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First Lady, Second Gown

With President Obama’s inauguration quickly sneaking up on us, I know I am not the only one who is excited to see what gorgeous gown Mrs. Obama will select for her second round of inaugural balls. Will she opt for classic black, or perhaps embrace an exciting pop of color for her second inaugural gown? Which designer will she select to have the honor of creating a dress that will be seen across the globe?

All the excitement surrounding Mrs. Obama’s big decision has made me think about first ladies who also had the privilege (and stress!) of selecting an inaugural gown on two occasions. Many of the gowns that first ladies have worn are on display at the Smithsonian in Washington DC, and it is definitely worth a visit to study the workmanship of the dresses and to see their beautiful details up-close.

Laura Bush is the most recent first lady who has held the position for two terms. Mrs. Bush had a close relationship with Dallas designer Michael Faircloth, who designed many of her outfits when she lived in the Texas Governor’s mansion. Her first inaugural gown was a ruby scoop necked gown made of delicate Chantilly lace and embroidered with Austrian crystals. The patriotic color was the perfect choice for her first step out onto the world’s stage.  

For her second inaugural ball in 2005, Mrs. Bush selected Oscar de la Renta to design what many fashion critics reported as their favorite Bush inaugural gown. De la Renta’s ice blue and silver embroidered tulle V neck dress was an exciting change from the usual red and blue color palette, and the embroidery gave it an almost ethereal feel. The gown was accompanied by a matching duchess satin coat.

Laura Bush’s predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton was also first lady for two terms. Much like Michelle Obama, Clinton selected a relatively unknown designer to create her first inaugural gown. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Hillary Rodham Clinton first selected one of Sarah Phillips’ creations to wear to Bill Clinton’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Her inaugural gown, a shimmering violet beaded lace sheath and blue velvet silk mousseline overskirt, is perhaps one of the most striking on show in the Smithsonian. Mrs. Clinton accessorised her dress with a pair of satin shoes by Bruno Magli and a purse by Judith Leiber.

Clinton’s second inaugural dress was designed by First Lady favorite, Oscar de la Renta. The gold lace dress featured long sleeves and a high necked collar, and Clinton herself played a big part in specifying the precise design of the gown. The relationship between Clinton and de la Renta continues to this day, with the designer creating the dress that Secretary Clinton wore to her daughter’s wedding in 2010.

With this historical perspective, what are your thoughts on who will design Mrs. Obama's second inaugural ball gown?

Laura-Emily Dunn is the founder and editor of Political Style. Follow her on Twitter, here.

References (6)

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Reader Comments (26)

Secretary clinton looks fab! awesome creativity

Monday, January 7, 2013 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterobamabiden2012

I can't wait to see what our fantastic First Lady wears throughout the inaugural week. Can't wait to see what she wears for the private swearing in ceremony on the Sunday and what she wears for the public swearing in ceremony on Monday and for the big finale - what I know will be her breathtakingly stunning inaugural ball gown! I'm just so excited I can hardly breathe.
I also can't wait to see what the girls wear. How these two lovely girls who are still kids but are so tall and poised for their age are dressed for this rarest of amazing life events. It will all be such a thrill to witness.

By the way, when did red become a "patriotic" color? Per the article regarding Laura Bush's first inaugural gown:
"--The patriotic color was the perfect choice for her first step out onto the world’s stage.--" ???

Monday, January 7, 2013 at 9:36 PM | Registered CommenterC.

Laura Bush's red dress is stunning! I really like the cut but for myself would prefer a more subdued color/hue.

I wonder if Mrs Obama will choose an established or emerging designer, bold or "safe" design...

Monday, January 7, 2013 at 9:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterMrs 2S

@C. RED, White, and Blue... DUH!

Monday, January 7, 2013 at 11:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterEmmebelle

I anxiously await her attire. I am hoping she chooses Naeem Khan for the gown. He is my favorite designer and she looks stunning each and every time she wears him! I also hope she squeezes in another Tracy Reese and Michael Kors.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 12:21 AM | Unregistered Commentershyril

^^ Red white and blue are considered "patriotic" together, and red and blue separately or together are also considered "patriotic." But perhaps you are referring to the "red states" vs "blue states" symbolism for the two established political "parties."

Thanks for posting the photos of recent past First Lady inaugural attire. As to speculation re which designer Mrs. O might select, here is an article contemplating the same question:

Of those designers mentioned in the above link, perhaps Naeem Khan might be the most tried and true. I'd be surprised if FLOTUS chooses Wang or Marchesa. She usually wears dresses by Tracy Reese, not gowns. Michael Kors has been hitting home runs for FLOTUS quite often very recently.

