What to wear? What to wear? Michelle Obama had some pretty huge fashion hurtles to leap as she took on the job of First Lady. I mean, what does one wear to a recession? Her cool lemon yellow dress and matching jacket made by Cuban-born designer Isabel Toledo and her gorgeous cream-colored evening gown by New York designer Jason Wu, defies that sage aphorism that you can’t please all of people all of the time.
Other first ladies have had similar fashion foibles to ponder. In 1945, in the midst of the Great Depression World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt selected a very understated pink rayon crepe dress to wear to her husband’s inaugural reception—fittingly, there were no balls that year.
Helen Taft’s 1909 white-silk chiffon inaugural gown, the first inaugural dress to be donated to the Smithsonian and which started the tradition, is somewhat similar to the one Michelle selected. It is appliqued with floral embroideries in a metallic thread and trimmed with rhinestones and beads. Michelle would look fabulous in it.
As for when Michelle’s dress will go on view at the Smithsonian? Has the Internet age made you that impatient? The Obamas have larger issues to tackle first.
The National Museum of American History recently reopened its popular exhibition, “First Ladies at the Smithsonian.” On view are 14 dresses and more than 90 other items from sunglasses to Jackie Kennedy’s faux pearls in a display case more than fifty feet long.
Originally exhibited at the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building in 1914, over the decades, just as the Smithsonian’s collection of dresses and other memorabilia has grown, so has the role and impact of the nation’s First Lady.
Watch the above video as curator Lisa Kathleen Graddy gives a behind-the-scenes tour of the making of the new exhibition. And in the comments area below, tell us what you wore on January 20.
Get the full content of Smithsonian magazine, plus exclusive extras on our iPad edition.
Sign up for regular email updates from Smithsonian magazine, including free newsletters, special offers and current news updates.
Sign Up Now
Smithsonian.com expands on Smithsonian magazine's in-depth coverage of history, science, nature, the arts, travel, world culture and technology. Join us regularly as we take a dynamic and interactive approach to exploring modern and historic perspectives on the arts, sciences, nature, world culture and travel, including videos, blogs and a reader forum.