“We’re so close to our families, so we always knew we’d get married in someone’s backyard.”
On the Tuesday evening before her wedding, under the watchful eye of a Secret Service agent, Naomi Biden, 28, and her soon-to-be husband, Peter Neal, 25, came downstairs from their living quarters on the third floor of the White House residence to practice their first dance. The setting was the marble-floored Cross Hall, and Naomi, wearing pajamas and unsure how to work the White House speakers, played Elvis Costello’s “Still”’ on her iPhone as she and her fiancé improvised a casual waltz.
A few days later, at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 19, the young couple, both lawyers—Naomi at the Washington, DC, firm Arnold & Porter, and Peter at the Georgetown Law Center on National Security—married on a crisp and cloudless day on the South Lawn in front of 250 family members and friends. “We’re so close to our families, so we always knew we’d get married in someone’s backyard,” explains Naomi. “I think if my pop weren’t president, it would probably be their house in Wilmington or Peter’s family’s backyard in Jackson [Wyoming].”
In a high-neck, long-sleeved Chantilly lace Ralph Lauren dress and carrying a bouquet of sweet peas and lily of the valley, Naomi was accompanied down the aisle by her parents, Hunter Biden and Kathleen Buhle, to a string quartet playing Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” White scarves and hand warmers were placed on each seat to help guests combat 40-degree temperatures during the hour-long ceremony, which was overseen by a priest and a pastor from each of the families’ churches. Wearing a navy three-piece Ralph Lauren suit, Peter then escorted his wife up the stairs of the South Portico—swathed with ivy and white roses and hydrangea—for a luncheon in the State Dining Room.
In the evening, guests returned to the residence for a black-tie reception with dancing, cake cutting, and “all that fun stuff,” per Naomi, who wore a strapless ivory silk Mikado Reem Acra dress with her grandmother Roberta Buhle’s pearls sewn into the sweeping six-foot train. (For late-night dancing, Naomi switched to a beaded fringed Markarian mini-dress.) The bride and groom climbed a ladder to cut a seven-foot-tall, eight-tier lemon cake with buttercream frosting, while nearby, a dessert bar included everything from 20-inch apple pie (the groom’s cake) to the president’s favorite Graeter’s chocolate chip ice cream. “He used to be a Breyers guy all the way but we’ve gotten him to upgrade to Graeter’s,” Naomi says.
Since 1800, only 19 weddings and four receptions have been held at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, including one for a president, Grover Cleveland, and nine for first daughters. Naomi is the first grandchild to wed on the storied grounds. In 2008, Jenna Bush held her reception here (the ceremony itself was in Crawford, Texas, at her family’s ranch), but the last grand-scale wedding of a member of a president’s family was in 1971, when Tricia Nixon married Edward Finch Cox in the Rose Garden in front of 400 guests.
“There’s just such beauty and history in this place, and we really wanted to honor that,” says Naomi, who drew inspiration from the vintage issues of Time—purchased on eBay by Peter for his bride-to-be—featuring past White House weddings, such as Tricia’s and those of Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughters, Luci and Lynda (in 1966 and ’67). Of course, getting married at the first residence can also provide challenges: “It’s hard to ask people for their social security number with their RSVP,” deadpans Naomi.
With the help of event planner Bryan Rafanelli—no stranger to first family nuptials; he oversaw Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky’s Rhinebeck, New York, wedding in 2010—the couple worked to incorporate details of their historic setting, such as bringing the Cross Hall ceiling’s beadlike trim into the design of the invitation. “I never thought I would care about the color of a font on my wedding invitation, but I think Peter and I spent six hours deciding on that.” (They chose black.)
Naomi says she was surprised to find Peter was “a bit of a bridezilla,” she jokes, and “obsessed with all the details,” but she was not surprised by involvement from the first lady—known among all the Biden grandchildren as “Nana.” When the couple’s lease ran out on their DC apartment, they asked Nana and the president if they could move in for a few months while wedding planning, along with their mini Australian shepherd, Charlie, who can often be seen gamboling on the South Lawn with the Bidens’ German shepherd, Commander. “I try to remind myself it’s the White House, but it also gets normalized over time,” says Naomi.
This proximity, both geographic and emotional, is normal for Naomi, who has lived less than a mile away from her grandparents for most of her life. “The relationship hasn’t changed that much,” Naomi says. “When I was in middle school, we lived so close, and they were at every sports game and our school plays. We still do the same things. It’s always been this way.” Of course, prosaic family activities like movie nights are now held in a White House screening room with freshly made popcorn and Secret Service in the back. They recently watched—and all loved—Top Gun: Maverick, and Naomi has learned the hard way to vet family movie choices after some awkward group viewings, like last summer’s This Is 40 screening at Camp David. “The opening scene, oh, my God, I wanted to die,” she says, shuddering.
