Style

See first ladies and their official portraits through the years

The American first lady is photographed at every turn, but one picture in particular is often deemed the "official" portrait of her time serving in that role.

With the recent release of Melania Trump's official portrait, we decided to do a little research into the history of this tradition — and were surprised to learn it's a rather new custom!

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First lady portraits through the years

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First lady portraits through the years

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RELATED: See Melania Trump's first official White House portrait

The exact beginning of this practice isn't certain, but it is known that Jacqueline Kennedy was one of the first to have a photograph distributed widely. The image that's widely recognized as the "official" portrait of Kennedy was taken in 1961 by photographer Mark Shaw.

Mark Shaw / Library of Congress
Jacqueline Kennedy poses for a photograph in 1961.

In contrast to what might be expected from a first lady, this photograph shows Kennedy leaning against a couch in a somewhat casual manner. Part of that relaxed posture may be attributed to the fact that the photograph was not originally intended for official White House distribution, but rather part of a photo shoot for the cover of Look magazine.

Since then, first ladies have traditionally chosen one photo to use as the official image to be distributed through their press office.

The White House / Getty Images
Michelle Obama poses in the Green Room of the White House in 2013.

In more recent administrations, first ladies have chosen several images throughout their husband's tenure as president. Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama have all had more than one photograph serve this purpose.

RELATED: 150 years of first lady inaugural gowns, from Mary Todd Lincoln to Michelle Obama

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Looking back at 150 years of first lady gowns at inaugurations

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Looking back at 150 years of first lady gowns at inaugurations

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While the tradition of a designating an official photograph is still young, first ladies have had painted portraits since the days of Martha Washington. Unlike the official presidential portraits, however, there weren't dedicated funds set aside for this purpose until the early 1960s, brought about the creation of the White House Historical Association.

Win McNamee / Getty Images
The official portrait of Martha Washington hangs at the White House.

According to former White House curator Betty Monkman, the collection of first lady portraits has become so expansive that all future paintings of first ladies are given size restrictions because of wall space limitations in the White House.

Even though the official photographs won't hang on the walls of the White House, they end up being equally memorable for years to come.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Stane Jerko, Getty Images

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

    Look back at Melania Trump's best style and fashion moments, from her early modeling days in Slovenia to her inauguration day outfit.

  • Melania Knavs (Trump) poses for a picture in Ljubljana in the March 1987 picture

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    1987

    Melanija Knavs, who later changed her name to Melania Knauss, was born in Slovenia, Yugoslavia. At 18, she signed with a modeling agency in Milan. Here, the future Mrs. Trump poses for a photo shoot wearing a high ponytail in March 1987. 

    Stane Jerko via Reuters
  • Melania Knauss

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    1987

    Melania Knauss was 16 years old when she was discovered by a Slovenian photographer. She posed for one of her first photo shoots in 1987 and began her career as a model. 

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  • Donald Trump And Melanie Knauss

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    1999

    After moving to New York City in 1996, the model met her future husband, Donald Trump, at a fashion week party two years later. In 1999, the couple posed at The Vh1 Divas Live Concert.

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    1999

    The couple attended an event for Sports Illustrated in 1999. The model wore a white, figure-hugging gown for the occasion. 

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  • Melanie Knauss

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    1999

    Melania Knauss walked the red carpet at an awards ceremony in New York. She posed in a sexy sequin gown at the event. 

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  • Melania Knauss

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    2000

    Knauss is photographed in leather pants and a sparkly top for Redbook magazine's holiday issue.

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  • Melanie Knauss

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    2000

    Melania Knauss sported a blue sequin gown with a wavy print and a thigh-high slit at 'VH-1 Divas: A Tribute To Diana Ross" event in New York.

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  • Melanie Knauss

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    2001

    The future president and first lady attended The White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in 2001. Knauss wore a beaded strapless dress for the occasion. 

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  • Melanie Knauss

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    2002

    The model arrived to an event in New York City sporting tan, boot-cut pants and a fur-trimmed jacket. 

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    2002

    The couple arrived to the grand opening of Britney Spears' new restaurant, Nyla, in 2002. Knauss wore white pants and a pink-and-red printed halter top. 

