Preparing the gowns for the First Ladies Exhibition

Uploaded by SmithsonianVideos on 08.03.2010

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, Dolly 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 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.