“Now we do wedding planning together, and she’s been super involved,” the bride says of her time with Nana. “Naomi has a strong sense of herself and had a vision for her wedding,” says the first lady. “It was fun to see her finding so much joy in all the details.” These details were discussed in the evening over a glass of wine—Cabernet for Dr. Biden, Sancerre for Naomi—or when attending barre and SoulCycle classes together in Georgetown. “She slips right in; it’s pretty normal,” Naomi says.
“I do know she lost sleep over the fact that I was planning to serve turkey sandwiches at the lunch,” Naomi adds. (They amended the menu to chicken pot pie, as a surprise for the father of the bride, as it is Hunter’s favorite and the dish Dr. Biden cooks for him every year on his birthday.) But keeping perspective was the main thing: “She has really stressed to me that every time I get anxious about wedding stuff to take a breath and remember that it’s just a day about Peter and me and being around the people we love,” Naomi explains. “She’s taught me so much about being independent and self-sufficient. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also be a selfless and fiercely loyal partner.” (When asked about marriage advice, Dr. Biden says she told her granddaughter only to “maintain your independence.”)
On the Thursday of Vogue’s prewedding shoot, the White House is a flurry of preparation. Rafanelli and his staff slip in and out of various staterooms to oversee the setup. On the North Portico, white vans are being unloaded under the Federal-style columns, while on the South Lawn, the aisle is being built. In the East Room, where dancing will take place, a blue chairlift lumbers in to help hang lighting and greenery, and in the State Dining Room the tables are set with white and gold presidential china.
Naomi enters the Green Room inside a beehive of giddy activity: hairdresser, make-up artist, stylist Bailey Moon and two Ralph Lauren designers, Andrea and Lorenzo, who have come as keepers of the custom gown, quick to jump into the frame and help fluff and smooth the mille-feuille organza, charmeuse, and crinoline skirt.
“Like every little girl, I had a vision in my head—it was Grace Kelly’s dress I loved,” admits Naomi, who with her Audrey Hepburn brows and honey-colored hair is not a far cry from the Princess of Monaco (after all, a White House wedding is our country’s version of a royal one). The cathedral-length silk organza veil with matching Chantilly lace border is stretched out covering the entire blue and yellow carpet of the oval-shaped Blue Room, and flutters of panic ensue when it is suggested we try photographing Naomi in it.
Mia and Asha, Naomi’s two best friends and classmates from Sidwell Friends, have come down from New York for the occasion and are acting as ladies-in-waiting—cooing over how majestic she looks and offering bottled water with a straw so as not to disrupt the bride’s makeup. It was Mia, also an attorney, who introduced Naomi to Peter at her house in East Hampton in June 2018. Naomi was so taken with the young law student—who had interned at the Obama White House and worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign—that she texted him the next day while he was on an Amtrak train, headed back to his summer internship in DC, to suggest he disembark in Wilmington and come visit her at her grandparents’ instead. “He did it,” says Naomi with a hint of triumph. (Peter’s taxi driver was impressed when he gave him the address: “That’s Joe Biden’s house!”)
Three years later, Peter proposed in his hometown of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with an emerald-cut diamond fitted on his grandmother’s gold band, even as Naomi’s family assembled as a surprise at his family home.
At the White House, as a magnificent sunset outlines the Washington Monument in shades of lavender and pink, Naomi’s two little sisters, Finnegan, 22, and Maisy, 21, shuffle into the Blue Room where everyone is oohing over the cloudscape. They have their hands over their eyes and so move a little clumsily in their sweatsuits. “We don’t want to see the dress before!” the sisters chime. “Is Nana here yet?”
She isn’t but will be soon. Dr. Biden is teaching today and coming straight back to change into her gold embroidered seafoam blue Reem Acra dress and glittering Jimmy Choo pumps that she will be wearing to the reception (for the wedding she chose a teal wool crepe coat and silk chiffon dress also by Acra).
The first lady beams when she takes in Naomi; she’s only seen the dress in sketches, and lace from her own wedding dress is stitched into the bodice. “Oh, honey!” she coos, arms outstretched. (Asked about her favorite memories of her own wedding, Dr. Biden recalled how “spontaneously Beau and Hunter, little boys at the time, stood at the altar with me and Joe.”)
The pair sit together on the mint striped-silk sofa. The first lady’s dress is structured with a built-in corset, but Dr. Biden assures the crew she’s perfectly comfortable and can do whatever is needed. “I can move, but I don’t know if my dress will,” she says with a laugh when Vogue’s photographer, Norman Jean Roy, asks her to turn toward Naomi. Louis Armstrong’s “Cheek to Cheek” plays on a travel speaker. Naomi nestles her head into her nana’s shoulder.
“It looks natural!” says Roy happily.
“This is how we always sit,” jokes Naomi. Then after a beat: “I mean honestly, it kind of is, just in different clothes.”
This article was originally posted on Vogue.com