Michelle Obama, Jason Wu, 2013: The sleeveless red, chiffon and velvet gown was paired with a diamond embellished ring by jewelry designer Kimberly McDonald and shoes by Jimmy Choo.
Michelle Obama, Jason Wu, 2013: The sleeveless red, chiffon and velvet gown was paired with a diamond embellished ring by jewelry designer Kimberly McDonald and shoes by Jimmy Choo.Luke Sharrett—The New York Times/Redux
Michelle Obama, Jason Wu, 2013: The sleeveless red, chiffon and velvet gown was paired with a diamond embellished ring by jewelry designer Kimberly McDonald and shoes by Jimmy Choo.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle arriving on stage for a dance, at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball at the Convention Center in Washington, Tuesday, January 20, 2009.
White House Affairs
BUSH
Hillary Clinton, Oscar de la Renta, 1997: Clinton wore this gold lace dress in 1997, but she first met the designer at the Kennedy Center in Dec. 1993, when he pointed out that she was wearing one of his dresses, which she claims she did not realize at the time. De la Renta has described his "friend" Hillary as "a symbol of where women want to go."
Hillary Clinton, Sarah Phillips, 1993: This violet beaded lace gown was made by a little-known designer whose work Clinton reportedly first noticed in a Little Rock boutique.
Barbara Bush, Arnold Scaasi, 1989 In this royal blue gown with a velvet top and satin skirt, Bush became known as America's "most glamorous grandmother."
Ronald Reagan    and    Nancy  Reagan
Portrait of President and Mrs. Reagan
Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter
Pat Nixon, Karen Stark for Harvey Berin, 1969 This gold and silver embroidered gown was encrusted with Austrian crystals.
Lady Bird Johnson
Jackie Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy and Ethan Frankau, 1961 The design of this off-white, sleeveless, silk chiffon gown with accompanying cape was based on sketches submitted by the First Lady.
Mamie Eisenhower, Nettie Rosenstein, 1953 This sparkling pink gown boasts 2,000 embroidered rhinestones, and her name was printed on the left instep of her Delman shoes, according to the Smithsonian.
Eleanor Roosevelt, Sally Milgrim, 1933 Roosevelt wore a slate-blue silk crepe gown with a gold leaf-and-flower pattern, plus belt buckle and shoulder clips made out of rhinestone and moonstone.
Helen Taft, Frances Smith Company, 1909 This gown is white silk chiffon with floral embroidery and rhinestone and bead trim. She started the tradition of First Ladies selecting their inaugural dress and then donating it to the Smithsonian's First Ladies Collection.
Michelle Obama, Jason Wu, 2013: The sleeveless red, chiffon and velvet gown was paired with a diamond embellished ring b
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Luke Sharrett—The New York Times/Redux
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From Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama: 16 Stunning Inaugural Gowns

Jan 18, 2017

Throughout modern U.S. history, inaugural balls have given First Ladies a high-profile chance to officially introduce themselves and their values to the American people. As one of the first formal introductions to a President and the first family in their new roles, something as simple as choosing a dress for the occasion can speak volumes.

Take, for example, Nancy Reagan’s selection of an over-the-top, glitzy ensemble that effectively foreshadowed the era of Reaganomics, or recall how Michelle Obama’s cogent choice to wear Jason Wu, a young and openly gay designer who was born in Taiwan, reflected the values of inclusivity that her husband’s administration would be known for. In this way, inaugural gowns serve as a tangible sign of our times—a fact that’s not lost on the Smithsonian, which houses many of the past dresses in their First Ladies exhibit.

On the night of Jan. 20, following the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, all eyes at the ball will at one point turn to the dress choice of his wife, Melania. Here’s a look back at 16 of the most memorable inaugural gowns.

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