Which President's inaugural fashions included a dress sword? A homburg? An off-the-rack business suit bought a week before his big day?
For the first inauguration, George Washington dressed down. In 1789, he sported a "suit of brown broadcloth -- purposely chosen because it was spun in America", with steel-hilted sword, white silk stockings, and silver shoe buckles emblazoned with an eagle, according to the newly published "George Washington: An Interactive Biography" by Rod Gragg (Pelican Publishing Company).
"His hair was dressed and powdered in the fashion of the day and worn in a bag and solitaire," wrote Washington Irving in Volume II of "Life of George Washington". Sounds more like Rip Van Winkle.
George gussied up for his second in 1793. He was resplendent in a black velvet suit, diamond knee buckles, black silk stockings, silver shoe buckles, dress sword with richly ornamented hilt.
That befit "His Highness, the President of the United States of America, and Protector of the Rights of the Same" -- the title John Adams suggested -- but Senators approved simply "The President".
Our second President, John Adams, outfitted himself in a suit of grey broadcloth, without fancy buttons or knee buckles for his inauguration in 1797.
Third President Thomas Jefferson followed suit at his 1801 inauguration. "His dress was, as usual, that of a plain citizen without any distinctive badge of office," a reporter noted.
John Quincy Adams, "Old Man Eloquent", was the first to wear long trousers for his inauguration in 1825 as our sixth President. He enjoyed swimming in no clothes in the Potomac River, pre-daybreak. Once someone made off with his clothes, and he got a young passerby to bring clothes from the White House.
President William Henry Harrison, despite a frigid snowstorm, did not wear an overcoat, hat, or gloves during his ceremony in 1841.
Giving the longest inaugural speech ever led to the shortest presidency ever. His 8,445-word oration lasted for more than an hour and 40 minutes. Harrison caught pneumonia, and died one month into his terminal term. Our ninth President was the first chief executive to die in office.
(The shortest inaugural address was George Washington's second one, only 135 words. It is one of many beautiful reproductions in "George Washington: An Interactive Biography." Washington's actual first inaugural address is on display now through Jan. 31 at the National Archives. Click here for all inaugural addresses.)
Known for his short speeches and short stature at five feet, six inches tall, Benjamin "Little Ben" Harrison, donned a double-breasted frock coat and striped trousers, but not "Kid Gloves", his other nickname. He was inaugurated in 1889 as the 23rd President, although he fell short in the popular vote -- but won the electoral vote.
(The only other time was the 2000 race, when Al Gore won well over half a million popular votes more than George W. Bush, but Bush received five more electoral votes than Gore did. Even more startling, Andrew Jackson had way more popular and electoral votes than John Quincy Adams had in the 1824 four-way race. The election was decided by the House of Representatives, which chose John Quincy Adams. But in the next election, Jackson beat incumbent J.Q. Adams, to become our seventh President.)
Back to fashion and forward to the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt wore a cutaway coat and striped trousers for his 1905 swearing-in. The "Rough Rider" also wore a ring containing a lock of President Lincoln's hair.
Teddy had worn regular clothes when he took the oath of office upon the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, six months after taking office.
(Theodore Roosevelt did not use a Bible for his 1901 swearing-in. John Quincy Adams was the only other President to not use a Bible for the swearing-in. In 1825, John Quincy Adams put his hand on a book containing laws of the United States, and swore allegiance to the Constitution.)
No question who wore the largest clothes of any Prez -- William Howard Taft, who weighed about 340 pounds when serving as our 27th President, from 1909-1913.
"Big Bill" Taft was also the only person ever to hold the highest office in both the Executive Branch 1909-1913 and Judicial branches of government. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1921-1930, he wrote, "I don't remember that I was ever President."
The topper, created in Bad Homburg, Germany, seems an odd choice for the former Supreme Allied Commander. The dark gray homburg topped Ike's morning coat and striped trousers.
President John F. Kennedy, the 35th President, was the last to wear a traditional silk top hat for his inauguration in 1961. He chose not to wear it during his swearing-in and speech, despite 22-degree temperature. (Army troops with flame throwers cleared an eight-inch accumulation of snow from the Pennsylvania Avenue inaugural parade route.)
After Kennedy's assassination -- 50 years ago this Nov. 22 -- Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office on Air Force One, as we know. For President Johnson's inauguration in 1965, he wore a gray business suit. (The ceremony marked the first time a First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, stood with her husband during the swearing-in. The President put his pet beagle "Him" on a chair in the inaugural reviewing stand, probably the only time a first pet participated.)
The 39th President, Jimmy Carter, shattered the precedent of wearing formal attire. He wore a $175 business suit he'd bought off the rack in Georgia a week before his 1976 inauguration.
Whatever one thinks about these Presidents' new clothes for their respective inaugurations, at least they're not "The Emperor's New Clothes".
For more info: The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the White House. Additional info: “Presidential Campaign Posters: Two Hundred Years of Election Art” (Library of Congress/Quirk Books). "Presidential Inaugurations" (Harcourt, Inc.), "Presidential Anecdotes" (Oxford University Press), and "Essays on the Presidents: Principles and Politics" (TCU Press) by Paul F. Boller Jr., former Texas Christian University history professor. "The Complete Book of Presidential Trivia" (Pelican Publishing Co.) by J. Stephen Lang. "George Washington: An Interactive Biography" by Rod Gragg (Pelican Publishing Co.)