Monday, December 28, 2009

My World Tuesday

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 an hour in line. This time it was a little better but still pretty crowded. Mostly women and one or two men. I am going to go back again because I would have enjoyed taking more photographs, but because there were so many people patiently waiting their turn to get up close to the glass, 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.

The exhibit only has 14 dresses on display. From the information I gleaned, this was because way back when they did not realize how even the littlest light did so much damage to these historical dresses, so 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 were in awe of it. It was just beautiful.

This very beautiful portrait is 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, so if you have that info and would like to pass it along, please do. I would be very grateful.

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.

I am not sure when Michelle Obama's ball gown will appear. From what I read it could take up to two years before we will see one on display. A letter is sent from the Secretary of the Smithsonian asking her if she would donate something that would represent herself in the collection. The gown will be on view immediately after donation, another good reason to go back to see all these wonderful gowns. All were gorgeous but my favorites were the vintage ones. Clothing from these era's fascinate me.

Thank you Klaus, Sandy, Wren, Fishing Guy, Louise and Sylvia for hosting My World.

You can see other ‘My World’ photos or join in and share your own by clicking right here.


  1. A very interesting post. The gowns are amazing and as you say especially the vintage ones. I can't believe you sometimes have to queue for an hour. That would do it for me. Any way I don't have to because I have you to show me all this wonderful stuff on your blog. I remember you saying you were interested in old national costumes in a previous post. One day I will post a photo of Bill's mum and him in Swiss national dress back in the 40's.

  2. now I must say that would be one thing that would interest me.

    I love your idea of roast beef on a pizza, I have some leftover turkey in the freezer, I may make a pizza next month and put that on the pizza was something different!!

    Tomorrow's (Wednesday's) post is on the Daily Savings Club, another way of saving money.

    Gill in Canada

  3. Thank you for sharing such an interesting tour. The vintage gowns are really beautiful.
    Sunny :)

  4. Denise, they are so intricate. You did well with the photos.

    Happy New Year.

  5. wonderful tour of the first ladies gowns and accessories. i just love visiting such exhibits.
    thanks for sharing this with us ms. denise.

  6. Beautiful shots! Amazing.Love this place.
    Thank you for sharing Denise.

    A wonderful New Year to all!


  7. Thanks for sharing these delightful views with us today. I visited this exhibit decades ago and would LOVE to see it again in person. I'm sharing a bit of My World this week too.
    Hugs and blessings,

  8. Gorgeous display of gowns, Denise. I have been to the Smithsonian-but it was many years ago. I like them all--but Helen Taft's gown is absolutely stunning.

    As pretty as Laura Bush is, I'm not terribly pleased with her gown.. But--maybe it's not the gown that is gorgeous, but the PERSON.

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. I loved the tour. I just love the viewing those old gowns and who wore them. I would so love the tour this too. How lucky that you were able to go.

  10. Absolutely beautiful! I would love to visit there.

  11. Such wonderful dresses! It's quite a while since I dropped by here. I hope you've enjoyed the Christmas holidays, and still are. And I wish you a Happy New Year! :)

  12. Very interesting. i would like to see this exhibit in person. I think tom would even go with me!

  13. This is a wonderful post - thank you for putting this up. I love old things - antiques, clothing, buildings etc. It is fascinating looking at what people wore years ago. I could happily spend hours just wandering around places like this.
    All the best for the new year.
    Melbourne Daily Photo

  14. This is really delightful and very interesting post. The gowns, especially the vintage ones, are absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing this exhibit with us.

  15. Denise, you outdid yourself today. Fantastic post with so much information for the readers. Great photos too.

    You and I and our families are lucky to live within an hour's drive or so of the museums of Washington D.C.

    Let's try to get together for coffee or tea at a local Starbucks after the holidays are over.

  16. Thanks for showing us this fascinating place. I wish you a happy new year!


  17. how badly can they deterioate? Mine stay in the closet year after year and don't look worse for the wear! teehee

  18. diane, glad you found it interesting. I couldn't stand that long in line and I'm lucky that I am close enough I can go again when it's a lot quieter. I would love to see a photo of Bill and his mum in their Swiss national clothing, that would be great.

    Gill, happy you enjoyed the post. Yes, turkey sounds good too. The great thing about pizza is that whatever you like you can add to it.

    Linda (PA_shutterbug), you are very welcome :)

    Sunny, happy you enjoyed it. I've always loved the look of vintage gowns.

    Evelyn Howard, thank you so much.
    Happy New Year to you also.

    The Good Life in Virginia, me too. Next time I go I am hoping that they will have brought in something different. Rotating them not only helps them but also keeps it fresh for us.

    Regina, thank you and you are very welcome. A wonderful New Year to you and your Loved Ones also.

    storyteller, it would be lovely to see them again after all those years. I felt the same way as I first saw them 20 years ago.
    Hugs and blessings to you also.

    Betsy from Tennessee, they were and have to say that Helen Taft's gown was one of my favorites. It was gorgeous. I agree, Laura Bush is a very pretty lady and from all reports a really nice person. I saw her in another inaugural gown that might have been more to your taste. I preferred its style to this one but as the old saying goes, if we all had the same taste it would be a pretty boring old world ;) Hugs, Denise

    Becca's Dirt, me too and I would have loved to have stayed there longer but we had to give the guys a break - ha! - and the people who were behind us waiting for us to move more importantly. Going back again one of these days. It's very nice only being 25 miles away.

    imac, that they were.

    gigihawaii, I hope you can visit one day.

    Viola, thank you, our Christmas was very nice as was yours I hope.
    Happy New Year! to you too :)

    Linda Reeder, that would be great.

    BlossomFlowerGirl, thank you, so happy you enjoyed it. Antiques fascinate me also. Cheers, and a Very Happy New Year.

    MedaM, thank you and you are so very welcome my friend.

    Jack and Joann, thank you. We are very lucky aren't we? I look forward to the time we can meet up for coffee.

    Wenche, glad you enjoyed it and a happy new year to you also! Hugs, Denise

    mommanator, I know what you mean ;)

    Thank you all so much for stopping by.

  19. The pink bias-cut gown near Pat Nixon's info is a conservative 1940s cut, the tip-off for me that it belonged to Eleanor Roosevelt. That turned out to be right: apparently she wore it to the 1945 inaugural reception.

    There's lots of information about this exhibit at the Smithsonian site, if you're interested in learning more:

    Oh, and don't know if you caught this, but Michelle Obama's dress went on display in March 2010: