We’ve always looked to the White House for leadership, strength, and guidance. But it’s also been a source of fashion inspiration. Whatever the first ladies wear, they always make waves in the tabloids and we often try to emulate the styles we see photographed in the Oval Office.
Catch up on the trends that America’s first ladies have latched onto and the drama that comes with their outfit choices. You’ll hear all about risqué fashion choices of the past and get to know how much First Lady Melania Trump’s custom wedding dress actually cost.
Nancy Reagan Looked Stylish In This Gown That Cost Over $40,000
Nancy Reagan was the wife of President Ronald Reagan who was a former movie star. The Reagans were used to the public limelight and her tasteful and elegant inaugural ball gowns reflect that.
For her first inaugural ball, Nancy opted for a white silk off the shoulder gown designed by James Galanos and paired it with elbow-length gloves. For her second inaugural ball, Nancy again rocked a Galanos original again that had Czechoslovakian glass beads that took more than 300 hours to hand apply. The price tag for this dress was a whopping $46,000.
Hillary Clinton Was Loyal To Designer Oscar De La Renta
Hillary Clinton is the wife of President Bill Clinton and for the 2016 presidential election was the first woman to receive the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Hillary met fellow law student Bill Clinton while attending Yale Law School and the rest is history.
Reportedly, there were 14 inaugural balls held in Clinton’s honor by Bill Clinton’s second term. For the second round of balls, Hillary wore a white beaded Oscar De La Renta gown. Oscar De La Renta considered Hillary a friend and she famously spoke at a ceremony where USPS unveiled a line of stamps commemorating the designer.
Michelle Obama’s Simple And Classic Style Saved The Cardigan
Michelle Obama is the wife of President Barack Obama who’s term lasted from January 2009-January 2017. Michelle and Barack are the first African-American man and woman to be President and First Lady of our nation.
For her second inaugural gown in 2013, Michelle wore designer Jason Wu. The dress was a striking combination of red chiffon and velvet. Like Jackie O, Michelle’s elegant and colorful choices are emulated by women worldwide. Michelle Obama has been on the cover of Vogue magazine 3 times and is credited with making the short-sleeved cardigan cool for modern women.
Jackie O Never Left The House Without Her Oversized Sunglasses
Jackie O loved wearing oversized sunglasses so much that her signature look was known as the “Jackie O” style. She sported the Nina Ricci 3203, Francois Pinton Spa 2, and the Pierre Marly Traction P711.
Jackie’s sunglasses are such an iconic part of history that the Smithsonian’s Museum Store currently sells an authentic replica of the shades for $45. They even have her signature Greek key detail that symbolizes eternal life. Looks like the Jackie O trend is truly meant to live on.
Pat Nixon Loved America Designers
Pat Nixon was the wife of Richard Nixon during his term as President from 1969-1974. Pat wasn’t very politically active, but she used her high profile image to visit orphanages, hospitals, and other places on goodwill missions.
Pat was incredibly loyal to American designers and was a huge supporter of the ready-to-wear clothing movement. Following Lady Bird’s lead, Pat chose to wear a yellow gown for the inauguration. The two-piece gown was high-necked citron and came with an embroidered bolero that was encrusted with Austrian crystals.
Barbara Bush Rocked What Would Become Her Staple Necklace
Barbara Bush was the wife of George H.W. Bush when he served as President from 1989-1993 and mother to the 43rd President George W. Bush. Her royal blue velvet and satin Arnold Scassi inaugural gown was designed to make her appear more youthful.
Barbara chose to wear the more classic pearls instead of diamonds. The necklace and matching handbag were designed by Judith Leiber and the necklace would later become Bush’s signature. For her look, Barbara was dubbed America’s “most glamorous grandmother.”
Laura Bush Sparkled In Her Dress
Laura Bush is the wife of George W. Bush who served as president from 2001-2009. For the first inauguration as an homage to her Texan roots, Laura wore a fiery red-crystal embroidered gown designed by Texan Michael Faircloth.
Instead of sticking to her rodeo roots for the 2nd inauguration, Laura took notes from Hillary Clinton and wore Oscar De La Renta. The embroidered ice blue and silver tulle gown was encrusted with Austrian crystals and embroidered with bugle beads. It was still just as ornate as her first one – remember, they always do it bigger in Texas.
