The most daring outfits first ladies have worn

Frances Cleveland often wore dresses that showed her shoulders, a bold fashion choice in the 1880s.

Frances Cleveland wears an off-the-shoulder white ruffled dress.
Portrait of Frances Cleveland, circa 1880s. 
Fotosearch/Getty Images

Grover and Frances Cleveland became the first and only president and first lady to wed in the White House when they married in 1886. She was also the youngest first lady in history at 21 years old, making her an instant celebrity and fashion icon.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union petitioned Frances Cleveland to stop wearing dresses that they deemed too revealing for showing her shoulders, but she never stopped or responded to their protests.

Betty Ford was photographed in pants only one time … while dancing atop the Cabinet Room table on her last day as first lady in 1977.

Betty Ford stands on the Cabinet Room table at the White House wearing pants.
US first lady Betty Ford dances on the Cabinet Room table at the White House 1977 in Washington, DC. 
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Betty Ford was an ardent supporter of the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, but wearing pants in public was still considered unacceptable for first ladies, according to the National First Ladies’ Library.

Jacqueline Kennedy wore pink pants in 1960. The New York Times called them “shocking.”

John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy. Jacqueline wears an orange shirt and pink pants.
President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy stroll along the pier at a yacht club in 1960. 
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Martha Weinman of The New York Times called Kennedy’s vibrant outfit — an orange cowl-neck sweater with pink slacks — “something of possibly vast political consequence” in 1960, suggesting a new type of first lady was emerging.

“This fall the question of style for a President’s wife may be a Great Issue. Can too much chic — or too little — mean votes?” she wrote.

Nancy Reagan’s choice of a one-shoulder inaugural gown was considered a daring look in 1981.

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan at the 1981 inauguration wearing formalwear
Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan at the 1981 inauguration. 
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Nancy Reagan’s beaded inaugural gown, made of lace over silk satin, was designed by James Galanos, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“It was surprisingly bare for a first lady and it was decidedly glamorous,” wrote The Washington Post’s senior critic-at-large Robin Givhan in 2016.

Obama made waves when she wore a sleeveless black dress for her official White House portrait.

Michelle Obama's official White House portrait. She wears a black sleeveless sheath dress.
Michelle Obama’s official White House portrait. 
Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House via Getty Images

“I wore a sleeveless aubergine dress to Barack’s address to the joint session of Congress and a sleeveless black sheath dress for my official White House photo, and suddenly my arms were making headlines,” Obama wrote in her 2018 memoir, “Becoming.”

At her final state dinner in 2016, Obama wore a showstopping rose-gold dress made of chain mail.

The Obamas greet Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife at the White House
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stand with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Italian first lady Agnese Landini at the White House in 2016. 
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Obama chose the look by Italian designer Atelier Versace while welcoming Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife, Agnese Landini, to the White House.

Melania Trump wore a $51,500 Dolce & Gabbana jacket with colorful floral appliques at the Group of Seven summit in Italy in 2017.

First lady Melania Trump steps out of a car in a colorful jacket.
Melania Trump arrives at Chierici Palace, part of a visit of the G7 first ladies in Catania, Italy, in 2017. 
Domenico Stinellis, File via AP

She paired the dress with a pale-pink dress and her signature sunglasses.

The full cost of the jacket is more than most Americans make in a year, which proved a controversial choice.

For a 2017 speech at the UN, Trump chose a hot-pink Delpozo dress with voluminous sleeves.

Melania Trump wears a bright pink dress with voluminous while speaking at the UN
Melania Trump addresses other spouses of world leaders at a United Nations luncheon in 2017. 
DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images

Insider’s Kate Taylor wrote that Trump’s fashion choice indicated her lack of public-speaking experience since the dress looked polished on its own but oversized behind a podium.

Trump’s most notorious fashion moment was a Zara jacket that said “I really don’t care do U?” worn en route to visit immigrant children at a government facility in 2018.

melania trump jacket
Melania Trump arrives in Maryland after visiting McAllen, Texas, in 2018. 
Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

Trump initially denied that the jacket’s message was significant in any way in an interview with ABC News.

A few months later in another ABC News interview, she said the message was meant for “the left-wing media who are criticizing me” over a number of scandals, which she said may make her the “most bullied person in the world.”

Trump’s wide-brimmed Hervé Pierre hat stole the show while she welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House in 2018.

melania trump emmanuel macron
French President Emmanuel Macron kisses Melania Trump’s hand during a State Arrival Ceremony at the White House in 2018. 
Joshua Roberts/Reuters

The white statement hat matched the first lady’s white belted suit by Michael Kors, Insider’s Kate Taylor reported.

Pierre also crafted Trump’s inauguration gown.

Jill Biden’s choice of black patterned tights in 2021 became known as “Fishnetgate.”

Jill Biden arrives at Andrews Air Force Base wearing black lace tights.
Jill Biden deplanes upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in 2021. 

Biden previously wore the tights as second lady to the 75th Anniversary USO Show at Joint Base Andrews in May 2016. As first lady, the outfit came under more scrutiny for seeming too risqué.

Biden addressed the criticism in a 2021 interview with Vogue.

“It’s amazing how much people pay attention to every little detail,” she said. “And they weren’t fishnets. They weren’t lace. They were very pretty stockings.

While presenting at the 2023 Grammys, Biden wore a glittering custom Oscar de la Renta gown that showed her shoulders.

Jill Biden speaks onstage during the 2023 Grammy Awards
Jill Biden speaks onstage during the 2023 Grammy Awards. 
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Biden wore a navy version of the same dress to a state dinner with Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron of France in December, The New York Times reported. It retails for $16,000.

At the 2023 Grammys, Biden presented the award for best song for social change to Iranian singer and songwriter Shervin Hajipour for her protest anthem “Baraye.” Biden also presented the award for best song, which went to Bonnie Raitt’s “Just Like That.”

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