The most memorable First Lady style moments of all time

a person wearing a dress

Dolley Payne Todd Madison, 1804

Every First Lady of the United States has brought a distinctive personal style to the White House, from Martha Washington’s fine lace to Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats to Jill Biden’s tailored dresses. Here are 20 iconic ensembles from more than 200 years of First Lady fashion history.

a woman holding a bag of luggage

Jill Biden, 2021

In April 2021, current First Lady Jill Biden attended her husband’s first presidential address to Congress wearing this sleek embroidered Gabriela Hearst dress and matching face mask.

According to InStyle, the dress was made from recycled fabric—a fitting choice, given that in his speech that evening President Biden discussed creating jobs that will combat climate change.

Grace Coolidge, Calvin Coolidge are posing for a picture

Grace Coolidge, 1927

In this 1927 photograph, Grace Coolidge stands with her husband, President Calvin Coolidge, and their collie Rob Roy on the South Lawn of the White House. As Coolidge was First Lady from 1923 to 1929, she is often pictured wearing the drop-waist dresses that were popular that decade.

Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston sitting in a dark room

Frances Folsom Cleveland, 1886

The wife of Grover Cleveland, who was president of the United States from 1885 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897, Frances Folsom Cleveland made quite an impression on the public with her stylish wardrobe.

According to the White House Historical Association, Cleveland owned such covetable pieces as “a green velvet traveling dress, an afternoon dress that mixed bronze cashmere with crimson Sicilienne (poplin), and a gray alpaca suit accented with a silk fichu,” and many of her outfits were adorned with berries and flowers.

Michelle Obama, Barack Obama posing for the camera

Michelle Obama, 2011

As First Lady from 2009 to 2017, Michelle Obama put her enviable fashion sense on full display, embracing vivid colours and some truly memorable formalwear. She donned this asymmetrical red gown by Alexander McQueen at a state dinner in honour of China’s then-president Hu Jintao in 2011.

a man and a woman in a wedding dress

Betty Ford, 1976

At a state dinner in honour of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1976, First Lady Betty Ford—wife of President Gerald Ford—looked regal in a flowing pastel-green gown.

During the day, Ford was often seen wearing her favourite accessory—the neck scarf—and the caftans and capes that dominated 1970s fashion.

a person wearing a dress

Dolley Payne Todd Madison, 1804

A popular First Lady who helped shape the social life of early-19th-century Washington D.C., Dolley Payne Todd Madison favoured styles influenced by the courts of Europe, such as the low-cut gown she wears in this portrait painted in 1804, a few years before her husband James Madison became the fourth U.S. president.

a person posing for the camera

Martha Washington, 1790

Although she avoided dressing ostentatiously as the country’s first First Lady, Martha Washington certainly had a taste for the finer things in life. The shawl and bonnet she wears in this 1790 portrait hint at her appreciation for fine lace, which she would order from England along with top-quality silks and jewelry.

a person holding a teddy bear

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, 1816 or 1820

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, wife of fifth U.S. president James Monroe, is said to have introduced the etiquette of European courts and a more formal style of entertaining at the White House, having spent several years living in France with her husband before he became president. This portrait, believed to have been painted in either 1816 or 1820, shows her wearing the empire-waist cut of dress popular in the early 19th century.

food, the most memorable first lady style moments of all time

Mamie Eisenhower, circa 1956

In this circa-1956 photograph, Mamie Eisenhower proves that when it comes to accessories, sometimes more is more: cat-eye sunglasses, sparkly cuff, dainty wristwatch, white gloves, and a strand of pearls. Eisenhower was First Lady from 1953 to 1961.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower, David Eisenhower, Pat Nixon, John D. Rockefeller III posing for the camera

Patricia Nixon, 1969

At an event celebrating the completion of the Lincoln Center complex in 1969, First Lady Patricia Nixon wore a floor-length dress with a high neck, one of the mainstay evening styles of the 1970s.

a man and a woman standing in front of a flower

Hillary Clinton, 1996

Throughout her long political career, including her years as First Lady from 1993 to 2001, Hillary Clinton has sported countless stylish pantsuits and skirt suits in almost every colour of the rainbow. This mint-green number, which she wore during a trip to Budapest in 1996, is particularly chic.

Laura Bush standing next to a woman

Laura Bush, 2003

During her time as First Lady, Laura Bush often stepped out in monochrome skirt suits such as this elegant blue one, worn during the Bushes’ state visit to the United Kingdom in November 2003.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, John F. Kennedy posing for a photo

Jacqueline Kennedy, 1962

Jackie Kennedy paired this strapless crepe chiffon gown, designed by Oleg Cassini, with long white gloves to attend a reception in Mexico City in 1962.

During her time as First Lady from 1961 to 1963, and throughout the rest of her life, Kennedy was an influential fashion icon, known for a classic look that often included shift dresses, pillbox hats, and oversized sunglasses.

Damian T. Raven et al. posing for the camera

Melania Trump, 2018

As First Lady from 2017 to 2021, Melania Trump was sometimes criticized for her insensitive outfit choices—most notably, the Zara jacket that read “I really don’t care, do u?”, which she wore during a trip to a detention centre for migrant children. But for most of her public appearances, she opted for sophisticated jackets and dresses by big designer labels like Gucci, Hervé Pierre, and Dior.

In this photograph, taken during a visit to the Giza pyramids in Egypt in 2018, Trump wears a menswear-inspired ensemble in a neutral colour palette.

Mary Todd Lincoln wearing a dress

Mary Todd Lincoln, 1860s

In this portrait, taken sometime between 1860 and 1865, Mary Todd Lincoln shows off a voluminous silk evening gown with some beautiful details: layers of floral-print ruffles, V-shaped off-the-shoulder neckline, and a flower garland affixed diagonally across the front. She apparently had a love of flowers and frequently wore them in her hair, as she does here.

The wife of Abraham Lincoln, Mary was First Lady from 1861 to 1865.

Elizabeth II, Nancy Reagan are posing for a picture

Nancy Reagan, 1982

Nancy Reagan, the First Lady from 1981 to 1989, looked effortlessly stylish meeting the Queen of England in 1982 in a loose pleated blouse and skirt, eye-catching gold jewelry, and—best of all—white hat with embroidered ribbon.

Rosalynn Carter, Amy Carter are posing for a picture

Rosalynn Carter, 1977

Rosalynn Carter is pictured here with her daughter Amy at President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural ball on January 20, 1977. According to the Washington Post, the dress she is wearing was vintage, and an example of her preferred style: raised necklines, long sleeves, pretty, and comfortable.

a vintage photo of Ida Saxton McKinley standing posing for the camera

Ida Saxton McKinley, 1900

In this portrait photographed in 1900, Ida Saxton McKinley, wife of 25th U.S. president William McKinley, wears a dress made with intricately patterned lace and featuring some of the typical styles of the time: a high neck and puffy sleeves.

Lady Bird Johnson standing in front of a window

Lady Bird Johnson, 1965

At the ball celebrating the 1965 presidential inauguration of her husband, Lyndon B. Johnson, Claudia Alta Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson wore this canary-yellow satin coat with sable-fur trim, designed by John Moore.

Eleanor Roosevelt et al. sitting in a chair

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1932

America’s longest-serving First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt wears some of the quintessential styles of the era in this 1932 photograph: cloche hat, long silk dress, and sturdy yet stylish pumps.

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