First Lady Inauguration Gowns From Across The Years

What a first lady wears for an inauguration ball is photographed worldwide and sought after by women and designers everywhere, but trends over time have dictated what is acceptable to be worn by the wife or companion of the president of the United States. The gown is so noteworthy that some first ladies have worn a different gown for each ball they attend.

While it is too early to know what Melania Trump will be wearing, or what designer will be creating her crown for Donald Trump’s inauguration, Melania is already known as a fashion plate, as she has shown an interest in designer clothing since her modeling days, says the Inquisitr. People have been making note of what Melania Trump has been wearing since events surrounding the Republican National Convention, and Saks Fifth Avenue sold out of the hot pink “Pussy Bow” blouse that Trump wore to the second presidential debate.

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Town & Country says that before the 20th century, attendance at inauguration balls by the first lady was spotty, and the press seldom made note of what was worn, and so nobody thought to preserve the dresses. The first first lady, Martha Washington, was thought to have skipped her husband’s inaugural ball entirely because she had not wanted him to run for office in the first place.


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Dolley Madison was known for hosting legendary Washington, D.C., parties, and was the first first lady to personally host her own inaugural ball. Madison was also known for being a fan of fashion. To the inaugural ball, she wore a full-length, cream-colored, hand-embroidered gown with a “fine floral pattern.”

Not all first ladies were the wives of the sitting president of the United States. President James Buchanan was a bachelor, and had his niece, Helen Lane Johnston, serve as his first lady for events that required a hostess. As Johnston was younger than your average first lady, she was slightly more fashion-forward, and wore a gown with a “low-cut European style.”

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Mary Todd Lincoln wore a gown adorned with actual flowers, and on her head, she wore a floral headpiece. Mrs. Lincoln was known as a big shopper, who loved clothing, as opposed to her husband, who was said to be a bit tight with money. One of the most luxurious gowns featured in the Smithsonian belonged to Caroline Harrison, wife of Benjamin Harrison, and granddaughter of President William Henry Harrison.

“Benjamin Harrison’s policies encouraged American economic expansion, and Caroline’s inaugural dress nodded to this stance. Her silk gown was made in New York, with a brocade design by Indiana artist Mary Williamson that paid tribute to Harrison’s grandfather, President William Henry Harrison. The details included burr oaks, which grew along the Tippacanoe Creek—the site of the famous battle that gave the elder Harrison his nickname.”

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But perhaps the biggest first lady fashion icon was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, the wife of John F. Kennedy, who had Oleg Cassini as her personal designer, says New York Magazine. The dress that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to JFK’s inauguration ball was a satin gown designed by Cassini that was named “One of the 50 Dresses That Changed the World” by London’s Design Museum.

The professional relationship between the first lady and Oleg Cassini was so well-documented that in biographical movies and television, Jacqueline Kennedy’s wardrobe is able to be duplicated flawlessly.

Do you have a favorite gown worn by a first lady to an inaugural ball?

[Featured Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]