Jackie Kennedy’s Last-Minute Wedding Gown Is The Best-Remembered Wedding Dress Of All Time
Ten days before the wedding, a water pipe broke at designer Anne Lowe’s studio and ruined 10 of the dresses for the wedding, including Jackie’s gown. The designer and her staff worked around the clock for 8 days to reconstruct dresses that had previously taken them 2 months.
Anne Lowe and her team succeeded and delivered Jackie her gorgeous gown on time. The dress went down in history as one of the best-remembered wedding dresses of all time, but Anne Lowe never got credit for it. When asked who made her dress, Jackie said a “colored woman.”
Hillary Clinton Got Her Wedding Dress At The Mall The Night Before
Hillary Clinton is known for her wits and her passion – not so much for her wedding dress. The 2016 Presidential nominee was so down to Earth about her 1975 wedding to Bill Clinton that she didn’t even bother to get a wedding dress until the night before.
Hillary and her mother went to Dillard’s in the Fayetteville Mall and bought her daughter a $53 Jessica McClintock Victorian lace gown. They wed in their living room where there was only immediate family in attendance for the ceremony. Now that’s a union on a budget.
Melania Trump’s Costly Wedding Gown
Before he was the President, Donald Trump was a regular billionaire businessman getting married to Melania Knauss in 2005. Melania chose a Christian Dior dress that of a shocking 300 feet of tulle and cost between $100,000 and $200,000 to create.
It wasn’t only the dress that was extravagant. The Trumps had a $50,000 cake made that was 5 feet tall that was strictly for show. Melania had a memorable bouquet too that consisted of family heirloom rosary beads instead of flowers.
Nancy Knews The Value Of Hair…It Was The 80’s After All
Nancy Reagan was a hair enthusiast – she often kept right on top of current fashionable coifs and do’s. She was also rumored to be loyal to the hairstylist Robin Weir who is famous for cutting celeb’s locks and not blabbing about their personal lives.
Nancy paid Weir’s regular client rate of $18 for a chop. She was such a dedicated client of his that she had him come down to the White House at least once a week to freshen her do’ up in her private salon. Now that’s putting your best fringe forward.
Laura Bush Liked To Keep Her Clothes Muted And Understated
You only want your clothes speaking for you if it’s a uniform – that way people know you work there. Any other time, it’s better for your personality to speak for itself. Laura Bush definitely believed this as she often opted for simple structured pieces in her everyday life.
Dallas fashion designer Michael Faircloth raved about Bush’s style, “What was wonderful about Mrs. Bush was she was always very conscientious about not wanting clothes to speak loudly.” He says, “she has so many things she felt were more important.”
Jackie’s Image Was Clean-Cut And On Her Own Accord
Jackie was the first First Lady to hire a press secretary and she strictly controlled the way she and her family were perceived and photographed. The media called her the “ideal woman.” Academic Maurine Beasley argues that Jackie “created an unrealistic media expectation for first ladies.”
All white was a theme for Jackie, as you can tell by her inauguration dress. For the inauguration, she designed her own outfit with the help of fashion designer Ethan Frankou. She was also often pictured in Oleg Cassini and Chanel suits. You know, the yellow ones with the hats and buttons.
Melania Trump Took A Page From Jackie O’s Book And Wore White
Melania Trump is the Frist Lady to President Donald Trump who was elected in 2016. She was born in Slovenia and before she was the First Lady she was a model which means she’s not scared of bold fashion choices.
Melania wore a gown she designed with Hervé Pierre. For the first time in US history, many designers refused to dress Melania and the rest of the Trumps. Christian Siriano, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Sofie Theallet, Philip Lim, Derek Lam, Humberto Leon, Timo Weiland, and Naeem Khan were just a few.
The Timeless Style And Activism of Betty Ford
Betty Ford was the wife of President Gerald Ford during his term from 1974-1977. Betty Ford made waves within the Republican party because of her pro-choice, equal pay, equal rights, and gun control support. She also founded the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and addiction.
Betty enjoyed structured and tailored jackets with wide collars and often paired them with matching suit skirts. Later in life Betty continued with this elegant and casual style, as she was often pictured in high-waisted trousers and pearl necklaces.
Rosalynn Carter’s Inaugural Gown Was Hotly Debated
Rosalynn Carter is the wife of President Jimmy Carter when he was president from 1977-1981. For the inauguration, to be thriftier, President Carter hosted the “people’s inaugural parties.” Tickets were only $25 and to add to the economy, Rosalynn recycled the gown she wore to Carter’s gubernatorial inauguration.
