 1895 by the House of Doucet of Paris for President Grover Cleveland's wife.

Edith Roosevelt (1901-1909) President Theodore Roosevelt's second
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Edith Roosevelt (1901-1909)
President Theodore Roosevelt's second wife wore this robin’s egg blue silk gown with a design of plumes and birds woven in gold thread for the 1905 presidential inauguration. The pattern for the fabric was destroyed so that the dress could not be copied. The skirt was altered and the original bodice removed before the dress was donated to the Smithsonian.

Edith Wilson (1913-1921) President Woodrow Wilson's wife
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Edith Wilson (1913-1921)
President Woodrow Wilson's wife wore this black charmeuse satin dress trimmed with beads, black velvet and white net from the House of Worth in Paris in 1915 for a private dinner party at the White House.

Grace Coolidge (1923-1929) The wife of President
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Grace Coolidge (1923-1929)

The wife of President Calvin Coolidge wore this brown chiffon and lace flapper-style dress trimmed with metallic thread and a brown velvet bow. She gave the dress to her White House maid, Maggie Rogers. It was likely shortened to be worn by Maggie’s daughter Lillian.

Lou Hoover (1929-1933) The wife of President
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Lou Hoover (1929-1933)

The wife of President Herbert Hoover wore this dark gray silk crepe evening gown with metallic thread brocade.

Lou Hoover (1929-1933) President Herbert Hoover's wife
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Lou Hoover (1929-1933)
President Herbert Hoover's wife wore this floral-patterned silk day dress fastened at the waist with a costume-jewelry brooch.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-1945) President Franklin D. Roosevelt's
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Eleanor Roosevelt (1933-1945)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt's wife wore this slate blue silk crepe evening gown designed by Sally Milgrim for the 1933 inaugural ball. Embroidered with a leaf-and-flower design in gold thread, it featured detachable long sleeves (not displayed). The belt buckle and shoulder clips are made of rhinestone and moonstone.

Mamie Eisenhower (1953-1961) The wife of President
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Mamie Eisenhower (1953-1961)

The wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower wore this rose-colored silk damask ball gown designed by Nettie Rosenstein to a 1957 state dinner at the British Embassy.

Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963) The fashion icon and
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Jacqueline Kennedy (1961-1963)

The fashion icon and wife of John F. Kennedy wore this yellow silk evening gown with an overlay of crepe chiffon designed by Oleg Cassini in 1961 for the administration’s first state dinner for Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba.

Lady Bird Johnson (1963-1969) President Lyndon B.
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Lady Bird Johnson (1963-1969)
President Lyndon B. Johnson's wife wore this yellow satin gown and sable-trimmed coat designed by John Moore to the 1965 presidential inauguration. Aware of the tradition of donating the dress for display at the Smithsonian, she chose a simple design that she thought would age well.

Pat Nixon (1969-1974) President Richard Nixon's wife
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Pat Nixon (1969-1974)
President Richard Nixon's wife wore this mimosa silk satin gown embroidered in gold and silver and encrusted with Austrian crystals to the 1969 presidential inauguration. It was designed by Karen Stark for Harvey Berin.

Betty Ford (1974-1977) Since there were no
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Betty Ford (1974-1977)

Since there were no formal inaugural celebrations when Gerald Ford became president, his wife chose this pale-green sequined chiffon gown embroidered in a chrysanthemum pattern to represent her in the Smithsonian’s collection. The dress was designed by Frankie Welch.

Rosalynn Carter (1977-1981) President Jimmy Carter's wife
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Rosalynn Carter (1977-1981)
President Jimmy Carter's wife had previously worn this gold-embroidered sleeveless coat over a gold-trimmed blue chiffon gown to the 1971 ball celebrating her husband’s inauguration as governor of Georgia, and she wore it again for the 1977 inaugural ball. The dress was designed by Mary Matise for Jimmae.

Nancy Reagan (1981-1989) President Ronald Reagan's wife
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Nancy Reagan (1981-1989)
President Ronald Reagan's wife wore this beaded, one-shouldered white sheath gown of lace over silk satin to the 1981 presidential inauguration. It was designed by James Galanos. She also wore white gloves by Galanos, beaded shoes by David Evins and carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.

Barbara Bush (1989-1993) The wife of President
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Barbara Bush (1989-1993)

The wife of President George H. W. Bush wore this royal-blue gown with a velvet bodice and asymmetrically draped silk satin skirt to the 1989 presidential inauguration. It was designed by Arnold Scassi. She wore her trademark costume pearls with the gown and carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.

Hillary Clinton (1993-2001) The wife of President
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Hillary Clinton (1993-2001)
The wife of President Bill Clinton wore this violet beaded lace sheath gown with iridescent blue velvet silk-mousseline overskirt to the 1993 presidential inauguration. It was designed by Sarah Phillips and made by Barbara Matera Ltd., a New York theatrical costume maker. She wore beaded shoes by Bruno Magli and carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.

Laura Bush (2001-2009) The wife of President
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Laura Bush (2001-2009)

The wife of President George W. Bush wore this ruby red gown of crystal-embroidered Chantilly lace over silk georgette to the 2001 presidential inauguration. It was designed by Michael Faircloth. She also carried a purse designed by Judith Leiber.

Michelle Obama (2009 to Present) The wife
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History


Michelle Obama (2009 to Present)
The wife of President Barack Obama wore this one-shouldered white silk chiffon gown embellished with organza flowers with Swarovski crystal centers to the 2009 presidential inauguration. It was designed by Jason Wu.

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