tv First Ladies Inaugural Ball Gowns CSPAN January 19, 2017 5:27pm-5:42pm EST
president-elect donald trump will be sworn in tomorrow. ahead of tomorrow night's inaugural ball, c-span visited an exhibit of the inaugural gouns worn by the first ladies. a curator with the museum talked to c-span about how their choices have shaped history and spotlighted the careers of designers. >> your curator here at the museum of american history, what is the role of the first lady on inauguration day? >> well, really, it's the first lady's debut on the national stage as the first lady of the united states. so it's her first chance to play that ceremonial role that she'll be playing for the next four to eight years. so she holds the bible as the president takes the oath of office.
she's his hostess at the inaugural balls. and she plays that first moment of becoming someone whose clothes we'll be looking at for the next four to eight years. >> when were the inaugural balls established as part of the ceremonies inauguration day? >> really, the first inaugural ball happened when george washington was inaugurated. here in the collection of the smythe season yan, martha washington didn't attend that ball, so we don't have an inaugural gown for that. but we have that worn by the governor of the wife of new york to the ball. the interest goes back to the first one. >> why do, or when did it become that we care as americans about what our first lady is wearing? >> you know, people have been interested in the first ladies' fashions since martha washington's. martha washington often said she felt like a state prisoner, there was so much scrutiny. every first lady since then has had that.
on one hand, clothing is a -- it's something we look at on everyone. it's the first thing with esee. we look at clothing to get cues and clues about what someone may be like. the first lady is someone most of us will never meet, so therefore, this is how we try to get an idea of what she'll be like. possibly of what the administration will be like. will it be formal, will it be casual, will it be trendy, will it be elegant, will it be cutting edge, we just don't know. but this is one of the things we can look to, to take cues for that. >> what about americans' response to what the first lady is wearing? >> you know, we do feel that we have a right to pass judgment on what the first lady is wearing. i think part of that is, you know, just normal human curiosity. part of it is also the relationship we feel we have to the first lady. this is someone who will represent the american public, will represent american women.
here in the country, and abroad. and, therefore, we tend to think that we have the right to have an opinion about whether she's representing us appropriately. and that covers everything from her demeanor, and what she says, to what she's wearing. >> let's go to the dress that's over your shoulder. martha washington's dress. talk about this dress. >> this is a beautiful dress. this is not an inaugural ball gown, it was worn by martha washington in the 1780s. so this is something that she wore while she was -- before they entered the white house and while she was the first lady of mount vernon. it's hand-painted chinese silk and it's painted with a beautiful design of ribbons and flowers. if you look closely, with insects, and the gown is just be dyed with over 100 different types of insects. >> she did not attend the inaugural ball, as you said, how
did you choose this dress? >> when you're talking about older first ladies, older in the chronology first ladies, there simply over time is a limit to what still exists and can be had for public collections. and this was the gown that the former curators, the first curators went searching for, and eventually acquired. >> let's talk about some other of the notable gowns in this exhibit. rosalyn carter, what in your mind sticks out about the dress that she chose? >> my favorite thing about that dress is it's such a wonderful sentimental choice. this is a dress that rose a lynn carter wore to governor carter's gubernatorial ball in georgia. we were lucky enough to interview her for an interview in this exhibit. she said she loved the dress. she said she had strong feels about the dress. so when they were running for
president, she was packing it up. she decided that if they won, that she would wear it to the inaugural ball in washington. and it's a lovely sentimental story. it sort of shows that more casual, frugal white house that the carters established. they called their inaugural balls parties, not balls. but what she didn't realize in making that choice is that the public cares about what she wears. and that part of the first lady's job is frequently seen as championing american fashion, showcasing american fashion in the nation, in the world, and that means choosing new clothes. >> and then go to nancy reagan. >> what a change between the two dresses. and it really showed the change in the two white houses, didn't it, from the more casual carter atmosphere to the much more formal, elegant, glamorous reagan white house, where there were white tie inaugural balls.