This move attracted a lot of tabloid attention. Some critics said it was a missed opportunity to champion the American fashion industry, while others called it a symbol of Carter’s notions of “modesty and frugality.”
Think Pink In The Mamie Look
If your house was built in the 1950’s and has a pink kitchen or bathroom you can thank the “Mamie look” for that. In 1953, she wore a hand-embroidered inaugural gown designed by Nettie Rosenstein. The gown was a pink peau de soie gown and the color was named “Mamie pink.”
Mamie paired it with gloves and jewelry by Trifari, a beaded purse by Judith Leiber, and shoes by Delman. The dress remains on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s collection of inaugural gowns. Her dresses and signature “bangs and buns” hairstyle landed her on best-dressed lists.
Helen Taft Had A Green Thumb And An Eye For Style
Helen Herron Taft met her husband Howard Taft while at a bobsledding party in 1897 when she was eighteen. They got engaged in 1885 and married in 1886. William Taft served as president from 1909-1913 and “Nellie” stood by him through every step.
Nellie, on the night of the inaugural ball, wore the height of turn of the century fashion. She was decked out in a gorgeous white chiffon gown embroidered with gold and lace details. She had an eye for natural beauty as well, as she organized the planting of 3,020 Japanese cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin.
Lady Bird Johnson Chose Colors Where Hope Was In Bloom
Lady Bird Johnson was married to President Lyndon B. Johnson who succeeded JFK in office immediately following the assassination from 1963-1969. She was a shrewd businesswoman who bought a radio and television station that later made the family into millionaires.
For the Johnson’s inauguration, Lady Bird wore a yellow gown by designer John Moore. She believed the color symbolized hope for the mourning nation. Her politics mimicked her fashion as she founded the Highway Beautification Act and said that “where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
Edith Bolling Wilson Was A Timeless Beauty Who Stood By Her Husband
Unlike the previous first ladies on the list, Edith Wilson did not meet and marry her husband President Woodrow Wilson until he was already in office so she never got the chance to have an inauguration dress. That didn’t stop her from being a style icon during his term from 1913-1921.
When President Wilson suffered a stroke in October 1919, Edith was there to support him and would screen all matters of state before they were brought to the president. She’s often pictured as a pillar of support at his side wearing delicately draped linen gowns.
Eleanor Roosevelt Didn’t Often Dress To Impress But When She Did…
Eleanor is probably one of the most famous first ladies to this day and a trailblazer for political and human rights activism during her time. She was the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 4 terms in office from 1933-1945 during the Great Depression and WW2.
When she wasn’t being the United State’s first UN delegate and the reason the country joined it, she was an excellent first lady with a simple style. She never had much interest in fashion, but her 1933 inaugural gown designed by Sally Milgrim was so popular the silvery green color was named “Eleanor blue.”
Grace Anna Goodhue Coolidge Was Very up On The Trend For Her Time
Grace Goodhue’s husband Calvin Coolidge was the dapper attorney and President from 1923-1929. She avidly supported the Red Cross and Visiting Nurse Association and before marriage taught at the Clarke Schools for children with hearing and speech issues.
Calvin was an unpretentious guy, so instead of a massive inauguration ball, he chose a private gathering. Grace similarly opted for a sleek and stylish flapper gown that wasn’t too ornate. Although, the simple square cut and scooped-neckline dress had gold lamé. It was the roaring 20’s after all.
Lou Henry Hoover Wore The Pants
Lou Henry Hoover was the first lady from 1929-1933 when her husband Herbert Hoover was in office. She was well-spoken, a master of several languages, the first female geology major at Standford University, and was the first lady to make regular nationwide radio broadcasts.
Lou had an ear for languages and an eye for fashion. She often was at the forefront of gender quality movement and is largely suggested as influencing the 1932 executive order to permit women and men to apply to all jobs. She was also often pictured wearing riding pants while she was riding her horses.
Elizabeth Wallace Truman Still Went To Her Old Beauty Salon After Being Named First Lady
Elizabeth Truman was First Lady to President Harry Truman during his 2 terms from 1945-1953. Elizabeth was disinterested in politics but she was incredibly down-to-earth. She would even take a limo to her longtime beauty shop and pay $3.00 for her weekly manicure, shampoo, style after Truman became president.
