First Ladies of the United States have numerous long-standing traditions—one of which is meeting the Pope alongside the President of the United States. Most recently, Jill Biden and President Biden traveled to the Vatican in Rome, Italy, where Pope Francis received them and met with the President.
Over the years, first ladies have typically traveled to Rome with Presidents to meet the current Pope in a traditional ensemble, often consisting of a black dress, veil and shoes. How these looks have changed over time and with each First Lady’s style, however, is a testament to the transformative nature of fashion—and the relevance of style for First Ladies across history. From Nancy Reagan to Jill Biden, discover the sharpest First Lady looks worn to meet the Pope below.
In 1982, Nancy Reagan accompanied President Ronald Reagan to the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II. For the occasion, the First Lady wore a long black silk chiffon dress that featured a ruffled collar and bow detail. She paired the look with a black pillbox hat and matching lace veil, plus a string of pearls and black silk shoes.
Barbara Bush also dressed in formal fashion for a visit with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican with President George Bush. The First Lady wore a black knee-length dress and black sweater, paired with a multi-strand pearl necklace, stud earrings, a black leather handbag and rounded-toe black pumps.
Hillary Clinton was the epitome of ’90s elegance to meet Pope John Paul II at Newark International Airport with President Bill Clinton in October 1995. Clinton wore a long black coat and round gold earrings, paired with black pumps that featured heels totaling at least 2 inches in height.
Laura Bush met Pope John Paul II alongside President George W. Bush in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall in June 2004. Her look consisted of a long black lace veil, blazer and knee-length skirt, paired with gold stud earrings and a black leather shoulder bag. For footwear, she opted for black patent leather pumps with pointed toes.
In July 2009, Michelle Obama met Pope Benedict XVI with President Barack Obama at the Vatican. The First Lady took a more elegant approach to the Vatican visit, wearing a black knee-length dress accented with a large bow and cinched with a studded belt. Obama’s look was complete with a black cardigan, as well as a long sheer veil and black patent leather flats with pointed toes.
Melania Trump met Pope Francis in 2017, wearing a fully textured take on the traditional Vatican ensemble. The First Lady donned a black coat, dress and sheer lace veil by Dolce and Gabbana for the occasion. Her look was complete with lacy black pointed-toe pumps, which featured stiletto heels totaling at least 4 inches in height.
Jill Biden brought a punchy twist to the traditional Vatican outfit to meet Pope Francis in October 2021. The First Lady wore a black blazer, blouse and knee-length skirt in a black leopard print. Her outfit also featured a short black lace veil, as well as pointed-toe black pumps.
Click through the gallery to discover the best First Lady looks in history.