By Raquel Parks
First impressions are long lasting. Therefore, the First Lady of the United States has always had to be thoughtful in what she’s worn for Inauguration Day. The decisions are endless: Pastels or brights? Diamonds or pearls? Strapless or one-shoulder? Donna Karan or Oscar de la Renta?
As the 2017 Presidential Inauguration quickly approaches, a new First Lady will be taking on the role for her first time before the country. Between the Inaugural Parade and the many Inaugural Balls, she will be creating an instant perception in what she wears.
For decades, fashion has had an essential role in Inauguration Day. But it is the Inaugural Ball, specifically, that solidifies a defining moment for the First Lady and her tenure.
Throughout the years, there have been many noteworthy inaugural gowns. But when discussing inaugural fashion, it’s impossible to do so without mentioning Jackie Kennedy.
Jackie Kennedy’s sophisticated and fashion-forward image made her a standout as First Lady. From her pillbox hat to her famous, pink suit, Kennedy had a signature look that made her a fashion icon.
For the 1961 Inaugural Ball, Kennedy wore an off-white silk and chiffon gown with a cape made by Bergdorf Goodman’s Ethan Frankau. She even provided her sketches in helping to design the dress.
The simple elegance of the gown was chic but still offered a modesty. Although her taste for Parisian clothing was well-known, Kennedy chose a dress that was by an American designer.
It proved to be a perfect choice that set a high bench for those that followed in her steps as First Lady.
As time went on, color and embellishments was embraced for inaugural gowns. In 1969, Pat Nixon chose a bright yellow satin gown that had a short matching jacket by Karen Stark for Harvey Berin.
It also had gold and silver details. She topped off the look with white satin gloves. The combination of the crystals and the bright yellow was beautiful and luxurious.
In 1977, Rosalynn Carter chose to keep it much simpler with a gold-embroidered sleeveless coat over a gold-trimmed blue chiffon gown, designed by Mary Matise for Jimmae. She wore it years prior when Jimmy Carter became Governor of Georgia and had purchased it off the rack. In a conscious effort to scale back for the recession, she decided wear something she already owned and that didn’t boast of excess in such a crucial time in the country..
Although the dress was not plucked right off the runway or especially-made for the event, it was a bold fashion statement. Carter’s dress choice said a lot about how she viewed her role as First Lady and even more so how she felt about the country. It was a very deliberate and political choice that she will always be remembered for.
In 1981 and 1985, Nancy Reagan brought back the luxe factor of the inaugural dress. For the 1981 Inaugural Ball she opted for a white, one-shoulder, beaded-gown by James Galanos.
The bead work and one-shoulder look made it modern and glamorous. The glitz of the gown showcased the First Lady’s love for designer fashion. She would choose James Galanos again in 1985 for a similar design for the second inauguration.
Hilary Clinton took a completely different approach in her 1993 inaugural gown. Brights, whites, and pastels were common colors that most First Ladies chose to wear in the past. But for her first Inaugural Ball, Clinton wore a a long-sleeved, purple lace gown by designer Sarah Phillip.
The bold color choice and the fact that Clinton chose a little known American designer makes her look significant. Although not the most fashion-forward, the dress was beautiful and had a richness about it.
It didn’t look like any other dress previously seen for the most part. Clinton’s image as First Lady would later pave the way for a political career that put her back in the path to White House but this time as the Democratic Presidential nominee.
Moving forward into the new millennium, the country seemed to be looking for change. In 2009, Michelle Obama presented a style that was fashionable and relatable to many women. For the Inaugural Ball, Obama chose a white, one-shoulder gown by Jason Wu made of chiffon with organza flowers that had Swarovski crystal centers.
The overall gown felt very modern, airy and ultra feminine. Michelle Obama’s dress choice proved to be a new classic. She would go on to wear many more designer looks that were not only stylish but were items any woman could purchase in stores.
Just recently, Obama wore a marigold Narciso Rodriguez dress to the President’s final State of the Union; the dress sold out in minutes on sale for $628. In her 8 years, she has cemented her image as First Lady that is both fashionable and approachable.
Like those before her, Melania Trump will undoubtedly have a tough decision to make on what she wears as the new First Lady. What designer will she wear? What color? What silhouette? As history proves, her fashion choice will be an important one that shapes her image as the next First Lady of the United States for the next four years.
Raquel is a Michigan native with a Bachelors in Journalism from the University of Michigan. She loves fashion and writing about life’s everyday stories. She has written for various local publications that include Dearborn Press & Guide and Detroit Fashion Pages. Raquel also writes for her own local events blog, Metro Diva Pages.