Which First Ladies Wore Floral Dresses to Inauguration?

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By Jill Brooke

As is tradition, Dr. Jill Biden donated her Inaugural dresses to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Turns out that Biden’s ivory-mid calf dress was one of the few designs that had flower motifs among all the First Ladies. Other First Ladies who chose floral accents were Dolly Madison, Grace Coolidge, Mary Lincoln, and Laura Bush.


As Washington Post’s Robin Givhan noted, for the Inauguration, Biden’s dress designed by Gabriela Hearst with its accompanying coat was embroidered with the flowers of each state for all Americans.

“My focus on Inauguration Day was being a first lady for all Americans — doing my part to bring our country back together,” Biden said at the ceremony in Washington D.C.  “The dress expresses that desire for unity hints at a new beginning and offers a nod of respect to the American garment industry,”

It will also be iconic and momentous because these clothes were designed with accompanying masks, rooting the Covid moment into history.

“They’re just small pieces of cloth, but they represent the enormity of what we faced at the time,” Biden said. “But these masks also represent the moments of courage and kindness that helped us through the worst of it.”

The idea of flowers as a unifying theme is not new. Queen Elizabeth also had the flowers of each sovereign country stitched into her wedding veil as did Meghan Markle.

Biden is clearly a flower lover and often wears dresses with flower motifs. In fact, she even had a Ukraine sunflower sewn into a State of the Union address.

Also donated to the exhibit was the teal blue coat dress from the swearing-in ceremony designed by Alexandra O’Neill of Markarian, a young designer in New York.  It was a dress that had a collar of floral-inspired crystals. As Givhan noted, the “Markarian ensemble wasn’t aimed at turning fashion on its head. It wasn’t the work of a designer trying to create an aesthetic explosion. Instead, it was reassuring and dignified, which was what the Biden administration had promised voters it would be.”

“Her designs seemed both timeless and new,” Biden said.  “And that was exactly what I was hoping to find. Because young people showed up and voted for Joe in historic numbers. And I wanted to reflect their passion.”

Other First Ladies have also showcased a new talent for these momentous occasions. As Givhan pointed out, Laura Bush followed in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s steps by choosing a hometown designer to sew her inaugural gown for her husband’s first swearing-in. “Mrs. Clinton chose little-known designer Sarah Phillips. Bush chose Dallas-based Michael Faircloth, who has worked with Bush since 1994,” said Givhan. “He has created her wardrobe for both Texas gubernatorial inaugurations and most of the suits she wore while accompanying her husband on the campaign trail.”

As far as fashion moments, the Inauguration is an opportunity for many eyeballs and sales. Jason Wu became a superstar after Michelle Obama wore his dress.

As Biden said at the ceremony, “Clothing is an art and articulation. It’s a manifestation of a moment of time. It’s history. And today, I’m deeply honored to play a small part in a big moment in our history.”

Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD,  floral editor for Aspire Design and Home magazine and contributor to Florists Review magazine.


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