Home » History of Fashion: The First Ladies

History of Fashion: The First Ladies

On the third floor of the National Museum of American History in D.C. lives The First Ladies exhibition, which explores the important position of the first lady and the ways that these very different women have shaped the role.

The exhibition features more than two dozen gowns from the Smithsonian’s almost 100-year old First Ladies Collection, including those worn by Frances Cleveland, Lou Hoover, Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama. The exhibition encourages vistitors to consider the changing role played by the first lady and American women over the past 200 years. Below we take a look at 11 inaugural dresses that stood the test of time.

Michelle Obama, designed by Jason Wu, 2009

This white, one-shoulder, chiffon dress was a bold move for Michelle. It also thrust Wu, who was relatively unknown outside fashion’s inner circle, into the national spotlight.

Laura Bush, designed by Oscar de la Renta, 2005

The dress is an ice blue and silver embroidered tulle V-neck. She also wore de la Renta for a 2001 Vogue photo shoot and at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Hillary Clinton, designed by 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.”

Barbara Bush, designed by Arnold Scaasi, 1989

In this royal blue gown with a velvet top and satin skirt, Bush became known as America’s “most glamorous grandmother.”

Nancy Reagan, designed by James Galanos, 1985

The designer and his staff reportedly spent over 300 hours embroidering the beads onto this gown, and some news outlets estimated that her entire outfit cost $46,000.

Rosalynn Carter, designed by Mary Matise for Jimmae, 1977

She sported a coat with gold embroidery over a sleeveless, blue chiffon gown with gold trim — the same dress she wore when her husband became governor in 1971.

Pat Nixon, designed by Karen Stark for Harvey Berin, 1969

This gold and silver embroidered gown was encrusted with Austrian crystals.

Lady Bird Johnson, designed by John Moore, 1963

Here’s how she summed up her philosophy on fashion, according to a 1964 interview: “I like clothes. I like them pretty. But I want them to serve me, not for me to serve them.”

Jackie Kennedy, designed by both 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 herself.

Mamie Eisenhower, designed by 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 a Smithsonian.

Eleanor Roosevelt, designed by Arnold Constable, 1941

For her husband’s third inauguration, she wore a rose-white satin dress. According to a 1941 article, “To anyone fonder of clothes, her unprecedented chore might be a welcome one, but Mrs. Roosevelt cares scarcely more for sartorial nuances than Queen Mother Mary of England.”

Helen Taft, Frances Smith Company, 1909

This gown is white silk chiffon with floral embroidery with rhinestones and a bead trim. She started the tradition of First Ladies selecting their inaugural dress and then donating it to the Smithsonian’s First Ladies Collection.

More Fashion Fabula

On Trend: A Folk Story

Perhaps the must-have item this season is a peasant dress — the seventies folk trend is set to be a huge success for 2015. The

On Trend: Spring Bags

The best handbags of the season are in the ring and it’s time to decide which side you’re on – And these bags are anything

8 Rules For Party Season

Dust off your finery— It’s party season once again. From turning up under dressed to getting too dressed up, we know it’s not always easy

6 Must Have Hair Accessories!

Sometimes looking beautiful has little to do with the amount of effort, or hours spent getting ready. The hair trends for spring 2015 insist on

8 Products to Keep Your Skin Glowing

Our sun-kissed summer facade has long since faded, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept dull, lifeless-looking skin all winter long. This season we

How These Items Got Their Name

Do designers just pick names they like out of thin air? Do they obsess over their decisions as if naming a child? Where—to put it

The History of Mascara

Mascara is a staple to any female’s makeup collection. And it has been that way for centuries. But, did you know that between the 1900’s

The History of J. Crew

J. Crew originally started out as Popular Merchandise, Inc., founded in 1947 by Mitchell Cinader and Saul Charles. They started out by selling low-priced women’s

In Trend: Falling Flat

This spring designers seem to have jumped on the comfortable shoe bandwagon for good! On the runways we are seeing flats (and sneakers), and our

The History of Blush

Blush. Blusher. Rouge. Whatever you may call it, it still serves the same purpose; to provide a healthy flush of color to the cheeks. Blush

Gift Guide: For the Beauty Lover

For that family member who loves experimenting with beauty products, this gift guide is on point for her. From perfect brow sculpting to make-up necessities

What to Wear to a BBQ

5/23/2016 With Memorial Day right around the corner, barbecue season is here. Officially! While great fun, BBQs can be tricky to style for. They are

Editor’s Picks: White Out

From left to right: Topshop Crochet Overlay Dress, Dior Mono Eyeshawdow, MAC Eye Kohl, Matt Bernson Slide Sandal, MARC BY MARC JACOBS Cross Body Bag

Shop the New Converse: Chuck II

Chucks — as millions of devotees know them — come in many colors and variations. Andy Warhol wore them when he painted soup cans and

Red October

Clockwise from right ot left: Ellen Tracy Wool Coat, Page Denim Skinny Jeans, Acne Studios Bootie, Gentle Monster Retro Sunglasses

Work From Home Attire

One of the most attractive things about working from home is the opportunity to wear whatever you want to the “office.” But while it’s tempting

Editor’s Pick

The “Keep Austin Weird” bumper sticker begins to greet travelers along the I-35 as they mosey on into Austin, Texas. Visit downtown and stroll along

3 Tips For a Green Closet

Here at Brandzaffair we understand that sustainable practices aren’t a fad but rather a lifestyle, and were interested in finding out how to create a

Latest Fashion Coupons

There are no coupons currently available

Fashion Brands


Use a social network:


Feedback/Suggest Brands

Again, welcome to Your Brandzaffair. Our goal is to be your daily source for immediate access to all your favorite brandz with their best offers, in addition to providing insights and reviews in your lifestyle interests. We want to always continue to improve your experience. Please tell us what you think and what we can do better.

Spread the Word