First Ladies From Martha Washington to Jill Biden Have Gotten Outsized Attention for Their Clothing Instead of Their Views
First ladies’ fashion choices tend to attract a lot of attention and often, quite literally, go down in history.
Now, with their new home at the Smithsonian Museum’s popular gallery showcasing first ladies’ fashion, the inauguration outfits of Jill Biden will attract attention for years to come.
Biden wore two outfits by young female designers to mark President Joe Biden’s January 2021 inauguration.
She unveiled the new addition to the exhibit in Washington in January 2023, marking a rare occasion when the first lady has publicly spoken about her clothing’s importance.
First ladies’ fashion choices over the years have often been laced with multiple meanings – representing both their husbands’ administrations and politics, and what was happening in the country at the time. The colorful flourishes on Jill Biden’s white inaugural outfit, for example, paid homage to the United States with embroidered flowers, representing all of the country’s states and territories.
But Jill Biden’s office, as a policy, even before she became first lady, generally has not addressed her clothing, except for particular moments – like when she wore boots that said VOTE ahead of the November 2020 elections, or when she had a sunflower – the national flower of Ukraine – sewn on her dress to show support for the country shortly after the Russian army invaded Ukraine in 2022.
“It’s kind of surprising, I think, how much commentary is made about what I wear or if I put my hair in a scrunchie,” Jill Biden told Vogue in August 2021.
As a researcher of women in politics, from political candidates to first ladies, I think that Presidents Day this year offers a chance to better understand the meaning of first ladies’ fashion – and the potential missteps of focusing too much on their style choices.