Style

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

Of all the events surrounding Inauguration Day, the inaugural balls are by far the most glamorous. It's also an opportunity for the first lady to shine in a carefully selected gown that captures the imagination of a nation.

We've seen first ladies wear everything from velvet to sequins for the occasion, and the style chosen for the celebration has always seemed to reflect the mood of that time period.

Take a look back at some of the iconic gowns and the ladies who brought them to life.

Mary Todd Lincoln

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Mary Todd Lincoln photographed in her inaugural ball gown.

In the early 1860s, Mary Todd Lincoln sat for a formal photograph in what was believed to be the gown she wore for President Lincoln's inauguration. The off-the-shoulder design featured elaborate printed ruffles at the hem and bust and floral designs. The first lady accessorized the look with a floral headpiece, becoming perhaps the first to spark the flower crown craze.

Helen Taft

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First lady Helen Taft poses in her inaugural gown.

Helen Taft chose a white silk chiffon gown with delicate metallic embroidery trimmed with rhinestones and beads. The gown was the first contribution to the Smithsonian's first ladies collection and started a precedent for future first ladies to donate their inaugural gown to the institution.

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Eleanor Roosevelt

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Eleanor Roosevelt in her first inauguration gown.

For President Roosevelt's inauguration in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt chose a flowy, long-sleeved gown with an embellished belt at the waist.

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Eleanor Roosevelt models one of three gowns she would wear on inauguration day in 1941.

Eight years later, Mrs. Roosevelt selected a silk gown with cap sleeves and a sweeping train.

Bess Truman

Harry S. Truman Library
First lady Bess Truman, far left, celebrates President Truman's inauguration with her daughter and the ball's co-chairs.

Bess Truman chose a deep velveteen gown with an elaborate white accent at the shoulder for her husband's inauguration. She topped off the outfit with a cropped fur coat.

Mamie Eisenhower

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President Dwight Eisenhower holds the arm of his wife as they leave the White House en route to inaugural ball.

In 1953, Mamie Eisenhower selected a glamorous gown embellished with sequins. To complement the elegant look, she chose a white fur stole and a diamond choker.

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First lady Mamie Eisenhower poses in her second inaugural gown.

Four years later, Mrs. Eisenhower previewed the gown she would be wearing for an official photo at her New York apartment. She accessorized the intricate lace gown with a three-strand pearl necklace and a beaded clutch.

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Jacqueline Kennedy

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Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy leave the White House on Inauguration Day.

Jacqueline Kennedy chose an off white gown with a strapless bodice overlaid with silk chiffon. To cover up before the evening's festivities, the iconic first lady wore a matching, floor-length cape.

Lady Bird Johnson

LBJ Library
Lady Bird Johnson and President Lyndon B. Johnson at the Presidential Inaugural Ball.

Lady Bird Johnson wore a bright yellow gown with fur-accented sleeves to celebrate President Johnson's inauguration in 1965.

Pat Nixon

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Pat Nixon models the gown she wore to the inaugural ball.

Pat Nixon also chose a yellow dress for her husband's inauguration in 1969. The simple silk skirt is complemented by an ornate jacket adorned with Austrian crystals.

Rosalynn Carter

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President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Carter in the blue room of the White House.

Roslynn Carter made an unlikely fashion choice for the inaugural ball in 1977 by wearing the same dress that she had worn to celebrate her husband's inauguration as governor of Georgia. It may have been an unusual choice at the time, but we can see why the first lady would want to wear this stylish pale blue gown again!

Nancy Reagan

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President Reagan and Nancy Reagan at their first inaugural ball.

In 1981, Nancy Reagan wore a one-shoulder white column gown designed by James Galanos. The elegant look was topped off with a classic pair of long, white gloves.

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The Reagans wave to the crowd in 1985.

Four years later, she stuck to the same color palate but added sleeves and even more sparkle. She had to: It was the '80s!

Barbara Bush

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President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush attend the inaugural ball.

Barbara Bush chose a deep blue gown with a velvet bodice and a draped satin skirt for her husband's inauguration in 1989.

Hillary Clinton

AP
Hillary Rodham Clinton shares a laugh with President Bill Clinton at the inaugural ball.

In 1993, Hillary Clinton chose a violet column gown with flowing panels at the side. The intricately beaded dress was designed by Sarah Phillips for the occasion.

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The Clintons dance at the inaugural ball in 1997.

She decided on another intricately beaded number for the 1997 inauguration. The stunning gold dress was designed by Oscar de la Renta and had a floor-length gold cape to match.

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Laura Bush

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First lady Laura Bush stands with daughters Barbara, left and Jenna.

The newly-minted first lady chose a vibrant red gown designed by fellow Texan Michael Faircloth for the 2001 inaugural ball. The lace dress was embellished with delicate beading that added a subtle shimmer to the look.

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President Bush and Laura Bush wave to the crowd at an inaugural ball in 2005.

Four years later, she chose Oscar de la Renta to design her gown for the occasion. The icy blue dress was covered with embellishments and sparkles for a glamorous look.

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Michelle Obama

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First lady Michelle Obama at an inaugural ball in 2009.

Michelle Obama chose a one-shoulder white gown from designer Jason Wu for President Obama's 2009 inauguration. She accessorized the look with long drop earrings, delicate bangles and a stunning ring.

JEWEL SAMAD / AFP - Getty Images file
Michelle Obama waves to the crowd at the Commander-In-Chief's Ball.

Obama chose another Jason Wu gown for the 2013 inauguration, but went for a daring red look the second time around. The stylish halter gown in a textured red fabric really popped against the patriotic backdrop.

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