On my recent trip to Canada and the USA I had the pleasure to visit a splendid exhibition called ‘The First Ladies at the Smithsonian’ in the National Museum of American History In Washington DC. The first ladies exhibition displayed the dresses worn by the first ladies of each presidential administration.
It was the first Smithsonian collection focused on women and the first exhibition to feature them prominently. It certainly paved the way for future collections and exhibitions about American women. The display included costumes from about 1780 – beginning with a Martha Washington silk taffeta gown and included dresses up to the present day – the latest being the vanilla white gown worn by Melania Trump.
I have included below a selection of interesting dresses I found particularly interesting. Nevertheless all the gowns I have mentioned were stunning, beautifully made and perfectly suited to it’s wearer.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy 1961
Jacqueline Kennedy’s State Dinner Dress – A yellow silk evening gown with an overlay of crepe chiffon designed by Oleg Cassini. Mrs. Kennedy wore the dress in 1961 for the administration’s first state dinner, for Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba. Topping the best-dressed lists, Jacqueline Kennedy was a fashion icon. The “Jackie look,” copies of the clothes designed for her by Oleg Cassini, sold in stores across America on mannequins that resembled her. An association with the glamorous first lady was enough to sell everything from hats to costume jewellery.
I love this very elegant dress with clean simple lines – it is certainly the epitome of style something that Jackie certainly represented in her choice of clothing. It was one of my favourite dresses.
Lady Bird Johnson wore this yellow satin gown and sable-trimmed coat to the 1965 inaugural balls. The White House did not normally discuss the first lady’s designers but, because of the “special occasion and intense interest” surrounding the inaugural gown, staff announced that it was designed by John Moore. Aware of the tradition of donating the dress for exhibit at the Smithsonian, Mrs. Johnson chose a simple design that she thought would age well.
I find the colour of this dress very attractive and love the elegant simple lines. Not so keen on the fur on the sleeves of the coat dress however I am sure it was very fashionable at the time.
Nancy Reagan’s Inaugural Gown 1981
Nancy Reagan wore this white beaded one-shouldered sheath gown of lace over silk satin to the 1981 inaugural balls. It was designed by James Galanos, who also designed the one-shouldered white gown Mrs. Reagan wore to her husband’s first gubernatorial inaugural ball. In interviews, Galanos said that he wanted to make Mrs. Reagan look glamorous, elegant and in keeping with the new formality.
This is a stunning gown with very pretty sparkling beads – I am sure a lot of work has gone into the detail. I would love to wear it myself!
Mamie Eisenhower’s Evening Gown, Purse, and Shoes. A rose-coloured silk damask ball gown designed by Nettie Rosenstein and worn to a 1957 state dinner at the British Embassy. The ensemble included a matching purse and shoes.
Mamie Eisenhower loved clothes. She patronised well-known designers but was just as happy buying mail-order hats and ready-made dresses from discount department stores. Women copied the “first lady look” and Mrs. Eisenhower’s charm bracelets, close-fitting hats, and “Mamie pink” colour preference became fashion trends.
Melania Trump’s 2017
This is the most recent gown enshrined in the Smithsonian’s First Ladies Collection of past inaugural frocks.
At a ceremony at the National Museum of American History in Washington on Friday, Trump formally handed over what the White House called her “couture” inaugural dress: A vanilla silk crepe off-the-shoulder gown with a slit skirt, a ruffled accent from neckline to hem and a claret ribbon around the waist.
I think it is a very elegant dress and the ruffle does add something special plus the very thin red ribbon does emphasis Melania’s slim waist.