President Tarja Halonen’s inaugural attire

Artefact of the month - September 2022

President Tarja Halonen donated to the National Museum of Finland the black two-piece suit she wore at her inauguration. Clothes symbolise power and are linked to turning points in national and political history.

Tarja Halonen already had a long and significant political career behind her when she was elected President of the Republic of Finland in 2000. Halonen was the first woman to hold the post of President of Finland.

When the result of the elections was clear, I remember the moment at the Helsinki Workers’ Hall and the huge influx of people there. There were children, adults and lots of women. Then, there was this [message] from women that this was important. For little girls, for example, it was extremely important. President Tarja Halonen on 27 January 2022

Presidential attire rethought

Until Tarja Halonen’s terms, the Presidents wore white tie for state events. The corresponding attire for women is full evening dress. Full evening dress is not used in daytime events, so Halonen ended up wearing a two-piece wool fabric suit at her inauguration, matching the dress code for daytime academic events.

There was this very practical [question] about how a woman dresses for the inauguration ceremony.

The inaugural suit was designed by Ilona Pelli. The suit very much turned out to my liking and taste, even though it was made very quickly. She also designed a long black coat to match it on her own initiative. And it came in handy. President Tarja Halonen on 27 January 2022

There was still snow on the ground on the inauguration day, 1 March 2000, and some of the festivities, like the inspection of the honorary company, took place outside.

Attire and decorations as symbols of power

The President of the Republic represents the state in ceremonies and festivities. The festive attire includes decorations that emphasise the high status and power of the President. Upon taking up their duties, the President-elect gets to wear the decorations of all three official Chapters of the Orders of Finland. The heavy and bulky decorations are designed for gentlemen’s clothes.

They are so heavy that they stretch and pull any lady’s dress and break any thinner fabric. Later they had hollow, lighter models made for me. But we did not have those then [at the inauguration]. There was an oven cloth-like piece of fabric on the inside where they were attached so that they did not stretch the actual fabric too bad. President Tarja Halonen on 27 January 2022

President Halonen also wore a wide yellow sash at her first inauguration. It also was made into a narrower, more suitable version for a lady’s dress later on.

Decorations have influenced the style and material choices of President Halonen’s festive clothes, as not all fabrics can withstand the weight of even the lightest of the decorations.

In the case of a female president, it [the attire] is always just a base for these symbols of power, if you will. About these decorations of the Orders: the President serves as the [Grand] Master of all the Orders. President Tarja Halonen on 27 January 2022

Challenges related to festive clothes and decorations are a concrete example of issues that can be encountered when starting in a duty previously dominated by one sex only. With the symbols of power rethought, the path of the next woman president will be that much smoother.

Maria Ollila


Interview on 27 January 2022, President Tarja Halonen.

Oral statement made at the donation of the object on 26 January 2022 by Berit Mäkinen, Service Manager at the Office of the President of the Republic of Finland.

A Guide to the Orders and Decorations of Finland 2019

Further information:

YLE Areena, 1 March 2012: Tarja Halonen astuu virkaansa 2000 (Video of Tarja Halonen’s inauguration 2000)

YLE Elävä arkisto, 7 September 2007, updated on 10 March 2022: Presidentin virkaanastujaiset 2006 (Presidential inauguration 2006)

President Halonen’s biography on the National Biography of Finland website

2 puku ja kunniamerkit Soile Tirilä
Berit Mäkinen, Service Manager at the Office of the President of the Republic of Finland, explained in connection with the donation of the suit that the decorations are affixed to the lady’s attire only after it is on her. The place of each decoration is strictly determined. The chain is sewn in its proper place into the fabric with a few stitches and removed with a seam ripper. Photo: Soile Tirilä, Finnish Heritage Agency.
3 IT162 Matti Kilponen
It is very comfortable [a suit]. - - - And I like the fact that it was made one-sided, which nicely balances the breast stars. President Tarja Halonen on 27 January 2022. President Halonen wore the suit to both of her inaugurations, the inauguration of her successor, Sauli Niinistö, and to university events, for example. Photo: Matti Kilponen, Finnish Heritage Agency.
4 puku ja kunniamerkit Soile Tirilä
The three official Orders of Finland are the Order of the Cross of Liberty (VR), the Order of the White Rose of Finland (SVR) and the Order of the Lion of Finland (SL). At the most formal festivities, the President wears the Commander Grand Cross of the SVR with a collar and the Grand Cross of the Order of the Cross of Liberty on a yellow sash. Breast stars are attached on the left side of the festive attire, with the SVR breast star above the VR and SL breast stars, starting from the left. President Halonen’s decorations were on loan to the Finnish National Museum for photography. Photo: Soile Tirilä, Finnish Heritage Agency.