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  • Melania Knauss

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    2002

    Knauss arrived at the Luca Luca fashion show in 2002 wearing an asymmetrical top and matching embellished pants. 

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    2003

    Melania Knauss wore a black corseted gown with a feathered skirt to the Angel Ball charity event in 2003. 

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    2003

    Melania Knauss attended an event at the Cartier Mansion to celebrate the launch of their latest collection. The model wore simple black pants with a matching silk halter top. 

    Loud & Clear Media via STAR MAX
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    2004

    The couple attended the Vanity Fair Oscar party in 2004. Knauss wore a white silk gown with lace-paneled cutouts for the star-studded affair. 

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    2004

    Melania Knauss attended New York Fashion Week 2004 in a bright pink baby doll top and flared jeans. 

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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2004

    Knauss attended the 2004 Met Gala in a daring black gown complete with intricate cutouts at the bodice. The look was in keeping with the event's "Dangerous Liaisons" theme. 

    WireImage
  • Donald Trump Sr. and Melania Trump Wedding

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2005

    In January 2005, Knauss married Donald Trump at The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. She wore a sleeveless, $100,000 Christian Dior gown made with 300 feet of duchesses satin and a 16-foot veil.

    Contour by Getty Images
  • Melania Trump

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    2005

    The new Mrs. Trump attended the 2005 Vanity Fair Oscar party in a shimmering champagne gown with white feathers at the hem. 

    FilmMagic
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2005

    Trump attended the Met Gala in 2005 wearing a black satin Alexander McQueen gown with white tulle peaking out at the edge of the skirt. 

    Getty Images
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2005

    Stepping out for an event in New York City, Trump wore a black chiffon dress accompanied by a black-and-white striped fur coat. 

    AdMedia via Newscom
  • Donald, Melania Trump

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2006

    The couple attended the Met Gala in 2006 where Melania wore a simple white silk gown. She paired the empire-waist dress with a dazzling diamond necklace. 

    AP
  • Melania Trump and her son Barron

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2007

    Melania and Donald Trump welcomed their son, Barron, in March 2006. One year later, Trump and her son attended the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's 16th Annual Bunny Hop in New York City. They wore matching camel outfits, with hers featuring fur trim at the cuffs and collar. 

    Getty Images
  • Melanie Knauss

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2007

    Trump attended the Michael Kors fashion show in February 2007. Her piercing blue eyes peeked out below a black fur hat. 

    Getty Images
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2008

    Melania Trump attended the "Sex And The City" premiere in 2008 and wore a tent dress with a black statement necklace and zebra-print heels. 

    Getty Images
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2008

    The Trumps attended an event benefiting UNICEF at the United Nations headquarters in 2008. Melania wore a scarlet halter dress with ruffles at the bodice. 

    AP
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2008

    Melania Trump arrived at the 2008 Met Gala in a hot pink gown to match the event's "Superheroes" theme. 

    Getty Images
  • Melania Trump

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

    of

    2009

    Trump arrived to a screening of "The September Issue" at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009. She wore a pale pink frock with a large black belt and peep-toe pumps. 

    Splash News via Newscom
  • Melania Trump

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2009

    Trump attended the New York premiere of the film "Nine" in a black sequined minidress. She paired the sultry look with a smoky eye and pointed pumps. 

    Splash News via Newscom
  • Melania Trump

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2010

    The model attended the New York premiere of "Sex and the City 2" in an emerald green ruched mini-dress. She paired the look with nude peep-toe pumps and gold bangles. 

    Getty Images
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2010

    Mrs. Trump looks on during the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in 2010 while wearing classic aviator sunglasses and a slouchy sweater. 

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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2010

    For the Met Gala in May 2010, Trump wore a navy satin ballgown with pickups gathered throughout the skirt. 

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  • Melania Trump

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2011

    Melania Trump posed for photographers at the 2011 Academy Awards in a black column gown encrusted with shimmering embellishments. The model paired the look with statement earrings and a silver cuff bracelet. 

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  • 2011

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    2011

    Trump attended the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in a Grecian-inspired white gown. The halter dress featured an intricately belted bodice.

