If you haven’t bitten off all your nails and devoured a gallon of ice cream by now, you haven’t been paying much attention to the world around you. The big question of which presidential candidate won is the most stressful and anxiety-ridden riddle that is French fried with fraud. Trying to get past that and looking into the future has become a monumental challenge of Herculean emotional strength. Since I feel I know less and less with every day that passes, I thought I’d flirt on the frivolous side and think about presidential inaugurations past and (who knows?) present and future.
I’ve been fortunate to have attended three so far, all being Democratic: Clinton, Clinton, and Obama. Of course, I remember my outfits because I shopped with deliberate determination for all three. More importantly, I recall exact details of all the First Ladies’ inaugural ensembles (daytime and evening) because those are historic.
From Jackie Kennedy to Nancy Reagan, the wives of American presidents have become fashion icons. I can state that Hillary Clinton looked gorgeous in a dress and ball gown at her husband’s first inauguration - a style she has vacated for her power pantsuits that have become her trademark. She wore a violet beaded lace sheath gown with iridescent blue velvet silk mousseline overskirt to the 1993 inaugural balls. The dress was designed by Sarah Phillips and made by Barbara Matera Ltd., a New York theatrical costume maker, according to The Smithsonian Museum. I clearly remember her dancing with her husband, swirling in shades of blue, at The New York Inaugural Ball.
Again in 1997, to celebrate the kickoff of her husband’s second term, Hillary went full couture-chic with a long-sleeve gold Oscar De La Renta gown with a matching gold cape. At that point, I noted that she looked tired of playing the part and the color choice did nothing to highlight her look.
The excitement of real style returned to the White House with Michelle Obama. I gasped when she entered the ball in her white, one-shouldered dream dress. She catapulted Jason Wu, then a 26-year-old graduate of Parsons School of Design, into the fashion spotlight after wearing one of his designs. I ran to buy a dress and crop jacket in order to capture the buzz. Shortly thereafter, I got myself in deep trouble, as Douglas Hannant, designer to Hollywood’s A-List, was quoted on Page Six (at my first The House of Faith N Fashion events) that he thought Michelle was no Jackie O! Since my name was mentioned as the hostess, I had to do some public relations cartwheels to endear myself to the First Lady!
Although I was invited to Donald Trump’s inauguration, I’m sorry I didn’t attend, because Melania delivered a beauty that I wished I saw with my own eyes. It was a vanilla silk crepe off-the-shoulder gown with a slit skirt, a ruffled accent from neckline to hem and a claret ribbon around the waist, designed by Hervé Pierre.
My own outfits didn’t nearly come close to any of these First Ladies or, may I even admit, to some of the magnificently-dressed guests, as there were seas of tuxedos and elegant party clothes. I look back on those pictures fondly and note how privileged and honored I feel to have been in attendance of these great balls, including Obama’s famous Hip-Hop Ball.
Sadly, no matter who’s next, those days are over. Social distancing and masks don’t make for festive occasions. Maybe we can return to hundreds of years ago when the hooded petty coats or panniers kept you six feet apart from anyone. Maybe we can adapt the traditions of Vienna. The Viennese ball is the only large masked ball with a particularly colorful and mysterious flair, by masking all the ladies.
Maybe we can close our eyes and imagine Cinderella at the ball...or maybe we can just dance in our pajamas in front of a Zoom call if we only knew with absolute certainty who indeed will be our next president after all!!
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.