Her gown for the inaugural ball was designed by Madame Pola. She chose a dark gown with white accents and adorned it with a fur cape (far left in photo). At the other inaugural ball she kept a similar theme with a silver dress with a white hat as an accent.
The First First Lady Martha Dandridge Custis Washington Who Started It All
As the first, first lady of the nation, you can expect that there were many challenges for her and her husband, George Washington. Fashion wasn’t one of those. Martha was a huge fan of statement earrings and once received highly sought after garnet earrings and a matching necklace.
Martha was a widow and an heiress and that made her one of the richest women of that era – so she had no trouble buying and fitting clothing. In 2009, Mount Vernon displayed her royal purple silk wedding shoes and that made opinions of her jump from matronly to slightly daring.
Mamie Doud Eisenhower Felt The Need For Bead On Her 2nd Inaugural Gown
Mamie Eisenhower was the wife of President Eisenhower from 1953-1961. Mamie, unlike other first ladies before her, loved fashion and many foreign dignitaries were won over by her style and grace.
For her 2nd inaugural gown, she showed her fashion chops by chosing a decadent citron lace-and-taffeta gown detailed with matching tiny pearls, crystal drops, and translucent topaz. There was even a “fashion look” coined after her – “The Mamie look”, which was said to be inspired by Dior.
Florence Kling Harding Made Silk Neckbands Popular
Florence married Warren Harding, who served as president from 1921 until his death in 1923. She was a brilliant and outspoken business manager of the newspaper called the Marion Star. Not only was she smart, but she also had a flair for the dramatic and was called “The Duchess” for her famously elegant parties.
If you think the choker she’s wearing looks like something you’ve seen women wearing recently then you’re correct. Harding popularized silk neckbands which she used to hide her wrinkles. Her inauguration gown was a shimmering gold piece designed by Harry Collins that was trimmed with pearls.
Ida Saxton McKinley Was Ill But Always Stylish
Ida McKinley was the wife of President William McKinley from 1897-1901. She was an intelligent and refined woman who worked as a cashier at a bank which was at the time a man’s position.
Ida fell ill and developed epilepsy after the death of her daughters and mother. As a result, she took up crocheting slippers which she made thousands of pairs of. She was often seen wearing a standing collar with a chiffon insert that was often trimmed with pintucks that would soften the outfit.
Critics Raved About Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston’s Young And Fresh Look
Frances Preston became the FLOTUS at the tender age of 21 during her husband Grover Cleveland’s terms from 1886-1889 and 1893-1897. She was a fashion trendsetter and appeared on the covers of Leslie’s and Harper’s. She also changed her name from Frank to Frances.
Even at her wedding, the Washington Post had high praise of her, “the bride wore an enchanting white dress of ivory satin, simply garnished on the high corsage with India muslin crossed in Grecian folds and carried in exquisite falls of simplicity over the petticoat.” To be frank, she was so stylish.
Caroline Harrison’s All-American Inaugural Ball Attire
Caroline Harrison was the FLOTUS from 1889-1892 and wife to Benjamin Harrison and was a notable fashionista. Her brocaded silk fabric inauguration gown was an “all-American” creation that was made in NYC by William Ghormley’s firm,
Harrison had a bur oak design sewn into the design on the back of her dress that symbolized her state, Indiana. The Philadelphia Times called the incoming first lady “a sensible example for American Women” because of this homage to her hometown.
Ellen Arthur Passed Away Before Her Husband Was President, But Her Sister Stepped In To Act As FLOTUS
Ellen Arthur was the wife of President Chester A. Arthur who held office from 1881-1885. She sadly passed away in 1880 from pneumonia before he was elected. As a result, her sister Mary Arthur McElroy served as hostess and acting First Lady.
Both sisters are often sported wearing the popular black silk neckbands at the time and with their hair parted in the middle and gelled back into a low bun. She was known for her dark, long-sleeved gowns, and love of brocade designs.
Despite Nixon’s Controversial Years Pat Nixon Still Got Trendy
Even though her husband Richard Nixon was embroiled by a few controversies, Pat Nixon get it risqué and fresh with her fashion. She was often seen rocking the pantsuit and was the first First Lady to do so. She also wore short dresses and above-the-knee skirts that could’ve been considered miniskirts.
