Sunday, January 20, 2013

Current Exhibit: First Ladies (and their fashions!) at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has just expanded its First Ladies exhibit to include some more tantalizing fashions from some of the most influential ladies in our nation's history.  Just in time for this inauguration weekend, the exhibit now includes the stunning silk chiffon gown that Michelle Obama donned four years ago, complete with gorgeous organza flowers and sparkling Swarovski crystals.  There is also a fun little video on YouTube showing some of the challenges that the curators and conservators faced in preparing the gowns for display in this lovely exhibit.

Michelle Obama’s Inaugural Gown, 2009
Michelle Obama's 2009 inaugural ball gown.

In another interesting video from the Smithsonian, curator Lisa-Kathleen Graddy shows us some additional behind-the-scenes footage (from an earlier version of this exhibit, from what I can tell) and also shares some interesting stories about the history of a handful of these gowns.  Mary Todd Lincoln's 1861 silk taffeta gown with woven black stripes and purple flowers is one of my favorites, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more details about it through this video.  Ms. Graddy explains how the gown was transformed by a family member who later inherited it.  A panel was taken from the original skirt in order to design a new day bodice, which replaced the evening gown bodice that Mrs. Lincoln had worn with it.  This is one of the gowns used as inspiration for a costume in the recent Lincoln movie; the film's costume designer used an 1861 Matthew Brady portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln wearing the original evening gown to recreate what it once looked like.

Mary Lincoln’s Silk Dress, 1861
1861 striped silk taffeta gown worn by Mary Todd Lincoln (later altered).
One of my all-time favorite gowns from the 1860s, which also belonged to Mrs. Lincoln, has been included in this exhibit in one of its past incarnations and you can see some photos in an earlier flickr set from the museum.  This unique purple velvet gown is displayed with both its evening and day bodices, both original to the gown.  All three pieces are piped with white satin.  This ensemble, believed to be made by Elizabeth Keckly, was worn during the winter social season of 1861-1862.  You can read more about this ensemble and see some closer photos on the museum's collections page here.
Mary Lincoln’s Purple Velvet Ensemble
Mary Lincoln's purple velvet ensemble (acc. no. 70138) in the First Ladies exhibit at the
Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
As a special treat, many of these gowns have been beautifully photographed and just recently added to the museum's flickr account for all of us to admire!  Here a few of my other favorites included in this new online showcase "exhibit":

Frances Cleveland’s Evening Gown
An evening gown worn by first lady Frances Cleveland during her husband's second
administration, 1893-1897.  The colors are gorgeous and there are so many nice details,
including the fur trim at the bottom!
Frances Cleveland’s Skirt and Bodices
Another beautiful addition from Mrs. Cleveland with this 1890s evening and day ensembles.
This green color is one of my favorites and so stunning!
Mamie Eisenhower’s Inaugural Gown, 1953
I love the style of this 1953 gown worn by Mamie Eisenhower for the inaugural balls that year.
This pink peau de soie gown is embroidered with more than 2,000 rhinestones!


lahbluebonnet said...

I was there yesterday and took a million pictures! Post forthcoming!

Jane Eyre said...

Did they loan Michelle's dress to another museum for a while or something? Because I saw it there in January of last year. I was amazed at how beautiful it is up close. For some reason (maybe the color?), video and film don't capture how delicate and gorgeous it is.

Rachel said...

Oh my they are beautiful dresses! That purple velvet ensemble makes me just swoon. Can you imagine how heavy that must be? Thanks for the great photos!