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    2012

    Melania Trump attended the Met Gala in 2012 wearing a Marc Bouwer Couture cocktail dress that featured all-over sequins and bold shoulder pads.  

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    2014

    The future first lady attended a benefit in November 2014 wearing a black jumpsuit that featured sheer lace panel details throughout the bodice and sleeve. 

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  • 2015

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    As her husband began his presidential campaign, Melania Trump attended the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate in October 2015. She wore a pastel pink coat over her shoulders, paired with white trousers, a white belt and a pale pink Chanel bag. 

    BEI via Shutterstock
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2016

    Melania Trump attended the Time 100 Gala in April 2016 wearing a white column gown by Mugler. The stunning sheath featured cutouts at the bust and a thigh-high slit. 

    Getty Images
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2016

    Melania Trump joins her husband during the Iowa caucuses in February 2016. Mrs. Trump coordinated with her husband wearing a red shift dress and a red coat resting on her shoulders. 

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  • Donald Trump Campaign Rally - New Hampshire

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2016

    Trump joined her husband onstage during a primary election campaign stop in New Hampshire wearing a belted camel suit.

    Sipa USA
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2016

    Trump stepped out to deliver a speech on the first day of the Republican National Convention in July 2016 wearing a white Roksanda Ilincic dress with bell sleeves. The dress sold out the next day. 

    Getty Images
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2016

    As her husband accepted the Republican nomination for president, Trump walked hand-in-hand with the nominee, wearing a cream-colored dress with delicate floral appliques at the shoulder. 

    LA Times via Getty Images
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    of

    2016

    Former President Bill Clinton and Melania Trump greet each other before their respective spouses engage in the presidential town hall debate at Washington University. Trump wore a bright fuchsia, pussy-bow blouse by Gucci and matching pants for a bold, monochromatic ensemble. 

    Reuters via Alamy
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2016

    Trump spoke at an campaign event in November 2016. She wore a blush Emilia Wickstead blouse and a white, high-waisted pencil skirt for the event. 

    AFP-Getty Images
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    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

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    2016

    Melania Trump waves to the crowd at a campaign rally in North Carolina wearing a fitted navy dress paired with a navy belt and navy pumps. 

    Getty Images
  • Donald Trump and Melania Trump

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    2017

    Melania Trump joined her son and husband in a white, one-shoulder jumpsuit by Ralph Lauren to celebrate Donald Trump's presidential election victory in November 2016. 

    Getty Images
  • Donald Trump, Melania Trump

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    of

    2016

    President-elect Donald Trump and his wife stepped out for a New Year's Eve party in Palm Beach, Florida. The future first lady wore a black Dolce & Gabbana dress featuring small bows at the shoulders. 

    AP
  • Donald Trump and Melania Trump

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

    of

    2017

    Melania Trump and her husband attended a pre-inauguration ball in January 2017. The soon-to-be first lady wore a long-sleeved, champagne-colored gown by Reem Acra for the event. 

    Getty Images
  • Donald Trump and Melania Trump

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

    of

    2017

    The Trumps wave to the crowd at a pre-inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Mrs. Trump wore a black, military-inspired coat by New York-based designer Norisol Ferrari. 

    Getty Images
  • Donald Trump and Melania Trump

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

    of

    2017

    Newly-minted President Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk along the parade route on Inauguration Day. The first lady wore a powder-blue cashmere dress with a matching jacket and gloves by designer Ralph Lauren. The choice drew comparisons to Jacqueline Kennedy, who also wore pale blue for her husband's inauguration. 

    Getty Images
  • Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump

    Melania Trump's fashion evolution: From model to first lady

    of

    2017

    President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump take the stage at the Inaugural Ball in January 2017. Melania Trump wore a sleek, off-the-shoulder gown with a cascading ruffle and thigh-high slit. The design, which was a collaboration between Mrs. Trump and designer Herve Pierre, a former creative director for Carolina Herrera, featured a small, knotted belt at the waist.

    Take a look back at 150 years of first lady gowns at inaugurations here. 

    AFP-Getty Images
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