With the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama taking place today, I thought it was a good opportunity to take a closer look at the suits and outfits worn by US presidents throughout history on their inaugural day – you will probably be surprised to see how the outfits developed over time. The very first was George Washington in 1789 in New York City wearing a morning coat with ruffled shirt, knee length trousers, matching waistcoat, over the calf silk hose and buckle shoes.
Andrew Jackson wore a very different outfit with a black tailcoat, trousers and vest, combined with a white starched shirt and big black bow tie.
On the other hand, Lincoln wore a frock coat in 1865, which was an upcoming trend at the time.
Ulysses S. Grant wore once again a black tailcoat with a black bow tie and for his ball, people were not allowed to wear overcoats, hats or canes, which must have been the exception to the rule back then.
Chestur Arthur was one of the first presidents to adopt the stroller suit but if you look closely, you will notice that his jacket had rounded quarters similar to a morning coat but much shorter in length.
William McKinley wore a double breasted frock coat with partially silk faced lapels. Of course, during the speech he took off his top hat.
Theodore Roosevelt wore a turndowncollar in this picture paired with a necktie and a frock coat. While common nowadays he was fashion forward back then because the bow tie and stiff wing collar were considered more traditional back then.
Top hats were reserved for the wealthy while the general public wore bowler hats or Homburg hats.
Taft was a big president and he liked to wear fur. At his inauguration we can see him wearing a fitted fur lined overcoat with fur collar and cuffs as well as a top hat but without gloves.
The dress code remained unchanged.
President Harding in a light colored overcoat with fur collar.
Just look at the splendid top hats…
Coolidge in morningwear.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a fur collar and polished top hat.
FDR with a evening overcoat with cloak and velvet collar – it is too bad that these kind of overcoats have almost vanished completely.
Harry S. Truman swearing the oath. For more information about his wardrobe take a look at this post.
Eisenhower in 1953 wearing a roomy, double breasted overcoat.
Eisenhower in morning dress, reacting to the cheering of the spectators.
John F. Kennedy in full morning dress with top hat.
JFK in morning coat giving his 1961 inauguration speech.
JFK wearing the evening equivalent of the morning coat outfit to the inauguration ball: white tie with wing collar, stiff fronted shirt and piqée vest with studs.
Nixon with a shawl collar tuxedo and cummerbund at the inauguration ball.
President Ford wearing just a plain suit with a striped tie.
Reagan was the last US president to wear a stroller suit for his inauguration in 1981.
In 1985, he switched to a regular suit.
George H. W. Bush is a dark suit with silver tie in 1989.
Bill Clinton in a dark suit with plain tie in 1993.
Obama in 2009 & 2013
The inauguration used to be a much dressier and more formal event where top hats and proper morning dress were obligatory. Sadly, ever since Reagan’s second inauguration, US president have only worn plain solid suits with uninteresting neckties and I would love to see a stroller or even a morning coat at such a celebratory event in the future. What do you think? Do you think a suit is enough or would you prefer a slight change in dress for such special occasions?