that's a beautiful beaded one-shouldered white gown by james gallanos. i like to think there's a sentimental side to that dress as well. nancy reagan had worn ronald reagan's gubernatorial ball in california, a one-shouldered white gown by gallanos. so even though it's a much more formal version, there's still a little bit of that nostalgic sentimental holdover. >> and the dresses for barbara bush and hillary clinton. laura bush's dress, that red sequins dress. >> it's a beautiful, beautiful red. and it's not a color that had been in the exhibit up until that point. michael fairclough, the designer of the dress, tells a wonderful story about actually having come to the first lady's exhibition at the time to see what colors. >> host: be-- hadn't been used
recently. he said red was his favorite color. it's a beautiful color on mrs. bush. he designed this beautiful sparkling red dress. it's the highlight of the exhibit because it's unique. >> michelle obama's dress. >> michelle obama's dress was, of course, a surprise to everyone. no one saw it before she came out in it on television. jason wu did not know his dress had been selected, that his design had been selected until he saw it on television. so it was a surprise to everyone, the first white dress since nancy reagan's dress. so a beautiful sparkling dress. but it had a train. and that was the biggest surprise of all, that this dress had a train. no one had seen a train on a dress on a first lady's inaugural gown since the early days of the 20th century. >> what about -- let's go back in time and talk about eleanor roosevelt. because the dress you have here is not one -- is one that people
might be surprised that eleanor roosevelt wore. >> it's a beautiful dress. it's her 1933 inaugural ball gown. we have multiple dresses as she had multiple inaugurations. the '33 is the first. it's a favorite of mine. it. >> host: been on exhibit for a while. it was designed by a woman named sally millgren. it's almost a film star looking dress. which is not what you associate with eleanor roosevelt. it's also a conversable dress, meaning that while she wore it sleeveless for the ball and we show it sleeveless, it had detachable sleeves with a wide shoulder ending in a narrow cuff. and you could attach it by these jeweled clips on the shoulders of the dress. it also has a back that at the moment is worn fastened up by the neck, but that you could open up and create a draped silhouette of the neckline. it's really a dress that you can
wear more than once and have a different look every time you wear it. >> why, or how does the smithsonian get these dresses? >> well, in the early days, mrs. james and mrs. hughes in 1912 when setting up the collection would solicit the descendents of the first ladies to ask if they had something they could give to this collection, that they were establishing. the first first lady to donate her inaugural gown was helen taft, who was the sitting first lady at the time. now what we do is after the inauguration, a letter will be sent from the smithsonian from the secretary's office to mrs. trump, and we will introduce ourselves, and introduce the collection, and ask her if she would be so generous as to donate some piece of clothing that could be used to represent herself here in the collection. we're happy to have anything that she'd like to give us. but we will remind her that the public is fascinated with the
inaugural gowns. >> has any first lady ever refused or have you been unable to get a first lady's inaugural gown? >> the first lady who refused was edith roosevelt, when the collection was being established. i think mrs. roosevelt thought it might be a little bit silly. but she also said that she did not keep her formal gowns, that she cut them up and repurposed them. so there was no dress for a while. but later her daughter donated a dress to the collection. and it turned out to be the inaugural gown. but it also turned out that mrs. roosevelt was telling the truth. because the skirt of the dress is intact and is the inaugural gown but she had cut up the bodice. so the bodice displayed now with the dress is a prop that we've made. >> any emphasis on the first family? there are people who are going to be interested in not only what mrs. trump is wearing, but also ivanka trump and the other members of the trump family.
>> well, the collection does focus on the first lady. while there's material in the smithsonian's collection related to the presidents, related to members of the first family, what we're really concentrating on is the role of the first lady, and how that is played. but as always, things evolve and we will see what turns the collection. the presidential inauguration of donald trump is friday, c-span will live coverage of all the day's events and ceremonies. watch live on c-span, and c-span.org, and listen live on the free c-span radio app. this weekend on "american
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to them, it was the means for the revival of a great russia. >> sunday evening at 6:00, on "american artifacts," fdr presidential library archivist matthew hanson and motion picture preservationist christina covac on their efforts to preserve ten of franklin dflt roosevelt's most important speeches. >> we selected the films on the significance, frequently of how often they're requested, and quality of the footage as well. >> i see one-third of a nation still housed -- >> at 8:00, on the presidency, the gill university history professor gill troy looks at u.s.-israeli presidents from presidents harry truman to barack obama. >> i said i would commit political suicide if i didn't support the state of israel.
who said it? it was said by jimmy carter in 1977. fooled you. >> for our complete "american history tv" schedule, go to c-span.org. connecticut democratic congresswoman rosa delauro and thomas reed sat down to discuss the importance of federal infrastructure spending. they also talked about prospects for passing a major infrastructure bill in the new congress. this is about 45 minutes. >> so, i was kind of about to say we saved the best for last but i was afraid i'd get assaulted by the excellent presentations we had before. i was tempted to say that neither congressman delauro or congressman reed need no introduction whatsoever. but i've been haunted by somethingar