For the last Inaugural swearing in, Mrs. O wore such a lovely lime green outfit by Isabel Toledo. I've also enjoyed gowns Mrs. O has worn by Peter Sorenen. But I don't think she's worn very much by him recently.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 2:04 AM | Registered Commenterflotusrocks

I hope Mrs. O chooses another up-and-coming designer!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 9:45 AM | Registered CommenterSoccerNana

Thank you for this very thought provoking post Mrs. T! My only desire is to see Mrs. O in an amazing gown full of an amazing color that she wears so well and loves and any outfit that she finds comfortable and suitable for this historic day and I know she will do the same for her daughters. I know the entire family will look awesome and I can hardly wait to see them all!!!!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 11:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterAuntie Mom

One thing is for sure - Michelle will not be recycling/shopping in her own closet for the 2nd Inauguration gown. My designer/choices are:

Vera Wang - the sapphire/cobalt chiffon dress for the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors was fantastic. True, some may have thought it was a bride's dress dyed blue, but it looked great on her. I hope that Vera gets the nod for this very special gown.
Tracy Reese - I haven't seen that much of Ms. Reese's formal wear. However the dress for Michelle's DNC speech 9/4/12 was jaw dropping.
Naeem Khan - the dress for the 2012 Governors Dinner looked fantastic on her. It just took my breath away.
Michael Kors - I didn't care for his design for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors. I've thought that Kors designs with a woman with an athletic shape (like Michelle) in mind. Michelle wore Kors for her official photo. I think he could create something special for her.
Last - Amsale. I haven't seen Michelle in any Amsale. Many know Amsale as a bridal designer. But she can do gowns for other occasions. It would be interesting to see what she comes up with for a 2nd Inaugural.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterpt821

Well said Emmebelle! I think Mrs Clinton's violet dress is beautiful.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJenna

"..My only desire is to see Mrs. O in an amazing gown full of an amazing color that she wears so well and loves and any outfit that she finds comfortable and suitable for this historic day.."
@Auntiemom, Thank you!! And might I add, the designer of HER choice!
@Emmebelle um no...Red is only one of a trio that form our country's "patriotic" colors.
Red by itself is NOT a "patriotic" color except of course for rightwingers and for those who are now angling to secede from the U.S! For those wishing to secede, red by itself might indeed be considered a "patriotic" color - for their new country. But it is NOT by itself a "patriotic" color for the United States of America - no more than blue by itself is. Or white by itself for that matter.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 6:17 PM | Registered CommenterEleroy

@ Eleroy - You're very welcome! Just can't wait--doing my Snoopy dance everyday!!! : )

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterAuntie Mom

Gosh, look at how young they look especially the POTUS. No gray hair! It will be exciting to see the FLOTUS second dress for the inaugural balls. As usual, it will be stylish and stunning.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPatriciaO

I would love to see her in Tom Ford. He new gowns are stunning. Ralph Lauren would be great too if she wants established. That said, whatever she wears will make a statement.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterJudy

I wish she can give Oscar de la Renta a try this time round.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 4:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterClare

I just hope she wont repeat this time. She's repeating a lot right now, and i sure see the purpose of it. But for the inauguration, it would be deceivingi think. Fingers crossed.....

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 7:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterKarinef

No repeats First Lady. You are the Belle and its THE BALL!
Hit 'em with something NEW.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 9:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterAdear

My vote is Naeem Khan for the gown though she may choose Marchesa (as they were big contributors to the campaign).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered Commentershyril

Anyone but O de la R... the old grump!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterGiGi

Color -- any of those bright jewel tones she wears so well. And let's hope the length is right for dancing. She had to work so hard in 2009 not to trip on the dress or have the President step on it. A great elegant fit and flow are actually more important to me than almost anything else.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 11:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterMichelleFan

My wish is that she selects a dress with a bold color and a hint of sparkle. A bonus would be an emerging designers but if she selects an established designer my vote would go to Isaac Mizrahi who does amazing evening wear and I don't think Mrs. Obama has worn any of his designs.

Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrkMagic

I hope Mrs.O wears something that represents "Old Hollywood", whatever than means. She should look glamorous; it is well deserved. Go all out Michelle. Also, I hope she wears evening gloves with her gown, like she did during the state dinner with Queen Elizabeth II. May God see us through the inauguration days and beyond. We are constantly praying for you Lady O.

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 1:01 AM | Registered CommenterChristal B

Oh Yes, I really hope that Mrs. O goes for a new dress....please please please. It's too historic to go lowkey.....also it will be see around the world and in history forever. I hope she makes a bold and beautiful choice. We all know she can knock it out of the park. Do they do the whole parade and walk down Pennsylvania Avenue again? I loved Hillary Clinton's gowns....the exhibit at the Smithsonian is so fantastic. Loved it and loved seeing Hillary's blue dress. I wish we could see a photo of the gold dress under the coat. I loved Mrs. Bush's second gown....so elegant.
Jan. 21st....big day!

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 11:31 AM | Registered CommenterAlisa Diez

Only one more week to wait before we get to see what our First Lady will be wearing for all of the inaugural events. I can't wait! This seems like the longest wait ever :) I hope I can survive these next few days :)

Monday, January 14, 2013 at 10:10 AM | Registered CommenterVivienne

I doubt that O de la R will ever get the nod from Mrs. O. I guess since he has been dressing first ladies for a long time, he felt that it was his right to dress Mrs. O as well. Oh well - times change. Maybe if he hadn't been so rude with his comments, his garments would have been a part of Mrs. O's fabulous fashion portfolio.

Friday, January 18, 2013 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterCrissieP

I think it would be fascinating if she went for de la Renta. He has been snarky, but he also had a beautiful group of dresses and gowns last year which were clearly designed with her in mind. But she loves more of an edge. Pinto should reappear for day pieces and Soronen should work again with Kors for structure. I just want something that is less bridal and flowing. And something she can actually walk and dance in, unlike the Wu. And color! Go for it, Mo! It's your night!

Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 1:50 AM | Registered Commenteroperafanatic

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