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The continuing tradition: The Smithsonian receives Mrs. Trump's inaugural gown

Have you heard? We have a new dress on exhibition. It's true. There has been an addition to the First Ladies exhibition. First Lady Melania Trump visited the National Museum of American History today to formally present her 2017 inaugural ball gown to the collection. The vanilla silk crepe off-the-shoulder gown has a slit skirt, a ruffled accent trim encircling the neckline that flows down to the hem to trail ever so slightly onto the floor, and a thin claret ribbon tied around the waist in a small bow. It was designed by Hervé Pierre in collaboration with Melania Trump and it is now on display in the center of the museum's First Ladies exhibition. 

Photo of white gown in front of black background. It's off-the-shoulder with a cross-body sash in front along with red/maroon tie at waist. Narrow silhouette and slit cascading on one side. Glossy and matte fabric in subtle layers.

Mrs. Trump is the ninth first lady to take part in a presentation ceremony. They have become one of those traditional Smithsonian moments—a chance for the museum to thank the first lady for her donation and to mark her inclusion in one of the most beloved exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution.

Same photo as above except showing a side view of the gown.

In 1964 Lady Bird Johnson began what would become a new tradition by coming to the Smithsonian's new museum building, the National Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History), to present a gown to the collection. Originally, she was represented by the evening gown she wore at a White House state dinner for British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Mrs. Johnson later donated her 1965 inaugural ball gown to the collection.

Posted photo on stage. On left, white gown on a form. On right, First Lady Melania Trump smiling beside her gown.

Smithsonian leaders, fashion designer, and Melania Trump pose with her inaugural gown in front of a red, white, and blue backdrop.

Soon after a presidential inauguration, the museum begins receiving questions from the public about when they will be able to see the new dress on exhibit. It takes anywhere from six months to a year and a half after the inauguration for the new gown to appear on display. During that time curators, conservators, collections managers, exhibit designers, exhibit production specialists, graphics specialists, editors, event planners, museum program and communication specialists, security staff, and building facilities staff are working to update the exhibition and, with the first lady's staff, to plan the event. It takes a team to put an object, especially a first lady's gown, on display.

Black and white photo of Lady Bird Johnson in pea coat-cut blazer, gloves, and skirt, standing beside a mannequin wearing inaugural gown, with draped, silky fabric.

Like the position of first lady, the exhibition has adapted. It works to integrate the beloved traditional elements, the dresses and the White House china, with discussion of the changing roles of women and first ladies in America.
 
The current version of the exhibition incorporates the White House china collection into a timeline of the first ladies to discuss the changes over time in that oldest of roles: the White House hostess. It displays inaugural gowns to talk about the incoming first ladies' plans for their tenure and their accomplishments in office. One section of the exhibition uses dresses paired with a variety of other objects to look at first ladies from different time periods. It focuses on their impact on the evolving position as well as their political roles and the political status of contemporary women. And it uses dresses, evening gowns, and suits to look at the public interest in first ladies' fashions and how first ladies have responded to that interest, while also asking the question that stretches back to Martha Washington: why do we care what the first lady wears?  

Yellow gown with square neckline and almost elbow-length sleeves. Silver details in silver beads. Short train.

Outside the museum building, a man speaks at lectern. To his left, Rosalynn Carter sits in a chair wearing blouse and skirt. Beside her, a gown in a glass case on a mannequin.

Pink peau de soie gown embroidered with more than 2,000 rhinestones.

Photo of museum gallery with gowns in display cases.

Lisa Kathleen Graddy is a curator in the museum's Division of Political History. If you're curious, the undulating ruffled trim is her favorite part of the new gown.