Fashion flashback: The gorgeous inauguration gowns of first ladies gone by

The fashion world gave a collective nod of approval as Michelle Obama stepped out sporting an ivory, off-the-shoulder, delicate flower-adorned Jason Wu dress at the Inauguration Ball in 2009.

The little-known Taiwanese-born designer was unaware that his stunning creation had made the cut until he saw it on TV and he was instantly rocketed to fashion fame.

But 42-year-old Michelle isn't the first first lady to rock a gorgeous gown. And the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington D.C. has a collection of the dresses worn going back 100 years, from Helen Taft, whose husband was sworn in in 2009, to Michelle, who donated her Jason Wu gown.

 

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While donating the dress, she said: "When we look at the dress that Jackie Kennedy wore 50 years ago, or the one that Mary Todd Lincoln wore 100 years before that, it takes us beyond the history books and the photographs and helps us understand that history is made by talented people.

"The dress I donated today, made by Jason Wu, is a masterpiece. It’s simple, it’s elegant and it comes from the brilliant mind of someone who is living the American Dream."

The collections of gown perfectly illustrate different fashions of different eras. Mamie Eisenhower became a national sensation in a peau de soie Nettie Rosenstein design with 2,000 rhinestones in 1953. Matching evening gloves and a pearl-encrusted clutch finished the look.

And for her inaugural outing in 1989, Barbara Bush chose a sapphire velvet gown from Arnold Scaasi. The first lady was so fond of the asymmetrically draped design that she was reluctant to make the customary donation to the Smithsonian Institution. "I love this dress," she said, "and I really hate to give it up."

 



Claudia Johnson's simple canary-yellow bateau-neck dress by John Moore marked a departure from elaborate designs in 1965, despite its fur trimmed sleeves The down-to-earth First Lady ordered her dress through Neiman Marcus in Texas. "I like clothes—I like them pretty," she told Time. "But I want them to serve me, not for me to serve them."

Dazzling made its return in 1993, however, when Hilary Clinton opted for glamour and glitz in a sparkling purple number.

With style fans on tenterhooks as they wait to see what she will wear as she celebrates her husband Barack being ceremonially sworn into his second term in office, let's take a look at some of the inauguration dresses chosen by first ladies gone by.

 

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