The Inaugural speech may set the agenda for a new Presidential administration, but the Inaugural wardrobe sets the tone. Think of Mamie Eisenhower's exuberant pink frocks in the can-do post-War '50s; Rosalynnn Carter's recycled gown in the down-in-the-dumps '70s, Jackie Kennedy regalness in the everything-is-possible '60s. While we wait to hear Barack Obama's words -- and to see Michelle Obama's clothes -- click back on the revealing (and mostly red, white or blue) Inauguration choices of America's modern First Ladies.
The biggest shock of the 2000 Presidential election was, of course, that it took the U.S. Supreme Court to decide it. The second-biggest shock: that Laura Bush -- after two decades in one of America's shrewdest political families -- would wear such a dowdy ensemb to George's first Inaugural. Instead of bringing in one of Seventh Avenue's big guns -- Arnold Scassi primped up Barbara Bush's style -- Laura chose Michael Faircloth, a little-known Dallas designer who had been turning out her safe (and sorry) public-appearance clothes back to the 1999 Texas inaugural.
Before his stint dressing Laura, Michael Faircloth's claim to design fame was creating outfits for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, so perhaps it's not surprising that his Inaugural gown was all about fireworks. Though Mrs. Bush preferred a tad more coverage than the pom-pom girls, her satin and lace gown, laden with Austrian crystals, was far too matronly for a 55-year-old -- even a 55-year-old ex-librarian. br/>
Is it any wonder that Oscar de la Renta has become something of a house designer for modern White House occupants? After earning his Washington stripes (and stars) transforming Hillary Clinton, he was tapped by Laura Bush for the 2005 Inaugural. The results: different party, same polish. For Bush II, de la Renta turned country-club Laura into a D.C. swan with a delicately beaded ice-blue gown that accented her curvy body and creamy skin.
Chic, simple and with a hemline that flattered, Mrs. Bush's 2005 oath-of-office outfit was a stand-out winter-white coat and dress by Oscar de la Renta. However, it took a village to dress the Bush clan for all the events: Carolina Herrera made a taffeta shirtwaist for the hot-ticket Black-Tie-And-Boots gala; Peggy Jennings created a crystal column for the Candlelight Dinners, and Badgley Mischka turned twins Jenna and Barbara into saucy but sexy First Daughters.
Even before Hillary Clinton got to Washington, she (and her ubiquitous headbands) made it clear that fashion was not at the top of her agenda. And how. Her 1993 Inaugural designers were a raft of Arkansans who earned unanimous not-ready-for-prime-time reviews. Her first transgression: the dizzying plaid suit by Connie Fails for the swearing-in. Bad enough that it violated every keep-it-simple rule, but Hillary topped off the outfit with a decidedly un-Jackie chapeau that many compared to a flying saucer.
If she had known that Inauguration Day would be a metaphor for her early years as First Lady, Hillary Clinton might have re-thought her gown. For her highest-profile star turn, she chose an overwrought crystal-covered confection by Arkansas designer Sarah Phillips, done in a shade of purple last seen lining the royal family's robes. It got more pans than her health care plan.
Thank God for second acts. Hillary ditched the hat, the plaids and the frump for Clinton II and dialed up Oscar de la Renta, who made a coral swing coat and suit that were sophisticated, if not daring. Meanwhile, no longer the awkward adolescent, 16-year-old Chelsea wore a long blue coat that she doffed to reveal a mini-skirt -- and long dancer's legs.
Forever banishing the purple princess, Hillary's 1997 Inaugural gown was a charming variation on one of Oscar de la Renta's runway pieces -- an embroidered gold tulle t-shirt dress that she reinterpreted with longer sleeves, higher neck and just a tad less oomph. Still, with upswept hair and minimal fuss, Hillary exuded more chic than she had in all of Bill's first term.
By the time George H.W. Bush landed the presidency, Barbara Bush had moved 28 times in 45 years, so in swapping the Vice President's digs for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., she was more about function than form. Ditto for her clothes. For the 1989 swearing-in, the Silver Fox chose a straight and sensible turquoise coat over a white dress, both from ladies-who-lunch designer Bill Blass Never one to waste, she paired the dress with an 8-year-old lavender coat for a trip to Canada weeks later.