A Historical Look at Inaugural Gowns and Michelle Obama’s Jason Wu Design

Next to the Academy Awards and the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, there is one other event that fashion critics and fanatics wait for with baited breath, the Inaugural Ball. Now I know normally I talk about men’s fashion. However, men’s formal wear can be rather dry and no one actually waits to see what the President is wearing…it’s a tuxedo. But people all over the nation cling to the live feed and wait to see what gown the First Lady will be wearing. This gown has a similar role to play as the Academy Award gowns do. It is meant to be a conservative, professional, and clean look that creates an air about the first lady of high class. Fusing these ideals with modern fashion is not always easy, which is why many were speculating about what dress the First Lady would choose to wear.

The Inaugural Ball is as old as the presidency itself. Maybe more of a production today, but the gown worn by the First Lady has always been something the public waits for. I thought it would be interesting to critique and discuss the inaugural gowns of the past leading up to my thoughts on this year’s inaugural gown.

1. Jackie Kennedy– Being a major style icon, this dress was not only to be worn as the First Lady of this country but to maintain her reputation as one of the most fashionable women in the world.

jackie kennedy fashion

This dress is one of my favorite inaugural dresses in history! This dress just exudes power and confidence. Two qualities that the public wants in their First Lady. The cape coat is the icing on top of an extremely fashionable cake. Fitting her exquisitely; the line of the cape leads the eye downward, letting the onlookers enjoy the silhouette. The mandarin collar on the caplet makes her neck look longer and creates this touch of modern (at the time) fashion elegance.

jackie kennedy style

The dress underneath the caplet was just as stunning. The mixture of visual textures really makes this dress stand out from most other inaugural gowns. The sheer sleeveless overlay on the top of the gown is perfect. The build of the dress is very conservative but it blends perfectly with the fashion forward design of the textiles and textures.

2. Hilary Clinton– One of the toughest women in politics, Hilary Clinton looks a shining vision in this purple lace dress created by a designer local to Hilary’s home state of Arkansas. I’ve noticed that in order for the gown to read as fashion forward yet demure and homely, designers tend to use fabrics to create the fashion side of the dress and use the design to tone down the eccentricity of the fabrics. This beautiful dress is a perfect example. The design of the dress is very conservative, but the solid, shimmering purple lace the gown is detailed with, creates a stunning visual juxtaposition.

hilary clinton fashion

Youth Ball at the Post Office Pavilion

Fitting her perfectly, this dress hugs and hides all the right things. Another element of design that I have noticed within several inaugural gowns is the covering of the shoulders. Now, it’s no secret that many women cover their shoulders to make them appear smaller and less broad but, in this case, I think it’s an aged value of conservative origins. It makes the First Lady seem more demure, trustworthy, and less risky.

3. Michelle Obama– A style icon in her own right, Michelle has taken the presidency and brought the White House back to the fashionable days of Jackie Kennedy. However, the dress she wore for Barack Obama’s first inaugural ball was a little bit of a let-down. Designed by Jason Wu, I think this gown is a Roman inspired mess. First, it looks too much like Nancy Regan’s inaugural gown. Second, the empire waistline, mixed with copious amounts of fabric to create the gown made her figure look bigger and dis-proportioned. Lastly, what the heck are those poof balls all over the dress? The only good part about that dress is the color. I know it’s white, but the radiant white on her dark skin made her look like a snow queen from an enchanted forest.

michelle obama jason wu first inaugural ball dress

However, the gown that she wore this year, also designed by Jason Wu, is STUNNING. This red Roman inspired ball gown is absolutely breathtaking. The high-waist, coupled with the sleek design of the skirt, creates a beautiful silhouette for Michelle Obama.

michelle obama second inauguration dress

About NicholasB

Hi, I'm Nick. I started off at the University of Colorado at Boulder studying Pre-Med but always had a passion for the arts and gossip/fashion publications. After my sophomore year at CU, I transferred to the Art Institute of Colorado to pursue a career in Fashion Design. Now, after two and a half years of attending AI, I am nearing graduation and completing my externship requirements with First Class Fashionista . I hope to continue my education to pursue a masters and possibly a doctorate in fashion culture.