Wednesday 31 July 2013

Haute Couture at the White House

The Smithsonian Institution boasts a large exhibit of First Ladies' gowns, which premiered with a lovely dress belonging to Mrs. Taft, donated 100 years ago.  Many more gowns have been donated over the years, some with matching shoes or purses, some with beads and buttons, some with puffy sleeves and billowing skirts, all with beautiful colours and designs.  Of the twenty-six gowns currently on display, the oldest one belonged to Martha Washington while the youngest one was worn by Michelle Obama at her husband's first inauguration. The First Ladies' Collection has been one of the most popular exhibits at the Smithsonian for decades.  Here are some of the gowns we saw on our recent visit to Washington D.C.

Mary Lincoln’s purple velvet skirt with daytime bodice is believed to have been made by African American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly. The first lady wore the gown during the Washington winter social season in 1861–62. Both pieces are piped with white satin, and the bodice is trimmed with mother-of pearl buttons. An evening bodice was included with the ensemble. The lace collar is of the period, but not original to the dress.

Mary Todd Lincoln's purple skirt & bodice which she wore on the Washington social scene in 1861-1862.

Caroline Harrison’s Evening Gown. Burgundy velvet and gray satin evening gown embroidered in a floral design with gray pearls and steel beads. The dress was later altered by a family member.

Caroline Harrison's burgundy velvet and gray satin evening gown circa 1841.

Helen Taft's Inaugural Gown. Helen Taft’s 1909 inaugural ball gown is made of white silk chiffon appliquéd with floral embroideries in metallic thread and trimmed with rhinestones and beads. It was made by the Frances Smith Company. The fabric and embroidery have become discolored, and most parts of the skirt were replaced as part of a 1940s conservation effort.

Helen Taft's white silk chiffon inaugural ball gown circa 1909.  

Mamie Eisenhower's Evening Gown. Mamie Eisenhower wore this rose-colored silk damask evening gown for a 1957 state dinner at the British Embassy. Nettie Rosenstein designed the ensemble, which included a matching purse and shoes.

Mamie Eisenhower's rose coloured silk damask evening gown worn at a state dinner circa 1957.

Grace Coolidge's Evening Dress. Grace Coolidge’s flapper-style evening dress is made of velvet-trimmed black-and-gold metallic lace over a gold lamé underdress.

Grace Coolidge's black & gold metallic lace flapper dress circa 1920's.

Edith Wilson's Evening Dress, 1915. Black charmeuse satin trimmed with beads, black velvet, and white net, from the House of Worth in Paris. The first lady wore the dress in 1915 for a private dinner party at the White House.

Edith Wilson's black charmeuse gown which she wore at a private dinner at the White House circa 1915.

Jacqueline Kennedy's Evening Gown. Jacqueline Kennedy wore this yellow silk evening gown with an overlay of crepe chiffon in 1961 for the Kennedy administration’s first state dinner, for Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba. Oleg Cassini designed the gown.

Jacqueline Kennedy's yellow silk evening gown worn at her first state dinner circa 1961.

Sarah Polk’s Silk Dress, 1840s, remade in 1880s

Sarah Polk's light blue brocaded silk dress circa 1840's.  

Laura Bush's Inaugural Ball Gown. Laura Bush wore this ruby-red gown of crystal-embroidered Chantilly lace over silk georgette to the 2001 inaugural balls. Fellow Texan Michael Faircloth designed the dress.

Laura Bush's ruby-red crystal embroidered Chantilly lace gown circa 2001.

Michelle Obama's white silk chiffon inaugural gown circa 2009.

Note:  All photographs courtesy pinterest.

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