Tuesday, December 29, 2020

FIRST LADIES GOWNS AT THE SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM

Thanks to Sandra at Madsnapper who told me about the blogger app for my iPhone, I am letting you know that I am without the Internet right now.  We are waiting for a new modem which is being mailed to us.  Thankfully I have had this post in draft form for a long time, an old blog post that I decided to reintroduce.   

From a visit into Washington DC on December 28th, 2009.

Back when the weather was a little warmer our family went into Washington DC to look around The Smithsonian Museum of American History. Our main objective (okay us girls as the guys elected to wait outside) was to visit the The First Ladies exhibition where their gowns are on display. The last time we couldn't even get in there without having to wait in line for a very long time and my legs were already tired from walking all over the city. This time it was a little better but still crowded. Mostly women and one or two men. I would have enjoyed taking more photographs, as many were too blurry. These came out okay. I didn't feel like I could monopolize my space and kept moving towards the end of the display, fortunately snapping off several shots along the way. Some snaps did not make it but I was happy with what I got. 

The exhibit only had 14 dresses on display. From the information I gleaned, this was because way back they did not realize how even the slightest light did so much damage to these historical dresses, so now they rotate them to prevent even more deterioration. At the time we visited we were allowed to take photographs but we could not use any flash for obvious reasons. The following is what I got on line:

"Why aren’t all of the gowns on exhibit?

Light, climate, and gravity are all harmful to fabric. Over time, they have damaged the gowns. There are some gowns that can no longer be exhibited because they were too badly damaged by their years on display. Other dresses are rotated on and off display in order to keep them in good condition."

It is hard to comprehend that this is Martha Washington's gown from the 1780's and is the oldest gown in the exhibit. It is made of salmon pink faille and is hand painted with flowers, butterflies and other insects. The collar and cuffs are reproductions.

This is Frances Cleveland's evening gown. She wore it with a fur-edged hem and a black satin and jet trim during her husband's second administration, and was made by Baltimore dressmaker, Lottie Barton.
I am not sure whose items are these, a guess might be Jane Findlay but I can't be 100 percent sure. Her portrait below shows her wearing a lace bonnet very similar to this one.

Oil portrait of Jane Findlay in about 1840 by an unknown artist. She was a Harrison family friend who came to Washington to assist with the first lady’s duties. Her gown was included in the original 1914 exhibition to represent the administration of William Henry Harrison.

This is Helen Taft’s 1909 Inaugural ball gown and is made of white silk chiffon. It is appliquéd with floral embroideries and trimmed in metallic thread, rhinestones and beads and was made by the Frances Smith Company. Her gown was the first one to be donated in 1912 so we have Mrs. Taft to thank for this wonderful exhibit.

The fabric and embroidery have become discolored and most part of the skirt was replaced as part of a 1940’s conservation effort.
Everyone who passed by this gown was in awe. It was just beautiful.
Portrait of Julia Tyler, second wife of John Tyler in about 1840.
Next is Grace Coolidge's flapper style evening dress. It is made of velvet trimmed, black and gold metallic lace over a gold lamé underdress.
Unfortunately I did not get whose dress this belonged to but there was a portrait of Pat Nixon nearby. My search online for the last hour didn't yield any results.
Various adornments worn by the first ladies.
This is Mamie Eisenhower's evening gown. It is a rose-colored silk damask ball gown for a 1957 state dinner at the British Embassy. Nettie Rosenstein designed the ensemble, which included a matching purse and shoes.
Jacqueline Kennedy wore this yellow silk evening gown, designed by Oleg Cassini, with an overlay of crepe chiffon in 1961 for the Kennedy administration's first state dinner, for Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba.
Finally this is Laura  Bush's gown. Made of red Chantilly lace and silk satin with crystal beading, it was created by Dallas designer Michael Faircloth.
It can take up to two years for a dress to go on display. A letter is sent from the Secretary of the Smithsonian asking if the First Lady would donate something that would represent herself in the collection. The gown will be on view immediately after donation. 
All were beautiful gowns, but my favorites were the vintage ones. Since I was very young I have always had a fascination for clothing going back to medieval times. My dream job would have been in a costume department either at a museum or on a stage set.  I still have a great interest in costumes and traditional clothing. 
 
Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the day. I am looking forward to catching up with you all eventually. 





23 comments:

  1. Very cool! Thanks for sharing these with us. I hope you get your new modem soon.

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    1. Thanks Martha, since I posted this I am now back on line :)

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  2. yay for the blogger app. my favorite is the flapper dress and the jackie dress is so HER and so is the Bush dress so her. i wonder why they don't make copies of the old dresses and display them all. when i see these dresses I thank my lucky stars i was not living back then. so very uncomfy... I mean where's da leggins???

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    1. Thanks Sandra, I liked Mamie Eisenhower's dress. It will be interesting when the time comes that I can visit the exhibit again, which dresses will be on display. We're very lucky with our clothing now, no bone corsets for one thing!

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  3. I hope that your full access to the internet is restored quickly. I am amazed (and a bit horrified) at how essential it has become.
    Thank you so much for this post - I wouldn't even attempt to blog by phone.
    I love the gowns and like you I am drawn most to the vintage beauties.

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    1. Thanks EC, everything is back to normal now thank goodness. It is amazing how we have come to rely on all this technology. Glad you enjoyed my post :)

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  4. What a treat to see these thank you!

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    1. You are very welcome Christine, so glad you enjoyed :)

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  5. I loved my tour, and am so glad you were able to post it! I must say my favorites are the Eisenhower and Bush red dresses, they are so beautiful. As to the most interesting, it sure is the flapper style one. That was the first thing I thought when laying eyes on it:Flapper! I wonder if it created a lot of gossipy talk at the time.

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    1. They are beautiful I agree :) Amazing each era probably had something to gossip about. When the length of dresses were down to the floor, accidentally seeing a lady's ankle was enough to send tongues wagging.

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  6. Thanks for this post.
    Take care and all good wishes for 2021.

    All the best Jan

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    1. You are very welcome Jan, and thank you for the good wishes for 2021. I wish you the same :)

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  7. It's fine...... Lovely...

    Hope your modem comes quickly, and you can get back to use of your computer. It is one thing, when we need to take a break. It's another, when we have to take a computer break. -smile-

    ✨😌✨💛🔥💛✨😴✨

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  8. How clever you are. And what a pleasure to see this beautiful post. Wishing you all the best in the new year, Dear

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    1. Thank you Cloudia :) Happy you enjoyed and I wish you the same during 2021.

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  9. Mamie Eisenhower's gown is a stunner! Fascinating to see the styles change over the years. Clothes have become more comfortable for women over time. Wishing you and yours a healthy happy New Year, Denise! May we all feel a little more comfortable in 2021.

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    1. It certainly is, thanks Penelope. Thank you for your New Year's wishes. I certainly wish you the same, and for everyone :)

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  10. The gowns displayed are gorgeous as are the accessories. My favourite era for high fashion was during the time of the Kennedys. Jacqueline Kennedy always dressed so elegantly. Working in the field of textile conservation must be an interesting profession.

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    1. So glad you liked this post Linda :) She certainly had style, Jacqueline Kennedy. I remember there was a lot on the news about her clothes. I would imagine so on your comment about working in textile conservation. I would have loved to have done that.

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  11. Hope you are back online soon. So nice that you had a post ready to go!

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    1. Thanks Ellen, all's well now. If I have time I like to put on a few posts ahead of time :)

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  12. What a wonderful exhibit. Thanks for taking photos and sharing.

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