American History museum gets Michelle Obama’s second inaugural gown

First Lady Michelle Obama's second inaugural gown goes on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. (Reuters)

The National Museum of American History is marking the 100th anniversary of one of its most popular exhibitions, “The First Ladies,” by displaying Michelle Obama’s second inaugural gown.

The floor-length, ruby-colored chiffon gown, designed by Jason Wu, is on loan from the White House for a year starting Tuesday and will be paired with Obama’s Jimmy Choo shoes in the exhibition center. Obama’s first inaugural gown, white with a long train, also designed by Wu, will not remain on display, but there will be a 2009 photo of the first lady wearing it.

Although the museum collection includes a second dress from Ida McKinley and three inaugural dresses for Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four terms, typically the second dress is saved for display in the presidential library.

“ ‘The First Ladies’ collection will be 100 in February, so I was thinking it might be nice to start a new tradition for the second hundred years,” says Smithsonian curator Lisa Kathleen Graddy, who specializes in women’s political history. She says public interest in the gown is high, and it will be great “to give everyone a chance to see it since the presidential library won’t be available for eight years.”

The change in color from white to red is the most dramatic difference between Obama’s two inaugural gowns, but the second one is also “a slimmer dress. It’s cut velvet, not that cascade of crystal from the first one, so in a lot of ways, it’s a much simpler dress,” Graddy says. But “simple doesn’t mean less impact.”


President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend the Inaugural Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2013. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

The cut velvet glistens, Graddy says, even just coming out of the costume box. “It’s just an amazing flowing dress. It must have been wonderful to move in.”

The First Ladies

will display Michelle Obama’s second inaugural gown through January 2015. National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Ave. NW.

202-633-1000. americanhistory.si.edu

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