Saturday, August 6, 2011

Monday Afternoon, Day 1: First Ladies' Dresses and Inaugural Gowns

After spending all morning in the blazing heat, touring the monuments and memorials, we needed to visit a place that was air conditioned!!  And what better way to do this than visit one of the many Smithsonian Buildings.  The first one we chose (and my all-time favorite!) was the National Museum of American History.  In other words, we're talking First Ladies Dresses!!!! Yeah!!!  But I have to warn you - photographs weren't so great.  It was PACKED and it was in very low light (probably to help preserve the materials of the beautiful gowns).  But I did my best, so here goes:

The Gown that started it all - Worn by Helen Taft in 1909.  Mrs. Taft began the tradition of the Smithsonian Exhibition of First Ladies' Gowns. Once this practice was established, the museum began to collect gowns and other personal items worn by the previous First Ladies. The Smithsonian requests that First Ladies' donate their inaugural gowns; however, it is not a requirement.  Many of the ladies would liked to have kept their gowns because they were very special to them.  However, they realized the importance to American History and all have agreed since Mrs. Taft to donate the gowns.  Not all gowns are on display; over 25 of them can no longer be displayed because of the damage caused by sun and air during earlier displays when our technology couldn't protect them appropriately.  Mrs. Taft's gown is the first one you see when you enter the display room.  This is truly a fabulous dress! It almost takes your breath away when you first see it!  And of course no one wants to stop looking at it, so the line doesn't move for several moments!

Lousy photography, but you can at least get the idea.  This is all hand-embroidered of course!

Close-up of the bodice with lace, crystals and rhinestones.

Another view of the train.
Although the gown is now a cream color, having darkened over the years, it was initially a white gown.  I hope I look this good at 102 years old!!!

 Izzy and Mrs. Taft - Nothing like a little change in fashion, is there?!

Another Fashion Comparison! This is Izzy in front of Mrs. Taft's Green Silk Embroidered Chinese Coat.  Fabulous color! Helen Taft was obviously a woman who knew how to dress!!

Administration Change Coming Up - The First First Lady!

Martha Washington's Gown - hand embroidered with birds and flowers.  The cuffs and fichu are reproductions, recreated to match the originals that had deteriorated beyond repair.

Dolley Madison's Peach Embroidered Silk-Satin Coat.  It really is a lovely peach color, as shown in the close-up below.  Exquisitely hand-embroidered with birds and flowers.
Much better color here of Dolley Madison's Embroidered Peach Coat. 

Mary Todd Lincoln's day dress in silk taffeta, with purple embroidered flowers.

Julia Grant's Evening Gown

Lucy Hayes' Inaugural Gown

Francis Folsom Cleveland's Inaugural Gown

Although this picture does no justice to her whatsoever, as she was quite a beautiful young woman, Frances Folsom Cleveland was the first First Lady to become a media sensation!  Here's what was said about her on a nearby plaque:

"Occasionally a first lady becomes a star.  When Frances Folsom married President Grover Cleveland in 1886, she became the youngest first lady in decades and a media sensation.  The public could not get enough stories about Mrs. Cleveland's activities, fashions, and, later, her children.  Not until Jacqueline Kennedy entered the White House was there again such intense interest in a first lady. The public purchased photographs of Mrs. Cleveland like this one as mementos."

Mrs. Lou Hoover Inaugural Gown - Much less ornate (no bustles and trains), but in my opinion far more beautiful!  Reminds me of a Fairy Princess' Gown!

Lousy photography seemed to plague my efforts here.  This black and gold metallic trim overdress tops a gold lame' underdress!  Very much the epitome of a 1920's Flapper style.

Eleanor Roosevelt's Inaugural Gown in pink silk and lace.

Mamie Eisenhower's Inaugural Gown - This was the gown that started the fashion statement about the color  "Mamie Pink".  It was her favorite color and Mrs.Eisenhower wore it often.

Another favorite dark pink ball gown, purse and shoes belonging to Mamie Eisenhower.

 At the bottom of this photo, to the far right, is the three-strand necklace of faux pearls frequently worn by Jacqueline Kennedy.  You can still purchase replicas of them today!  But she wasn't the first to wear a three-strand pearl necklace.  The one to the left of hers was worn by Abigail Adams.  And Barbara Bush also wore a three-strand necklace of faux pearls.  You have to admit - they do look lovely!

Pat Nixon's Inaugural Gown in Golden Yellow, Embroidered with Sworzki Crystals

When President Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the next President.  However, he wasn't re-elected.  In other words, no inauguration and no inaugural gown for Betty Ford.  However, the Smithsonian asked if she'd like to donate a gown of her choice.  This particular gown, in Betty Ford's favorite shade of green, was the one she chose. 

Roslyn Carter originally wore this gown to Jimmy Carter's Inaugural Ball when he was elected governor of Georgia.  She once made the comment that if Jimmy were elected President, she would wear it to the Presidential Inaugural Ball as well.  And so she did!!

Nancy Reagan's off-the-shoulder Inaugural Gown, hand-embroidered and stunning!

Nancy Reagan's matching beaded shoes.  Strange.....they look as if they've only been worn once or twice! Hmmmmm....

Barbara Bush - one of my favorite First Ladies - in Deep Blue Velvet and Satin! It was said she was "the most beautifully elegant grandmother in the entire United States" on the evening of the Presidential Inaugural Ball.  To the right, you can see a picture of her with her trademark white hair and the faux pearl necklace.

Another favorite First Lady - Barbara Bush in her Ruby Red Inaugural Gown - Fabulous!!
A real Lady in Red!
Michelle Obama's White Inaugural Gown.  To be perfectly honest, I don't care for the bodice; I think it looked a bit "overdone".  But the skirt and train are simply knock-out - in my humble opinion.

I particularly love the back view of Michelle Obama's gown.
  It reminds me of tiny stars caught in fine spider webs!

Fabulous!!  A close-up close-up of Michelle Obama's train.  Definitely Fairy Princess Material!!

Izzy and Sherry patiently waiting for me, as I made my way very slowly through all the gowns and other personal items of the First Ladies.  Sherry has seen the exhibit several times over the years (she visits D.C. when her husband Joe works there), but she says you never tire of seeing the beautiful gowns. 

Izzy made her way through all of the gowns fairly fast.  I think her favorite was the green embroidered silk coat of Helen Taft.  Then she was through, although I was probably only half-way around by then. It was wonderful having Sherry with us.  She was so sweet to keep Isabel entertained while I took my time.  And as I said in an earlier post, Isabel behaved wonderfully well the entire trip!

Well, that's it for this post!  Next trip I'll take you through Julia Child's Kitchen!!  It's her actual kitchen which her husband, Paul Child, had built especially for her in 1961.  The Smithsonian had it literally taken apart (with Julia's permission of course, after she moved to California I believe) and it's now on display for all to see.

Oh, I almost forgot! If you go to this web site, you can learn a lot more about the First Ladies Gowns, the overall exhibit, etc.

Take care and have a lovely evening!  May God Bless, Jan