Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on June 10, 2013
The First Ladies’ Gown Exhibit at the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.
On my recent costume trip to Washington, D.C., I spent some wonderful moments at the National History Museum in my favorite exhibit of all – The First Ladies’ Gown exhibit! Filled with inaugural ball gowns, sumptous dinner dresses, and stately suits, this magnificent collection of garments is one of the loveliest historical costume displays in the entire United States. Each dress tells the story of the time in which a certain First Lady wore it, as well as the style of that particular president’s wife. And whether America was going through hard times or experiencing prosperity, each particular First Lady still managed to procure some beautiful clothes which have carried on the First Families’ legacy.
In an attempt to avoid being excessively verbose, I will let these photographs speak for themselves and just add a small description under each one.
Here is a striking Civil War era gown made from royal purple velvet for Mary Todd Lincoln. While the full skirt is paired here a long sleeved bodice for day wear, it also has a matching evening gown bodice for formal occasions.
Caroline Harrison’s Evening Gown – All I can say about this gown is, “WOW!” What magnificent silk velvet with that luxrious sheen. What glorious silver beading on the metallic silk satin. And what an incredible silhouette! The train, the bustle, the bodice – wow!
Frances Folsom Cleveland (the youngest first lady in American history) purchased this charming 1895 gown from the House of Doucet (Paris).
All of Frances’ gowns were at the absolute height of fashion, and I sincerely wish I could have seen her wedding dress again! (It’s been a number of years since that gown has been on display at the Smithsonian.)
What a refreshingly beautiful evening gown made in robin’s egg blue for Edith Roosevelt! The vertical tucks going up and down the bodice front are so flattering, but the real highlight of this dress is the neckline with its band of tulle puffing and frothy lace ruffles. While living in the White House, Theodore Roosevelt once wrote of how “pretty and dainty” she looked in her “summer dresses“.
Grace Coolidge was one of the first presidents’ wives to wear the “flapper” style of gown (which was most unflattering, if you ask me!). Here a sumptuous silk velvet is fashioned into this 1920s frock with beautiful ruffled tiers.
And of course no First Ladies’ Dress Collection would be complete without some fabulous gown worn by Mamie Eisenhower! Mamie embraced the role of “official fashionista” perhaps more than any other First Lady up to her time, and her sincere fondness for regal ball gowns and the color pink were known all across America. This rose-pink silk damask evening gown was worn to a state dinner at the British Embassy in 1957.
A stunning silk gown encrusted in Austrian crystals, worn by Pat Nixon as her inaugural ball gown in 1969. What incredible beading in the bodice! If I didn’t know better I’d say this was something Norman Hartnell designed for Queen Elizabeth.
Barbara Bush chose one of the most striking inaugural ball gowns I’ve ever seen. In cobalt blue velvet with a sapphire blue taffeta skirt, this dress spelled “elegant” with a capital “E”. This was the very gown which earned her the title of “America’s Most Glamorous Grandmother”.
Finally, I’ll end with the gorgeous red silk crepe and chantilly lace gown which Laura Bush wore to her husband’s inaugural ball in 2001. In person, the gown is just dazzling with sparkling beads and Swarovski crystals, and is my idea of the perfect inaugural ball gown for the twenty-first century.
I hope you all have enjoyed this little trek to the historic First Ladies’ Gown collection! What a national treasure we have in these gowns, and how wonderful to know that whenever we want to, we can head back to our nation’s capital for a stroll through this marvelous exhibit.