When her husband was up for re-election in 1972, she journeyed to Beijing and was pictured wearing a stark red coat. It was rumored she did this on purpose to draw attention to the campaign and draw the television cameras towards her.
Lady Washington’s Boots Were Made For Walking
Those purple silk wedding shoes caused high named people in the fashion world to call the Washingtons to fashion giants. Patricia Brady told the Washington Post “they were the Manolo Blahniks of her time.”
Martha Washington would always wear expensive clothes, but she couldn’t always wear what she wanted. The Washingtons had to curb their love of opulent materials at the risk of seeming overindulgent and losing public favor. A bolt of her fabric is approximately worth $25,000 thousand today.
Dolley Payne Todd Madison Was Social And Stylish
Dolly Payne Todd Madison set a precedent for all first ladies after her as the wife of Founding Father James Madison who served as president from 1809-1817. She set the standard and the expectation for First Ladies to be good hosts and sociable, as she was known for her friendliness and excellent parties.
Her style matched her wonderful personality. She turned heads at Madison’s inauguration ball wearing a buff-colored velvet gown with pearls and a feathery turban. One social life chronicler said she looked like a “queen.”
We Can’t Complain About Harriet Lane
Harriet Lane was like Mary Arthur McElroy who stepped in to act as the First Lady after her sister passed. Harriet Lane acted as the first lady during her Uncle James Buchanan’s presidency from 1857-1861.
Though she was a dutiful niece, Lane wasn’t afraid to take risks with her clothing. Her inauguration dress was no exception – the gown shocked the public as it was more low cut than they were used to. Almost overnight bodice heights dropped a couple of inches as women across the country mimicked her style.
Rosalynn Carter’s Wedding Dress Brought Over 70 Years Of Good Luck
Rosalynn originally rejected Jimmy’s first proposal because she promised her father on his death-bed that she wouldn’t marry until she finished college. When they did get married he was 21 and she was 18 and he wore his Navy uniform while Rosalynn opted for knee-length dress accessorized with gloves, a hat, and a corsage.
They used to have the secret code “ILYTG” to tell each other their love which means “I love you the goodest” which was what Jimmy’s parents used to say to each other. The couple celebrated 73 years of marriage in 2019.
Grace Coolidge’s Favorite Fashion Accessory Was Her White Collie
After Grace Coolidge saw a collie in a circus she knew she immediately had to have one. She went out and adopted two, Rob Roy, a male white collie, and Prudence Prim, a female. She would take Rob everywhere including boats where he loved to bark and relax while she went fishing.
Her husband, President Calvin Coolidge, also loved dogs. He once said tha, “any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.” No truer words have been spoken.
Mary Todd Lincoln Would Fit Right In Nowadays With Her Flower Crowns
Long before she was the dutiful wife of one of the most iconic Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd was breaking hearts left right and center in Springfield Illonois. There she was courted by Lincoln’s political opponent Stephen A. Douglas who she dodged before marrying Lincoln.
Despite her short 5 foot stature, she was a huge fan of grand opulent dresses. Todd even sprung for a personal tailor Elizabeth Keckley who made all of her signature flower headdresses. This makes Todd the first to popularize the flower crown.
Mamie Eisenhower Kept Her Signature Hairstyle For 50 Years
If it’s broken don’t fix it. That’s the motto Mamie Eisenhower took with her hairstyle since she kept her bang style for roughly 50 years. Not that it’s strange to rock a particular style for so long, but in this case, the tiny caterpillar bangs and the Princess Leia buns were a pretty bold choice to keep around for so long.
Many people were baffled by the bangs, as many wrote into major news sources expressing every opinion they had about the style. They eventually caught on, and the “Mamie Bangs” even had their own Elizabeth Arden tutorial.
Eleanor Roosevelt Married Her Cousin In This Dress
It was truly a different time back then. Though Theodor and Eleanor belonged to two separate branches of the Roosevelt family they were technically cousins – FDR was Eleanor’s 5th cousin once removed. This kind of wedding today definitely wouldn’t have gone over as smoothly as it did in 1905.
The marriage united the two branches that were comfortably settled in NYC in Oyster Bay and Hyde Park. Eleanor’s elegant dress reflected their family’s comfortable financial state. She wore a high collared gown with puffy fabric shoulders paired with a classic hat.