Photo used with kind permission from photographer Lauren Victoria Burke/wdcpix.com
Before we get to see Mrs. O in a gown at an inauguration ball on January 20, we will first see her when her husband is sworn into office. Daytime dress for the inauguration ceremony participants is always business formal. Traditionally, the President wears either a morning suit (Ronald Reagan) or a dark business suit (George W. Bush). John F. Kennedy donned the cutaway, but he shrugged off his winter coat for his speech-even though the temperature was a bitter 22 degrees. (He did wear a top hat to the ceremonies, but thereafter he shied away from wearing hats during his administration.) The impression he gave was one of youth and vigor.
Jacqueline Kennedy had been out of the public eye for most of the 1960 campaign because she was in the middle of a difficult pregnancy. So most of the country took their measure of the incoming 32-year-old First Lady on that inauguration day. Her debut was memorable: a fawn colored wool coat tailored with princess seaming and large cloth-covered buttons; underneath there was a matching dress. She wore a matching domed pill box hat. Designed by Oleg Cassini, Mrs. K's outfit ran against the fashion trend of the time, when women wore full length fur coats. Jackie's understated coat sported only a delicate sable ruff around the neck and she carried a small matching fur muff. It was a deliberate and calculated decision on her part, knowing that many other wives on the dais would be wearing full length mink and beaver coats.
"The first impression you got was of a very young woman surrounded by bears," said Oleg Cassini in his memoir A Thousand Days of Magic: Dressing Jacqueline Kennedy for the White House. In contrast to others that day, she appeared fresh and exciting. So what kind of impression will Mrs. O make? "The word on the street is she will be wearing Maria Pinto," says Timothy Long, curator of costumes and design at the Chicago History Museum.
With that in mind, we look back at what Maria Pinto designed for Mrs. O the last time she attended an official swearing in ceremony: It was January 2005 when her husband was sworn into the U. S. Senate. With a nod to tradition, Mrs. O wore a matched suit, but a close examination shows the outfit was anything but ordinary. The suit consisted of a form-fitting jacket with inset shoulders and a zippered front plus a pencil skirt, both in a blue, navy, and white windowpane pattern with a dark purple thread running through it. The jacket had a sleek, streamlined feel, almost like an athlete's warm-up top executed in a luxury fabric. Mrs. O played off that body-conscious, sporty look by pairing the suit with Maria Pinto's Saigon blouse design made up in purple charmeuse. While under the jacket, the blouse looks like a beautiful bow-at-the-neck number, but once the jacket is removed the blouse reveals its racer back, the better to show off Mrs. O's toned upper arms. As we learned with Jacqueline Kennedy, a first inaugural impression speaks volumes. It is communication by fashion.
Following that thought, what do Mrs. O's clothes say to us? Her outfit in 2005 speaks of the road ahead, a marathon of unforeseeable challenges, and of her ability to run the course with style, grace, and an acknowledgment of tradition enlivened with her own personal fillip.