90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Friday, January 18, 2013

First Lady Gown Curator: ‘We Look At Clothes For Clues’

During Monday’s inauguration, many people won’t be looking as much at the president as at what the First Lady is wearing.

At the many inaugural balls four years ago, Michelle Obama, who’s known for picking up-and-coming young designers, wore a beautiful, floaty one-strap white dress with a train and crystal beading.

Helen Taft also wore a white dress with a train to her husband’s inauguration, 100 years earlier in 1909.

The museum's collection began when Helen Taft donated this gown, which she wore to her husband  William Howard Taft’s 1909 inauguration. (National Museum of American History)

The museum’s collection began when Helen Taft donated this gown, which she wore to her husband William Howard Taft’s 1909 inauguration. (National Museum of American History)

In between, Jacqueline Kennedy almost went strapless.

Rosalynn Carter wore her dress three times.

And Laura Bush became the first First Lady to wear ruby red to an inaugural ball.

One day, all eyes may be on the dress the president is wearing, and that may be a dilemma for The First Ladies collection at the  Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“People always ask, what would we do, ” Lisa Kathleen Graddy, curator of  the museum’s collection, told Here & Now. “When the first woman is president, it will be the question as to who acts as the official hostess of her White House, and that in theory would be the person we would need to add to the collection.”

That means a tuxedo could sit alongside the dresses in the collection, “or maybe her daughter’s dress,” Graddy said.

The First Lady gowns are among the most popular exhibits at the National Museum of American History.

The collection began when Helen Taft donated her 1909 inaugural gown to the museum. Since then, every First Lady who has been present at an inaugural ball has given the museum her gown.

“Costume is very evocative, it’s very intimate and it makes you feel a connection to that person,” Graddy said. “You get an idea of what they looked like – how tall they were, what colors they liked. So I think it makes us feel as if we know that person a little bit.”

Watch Graddy talk about preparing the gowns for an exhibition:

Guest:


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Valerie Smith

    Thank you for posting this and showing us the detail of the dresses, especially Michelle Obama’s.  When I first saw her in this, I thought it looked like a chenille bedspread.  Now that I see the handiwork close up, it is quite beautiful.

  • mozart nicolas

    great job,obama is really great in formal attire ,where to find the formal dresses , here it is
    http://www.queen-dresses.com

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

April 21 Comment

Remembering Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter

We remember the boxing champion, who was twice wrongly convicted of murder, with his longtime friend and defender.

April 21 2 Comments

‘Wait Wait’ Host Peter Sagal Runs Boston Marathon As Guide

For the second year in a row, the host of NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me" is running with a legally blind athlete.

April 18 12 Comments

When Your Life Is On Fire, What Would You Save?

Erik Kolbell's new book asks what's most important to us in life -- loved ones, possessions, personal beliefs and more.

April 18 3 Comments

Adrianne Haslet-Davis Becomes Advocate For Amputees

The professional ballroom dancer reflects on the struggles and triumphs of the year since the marathon bombing.