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.
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.
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.
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.
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.