George and Barbara
Bush at the 1989 Stars and Stripes inaugural ball at the Washington,
D.C., Convention Center
Starting as single affairs, inaugural balls have grown into many distinct festivities. In 1997, Bill Clinton hosted fourteen official balls.
Some balls were selective; others were open to anyone who paid the admission. Some were formal affairs, whereas at James Polk's two-dollar ball for "pure Democrats," a foreign minister's lady reportedly was seen dancing with her gardener. Jimmy Carter thought "ball" sounded too formal and called his celebrations "parties."
While the number of balls has multiplied, there remains an exclusive atmosphere that proclaims that this is a celebration for the newly instated political elite.