50 years of First Ladies' style: Inaugural ball gowns through the years

With President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration just days away, many are speculating, watching and waiting to see what soon-to-be First Lady Melania Trump will wear to the Inaugural Ball. There's reportedly a several designers in the running, but the latest rumors point to Ralph Lauren and possibly Karl Lagerfeld. But which will dress her for the day, and which for the evening? We'll see on January 20th.

The First Lady's Inaugural Ball gown is always widely reported on and critiqued, and for good reason. It's her first major style statement in her new role, and it often has significance behind it.

Michelle Obama's gown in 2009, for example, was a pure white flowing Jason Wu dress, and was widely applauded for perfectly representing the platform of hope that her husband ran on. It has been called one of the most successful Inauguration gowns of all time.

Michelle Obama and Barack Obama at the 2009 Inauguration inaugural ball

Rosalynn Carter's gown was much talked-about, too. She chose to re-wear a Mary Matise dress bought off the rack, one she'd worn twice before -- including her husband's inauguration as Governor of Georgia. The Carters were known to be frugal, and as many in the country were struggling financially that year, it was seen as a nod to the American people.

So how did other First Ladies make this ever-important first style statement? From Jackie Kennedy to Hillary Clinton, the fashion choices of these women have long carried significance. See below for the last 50 years of First Lady style.

First ladies style: Inaugural ball gowns through the years
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First ladies style: Inaugural ball gowns through the years
1957: Mamie Eisenhower

First Lady Mamie Eisenhower as she poses in her inauguration gown, which was just off the shoulder and beautifully embellished.

(Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

1961: Jacqueline Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy attend the inaugural. Jackie's dress and coat were both pure white, designed in collaboration with Ethel Frankau of Bergdorf's Custom Salon. 

(Photo courtesy of Kennedy Library Archives/Newsmakers)

1961: Jacqueline Kennedy

More detail of the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's dress as she stands chatting with her brother-in-law, actor Peter Lawford. 

(Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

1965: Lady Bird Johnson

President Lyndon Johnson dancing with his wife Lady Bird at his inaugural ball. She wore a dress and coat with fur trim by John Moore.

(Photo by Stan Wayman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

1969: Pat Nixon

Pat Nixon wearing the Harvey Berin gown that she wore to the Inaugural Ball in Washington on January 20th. The mimosa yellow gown is double-faced silk satin. The petite jacket and small waisted gown with its bell-shaped skirt is embroidered with Byzantine scrolls of gold and silver bouillon and embellished with hand set Swarovski jewels in jonquil and crystal.

(Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images)

1973: Pat Nixon

First Lady Pat Nixon's 1973 inaugural ballgown, designed by Adele Simpson of New York, is a princess gown in turquoise blue silk organza over turquoise and silver silk lame. She also wore a short white Emba Jasmine mink jacket designed by Leo Ritter of Ritter Brothers, Ben Thylan.

(Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images)

1977: Rosalynn Smith Carter
President and Mrs. Carter are all smiles as they step out on the dance floor at the Mayflower Hotel during his Inaugural Ball. Rosalynn Carter's inaugural gown held strong significance that year, as she'd chosen to re-wear a dress she had worn before, rather than buy something new. It was seen as a nod to the number of Americans struggling in a down-turned economic climate. 
1981: Nancy Reagan

The Reagan Inaugural Ball is said to be the most extravagant of all -- and there were quite a few different celebrations. First Lady Nancy Reagan wore a one-shouldered embellished James Galanos gown.

(Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images)

1985: Nancy Reagan

For her husband's second Inaugural Ball, Nancy Reagan again chose a white James Galanos gown, though this time the embellished piece featured long sleeves. 

(Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images)

1989: Barbara Bush

In 1989, First Lady Barbara Bush wore a gown by Arnold Scaasi. The designer reportedly called the dress's color "Barbara Blue."

(Photo by CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

1993: Hillary Clinton

U.S. President Bill Clinton twirls First Lady Hillary Clinton during an onstage dance in 1993. Hillary wore a dazzling purple gown by Sarah Phillips.  

(Photo credit should read TIM CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

1997: Hillary Clinton

For the Inaugural Ball of Clinton's second term, the First Lady wore a gorgeous high-necked gown by Oscar de la Renta.

(Photo by Cynthia Johnson/Liaison)

2001: Laura Bush

George Bush and his wife Laura Bus were scheduled to attend eight presidential Inaugural Balls in 2001. For the first, Laura chose a bright red gown by Dallas designer Michael Faircloth.

(Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)

2005: Laura Bush

For President Bush's second Inaugural Ball in 2005, First Lady Laura Bush chose this gorgeous sparkling gown by Oscar de la Renta.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/MCT via Getty Images)

2009: Michelle Obama

Widely regarded as one of the most successful Inaugural Ball gowns in history due to its strong attachment to Barack Obama's platform of hope, Michelle Obama chose Jason Wu for her husband's first inauguration.

(Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

2013: Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama chose Jason Wu again for the 2013 inauguration of President Obama, and positively shined in the bright red gown.

(Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)


Melania's dress will be sure to catch the attention of the world. What do you think she should wear?

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