Smithsonian's 'First Ladies' Exhibit an Intimate History

Michelle Obama's white inaugural gown holds center court in the new exhibition that gives visitors an intimate look at history, Robin Givhan writes at the Daily Beast.

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The Smithsonian's "The First Ladies" (Getty Images)

"The First Ladies," a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, offers a more intimate look at the women who have inhabited the White House, Robin Givhan writes at the Daily Beast. Michelle Obama's white inaugural gown holds center court, she writes.

A new exhibition drawing from the First Ladies Collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., includes one painted paper fan, a wowzer of a silver tea service, one well-worn silk shoe, a lump of charred wood, a wealth of china, and one sweetly autographed copy of Treasure Island -- in addition to the beloved inaugural ballgowns, cocktail dresses, and day suits that typically leave visitors swooning. 

The collection, one of the most popular exhibitions at the Smithsonian, has been re-examined and re-configured in a new East Wing gallery space in anticipation of a major renovation that will close the museum’s West Wing. This more intimate look at the first ladies -- or at least their accoutrement -- opens to the public Nov. 19.

Michelle Obama’s white inaugural gown -- designed by Jason Wu -- still holds center court in the new exhibition. And like the other gowns worn by Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Lady Bird Johnson, and all the rest, it remains a glittering national symbol of culture, femininity, and complicated political gamesmanship.

Read Robin Givhan's entire story at the Daily Beast.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM