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Preparing the gowns for the First Ladies Exhibition (Michelle Obama inaugural gown donation)


Hi, I’m Lisa Kathleen Graddy. I’m the curator of the
First Ladies collection here at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History “We’re going to have to lower Barbara’s purse…” The First Ladies collection is one of the most
popular and long-lasting exhibits. The collection started in 1912
and the exhibition first went up in 1914 The First Ladies collection, contrary to what most
people think, is not just about the wives of the presidents. When the collection was first started it was called “The Dresses of the Mistresses of the White House” And that referred to the woman who took on the social duties for that particular presidential administration. Usually that’s a wife, but sometimes that
is a daughter or a niece or a daughter-in-law and for Thomas Jefferson, Dolley Madison, a family friend, frequently filled in as his hostess. One of the most know hostesses of the White House though was Mamie Eisenhower. This is Mamie Eisenhower’s iconic inaugural gown.
Very full skirt, the nice ball gown top, and covered in little pink
rhinestones. Mamie Eisenhower’s dress, which is a quintessentially 50s look is a wonderful contrast to Jacqueline Kennedy’s
inaugural gown. The Jacqueline Kennedy silhouette is much slimmer The inaugural gown is an interesting compromise because it has this strapless bodice underneath
this wonderful embroidered beaded bodice but then this beautiful chiffon overlayer that’s
sleeveless but adds some cover. Eventually Mrs. Kennedy could go to sleeveless and then eventually one-shoulder dresses and
then finally strapless dresses but there was some concern within the administration
that the public– they might look askance at a first lady who was
wearing a strapless dress and so they sort of eased into it. This is Michelle Obama’s dress and it’s absolutely beautiful and we’re so thrilled
to have it. But I have to say waiting all day to see the dress
because they didn’t announce it advance, you didn’t see pictures. When she came out my first thought was, “Oh
this is gorgeous, it’s beautiful… How am I going to fit it in the case?” because we weren’t expecting a train! And it turns out the train is probably now our favorite
part of the dress. I’m Sunae Park Evans, the museum’s costume conservator.
I prepared all the gowns for the exhibit One of my jobs is to create these perfect fit forms to support the historic costumes. So as you see, this bodice is totally different compared to other modern mannequins. This one has really a short bodice and the shoulder is dropped. And because of a corset,
the shape really is totally different. I used this replica of the muslin pattern and tried to use it to create this form so I don’t have to really handle the original costume,
which can be really fragile. As you see all different kind of mountings there, individual costumes need really individual kind of mountings So I kind of carve and cut, add the conservation materials.
The costume will tell me how to mount. If I don’t do that, it doesn’t look good. When you come and visit us at the museum, you may
notice that not all of the gowns you were expecting
to see are on display. That’s because museums do two things at the same time: We want to show you objects in the national collection but we also need to preserve them for future
generations. So we’re working on changing dresses in out of the collection, out of the display so you can to see new things when you come and your grandchildren will be able to see them as well.

Reynold King

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