Image: U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at the Inaugural Ball in Washington


Gown and country: Inaugural ball gowns through the years

It's not an inauguration without glamorous galas — and fabulous first lady fashions to match. Here's a look back.

Image: U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at the Inaugural Ball in Washington

Wu-ing the crowd, again

Part coronation and part celebration, preidential inaugurations are full of pomp and circumstance -- and glamourous galas. And at these elegant events, all eyes are often on the first lady and her ball gowns. Here's a glimpse into history's inagural outfits. First lady Michelle Obama wore a custom ruby-colored chiffon and velvet gown designed by Jason Wu to her husband's inauguration balls on Jan. 21, 2013. It was the second time Mrs. Obama wore a Wu-designed gown on inauguration night.

Shannon Stapleton / X90052
  • Share
U.S. President Obama walks on stage with first lady Michelle during the Western States Inaugural Ball in Washington

Floating on air

After weeks of top designers vying for the honor in 2009, Michelle Obama finally unveiled the winning creation -- a white chiffon, one-shoulder gown by then-26-year-old designer Jason Wu, who was little known outside the fashion world at the time. The long, ethereal dress highlighted the first lady's well-toned arms. After the evening's first dance, Barack Obama asked a cheering crowd "How good-looking is my wife?"

Jason Reed / X00458
  • Share
Liberty Ball

Sheer elegance

Like Hillary Clinton before her, Laura Bush also went for an Oscar de la Renta gown for her husband's second inauguration in 2005. The ice-blue and silver embroidered tulle V-neck dress cam with a matching duchess satin coat.

Travis Lindquist / Getty Images North America
  • Share

Primary color

For George W. Bush's inaugural bash in 2001, Laura Bush selected a ruby-red, crystal-embellished Chantilly lace gown by little-known Dallas-based designer Michael Faircloth. She donated the gown to the Smithsonian in 2002.

Doug Mills / AP
  • Share

Striking gold

For her husband's second inauguration, in 1997, Hillary Clinton made up for 1993's fashion faux pas by choosing a tried-and-true designer: Oscar de la Renta. The sparkly gold-lace dress was altered to give it a high collar and long sleeves, and the effect was both sleek and sexy.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP
  • Share
President and Mrs. Clinton dance at the Arkansas Ball, Wednesday night, January 20, 1993, at the Washington Convention Center.  (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)

No shrinking violet

Always seen more as a modern businesswoman than a style icon, Hillary Clinton was criticized for wearing this violet beaded gown to Bill Clinton's 1993 inaugural ball. The dress was made by little-known Arkansas designer Sarah Phillips.

Greg Gibson / AP
  • Share

Blue velvet

Barbara Bush's 1989 gown choice was received well at George H. Bush's inaugural celebration - the sapphire-blue velvet and satin piece with the diagonal dropped waist suited her age and body type. It was made by New York designer Arnold Scaasi. The first lady accessorized the gown with a set of signature pearls.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP
  • Share
President Ronald Reagan gestures to first lady Nancy Reagan at the inaugural ball at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington Monday evening, January 21, 1985.  President Reagan reenacted his oath of office earlier in the day in the rotunda at the Capitol Building. (AP Photo/Ira Schwarz)

Beaded beauty

For her husband's second inauguration in 1985, Nancy Reagan stuck to the same designer, James Galanos. The Austrian and Czechoslovakian glass beads on her white chiffon gown took more than 300 hours to apply by hand. One news account place the cost of the dress at more than $46,000, drawing criticism for the first lady's choice.

Ira Schwarz / AP
  • Share

Grand gown

Nancy Reagan wore a one-shoulder sheath gown to Ronald Reagan's 1981 inaugural ball. The fern-patterned lace featured crystal and bugle beads and rested over silk satin. The piece was made by American designer James Galanos. The Reagans were scheduled to appear at nine balls that evening.

  • Share

Frugal flavor

Rosalynn Carter's gown choice was panned by the fashion press when she wore it to Jimmy Carter's 1977 inauguration festivities, mostly because she had previously worn it to her husband's gubernatorial party six years earlier. The blue gown was not couture - it was made by Mary Matise for Jimmae. The sentimental move may have helped set a thrifty, "down-home" tone for the Carter administration.

  • Share
Pres. Richard Nixon, second from right, his wife First Lady Pat Nixon, right, Vice Pres. Spiro Agnew and Mrs. Judy Agnew, left, share the spotlight at one of six inaugural balls held for Pres. Nixon, Jan. 21, 1969, Washington, D.C. In background are Rep. Leslie Arends of Illinois, left, and Atty. Gen. John Mitchell, center. (AP Photo)

Crystal ball

Richard Nixon, his wife Pat (right), Vice President Spiro Agnew and Judy Agnew (left) share the spotlight at one of six inaugural balls held for Nixon in 1969. Pat's mimosa silk satin gown was designed by Karen Stark for Harvey Berin. She wore a jacket encrusted with Austrian crystals to complete the look.

Anonymous / AP
  • Share
Johnson Humphrey


Lady Bird and Lyndon B. Johnson, left, and Vice President-elect Hubert Humphrey and his wife Muriel, look happy and elegant at a 1965 gala that was held three days before the inaugural ceremony. Lady Bird had a tough act to follow (Jackie O. set quite a high standard), and the John Moore yellow satin gown (not pictured) that she wore to a different ball was highly criticized.

  • Share
Newly-elected President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy leave the White House, in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 1961, for a series of visits to inaugural balls. The first lady wore her specially-designed haute couture white silk sheath and matching coat.  As the 35th President of the United States,  Kennedy defeated Vice President Richard  M. Nixon in one of the closest presidential elections of the 20th century by a plurality of just 114,000 votes.  The Kennedys brought a cultured and glamorous era known as "Camelot"  to American politics.  (AP Photo/Henry Burroughs)

Enter Camelot

Style icon Jacqueline Kennedy wore this specially designed haute couture silk sheath and matching coat to a series of balls celebrating John F. Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. The off-white sleeveless gown - make by Ethel Frankau of Bergdorf Goodman - was the first lady's concept. With style statements like this, the Kennedys brought a cultured and glamorous era known as "Camelot" to American politics.

Henry Burroughs / AP
  • Share
Dwight And Mamie Eisenhower And Richard And Pat Nixon

Belles of the ball

Here, Dwight D. Eisenhower (second from right) and his wife, Mamie, pose at Eisenhower's 1953 inaugural ball with Vice President Richard. M. Nixon (left) and his wife, Pat. Mamie's silk peau de soie gown was embroidered with 2,000 pink rhinestones, and the gathered waist and full skirt captured the calssic design of the 1950s. It was designed by New York City's Nettie Rosenstein Inc.

Mark Kauffman / Time & Life Pictures
  • Share