First Ladies & White House Weddings

Many have been to elegant weddings, but a White House wedding is in a class of its own. The most recent, Naomi Biden wedding was a happy day and shows that weddings are back in a big way. Sarah Fling, a historian with the White House Historical Association, said, “White House weddings are incredibly special opportunities, because they typically come about through a close relationship with the president and first lady—whether for family, close friends, or even White House staff. They also show the important role of the White House as a home, where special milestones and family moments are celebrated throughout history.” 

There have been 19 documented White House weddings hosted by the President and/or First Lady of the United States. The first one was on March 29, 1812: Lucy Payne Washington (the sister of First Lady Dolley Madison) married Supreme Court Associate Justice Thomas Todd. 

The Fashion 

Naomi Biden 

The most recent wedding at the White House was President Joe Biden’s oldest granddaughter Naomi. She married lawyer Peter Neal in November 2022, they live in Georgetown. Biden’s custom, long-sleeved Chantilly lace wedding dress with floral embroidery was made by Ralph Lauren. Reminiscent of Grace Kelly, Biden kept her makeup and jewelry simple. What made jaws drop though was a cathedral length veil made of silk organza with a custom lace border and embroidery.  

Tricia Nixon 

Nixon, who married Edward Cox in the White House Rose Garden in June 1971, chose a timeless gown with modern touches by Priscilla Kidder. It included a white crepe molded under slip overlaid by layers of silk organza. It had a trumpet-style skirt with a court train and embroidered florals for an early ‘70s flair. The choice of a sleeveless gown was considered “unusually revealing” for the time, according to The New York Times. By today’s standards, it was quite modest.  

Monte Durham, host of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress,” got a replica dress of Jackie Kennedy’s made that he donated on loan to the National First Ladies Library and Museum.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis 

Jackie did not get married in the White House, but her dress is worth noting because it influenced so many brides. Recently, Monte Durham of the long-running TLC show, “Say Yes to the Dress,” had the dress reproduced for the National First Ladies Library, on display there now. He grew up loving the Kennedy family. His mother Rose would emulate Jackie’s look and style often. His grandmother gave Durham a souvenir plate featuring President and Mrs. Kennedy when he bought his first condo. “That kicked it into high gear with me starting to collect Jackie Kennedy memorabilia,” he said. 

The replica of Jackie’s wedding dress, made for him by couturier Priscilla of Boston. “It was shipped to me in two different boxes, as the skirt was so voluminous,” Durham said.  

Jackie’s dress was an ivory silk-taffeta gown with a portrait neckline and a full bouffant skirt with almost 50 yards of fabric. The designer of the dress, Ann Lowe, was an African American woman who was one of the most in-demand garment makers of the time. Despite designing frocks for many in high society circles, she faced constant racial discrimination. You can read more about Lowe’s fascinating life at the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s website here 

Durham collected such an impressive array of Kennedy-related items (including the replica dress), he donated some of his items to The National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio, for an exhibit that runs through April 20. Locally, his hair salon in Old Town Alexandria is a nod to Jackie O and provides the best in bridal looks. 

The Ceremonies and Receptions 

Alice Roosevelt 

Roosevelt married Republican Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth (sound familiar?) in February 1906. Roosevelt was quite the rebellious woman for the time—despite being forbidden to smoke at The White House, she went to the rooftop and did it anyway. She carried around her pet snake and snuck whiskey into dry parties like a modern-day Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian.  

Roosevelt’s wedding was full of society’s elite at the time. Her gifts were equally opulent. King Edward VII sent an enamel snuff box, and the Vatican sent a mosaic. 

Lynda Bird Johnson  

Johnson chose to marry in December for a holiday season wedding. She married Charles “Chuck” Robb, a U.S. Marine Corps captain in 1967. The White House was impeccably decorated with candles, white roses and winter greenery and around 500 guests attended the affair, dubbed “the wedding of the year” at the time. An altar was built for the ceremony, which was in the East Room.  

President Johnson was reportedly nervous as he descended the Grand Staircase with Lynda. After the brief ceremony, guests enjoyed dinner and dancing. Johnson and Robb’s cake was quite the centerpiece of the affair. Made by Chef Clement Maggia, it featured five tiers of pound cake and fruit cake and weighed around 250 pounds and stood over six feet tall. 

Your Own White House Wedding 

If you’re getting married soon, we of course had to ask Durham about his best advice for brides who want to capture the magic and elegance of a White House wedding. 

“The advice I would give to any current and future bride is to make sure your dress fits the location,” he said. “If you’re marrying in a cathedral, a cathedral veil and train or if you’re marrying on the beach, maybe wearing organza or tulle, and if you’re marrying in a garden or an outdoor facility, lace is always perfect.” 

For brides planning to travel to a destination wedding, Durham mentioned that lace is ideal to pack. “You don’t have to press it, you can hang it up and it’ll fall right into place,” he added. 

You can dive deeper into the world of White House weddings by visiting the White House Historical Association’s digital exhibit launched last year called “Something Old, Something New: Eight First Daughters’ Fashionable White House Weddings.” The exhibit was curated by Jillian Staricka, the association’s 2023 Digital Exhibits Intern and MA student at New York University for Costume Studies.  





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