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Michelle Obama's second inaugural ball gown goes on view in National Museum of American History
The gown and shoes worn by US First Lady Michelle Obama during the inaugural balls for US President Barack Obama's second inauguration, are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, January 14, 2014. The dress is on a special one-year loan from the White House for the centennial of the First Ladies exhibition at the Smithsonian and the museum's 50th anniversary and will be displayed instead of Obama's gown from the first inauguration. Designed by Jason Wu, the long ruby-colored chiffon gown, with a cross-halter strap neckline and deep back, with velvet details is paired with shoes designed by Jimmy Choo. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is showing First Lady Michelle Obama’s second inaugural gown worn to the January 2013 inaugural balls beginning today. This special one-year loan from the White House coincides with the centennial of the First Ladies exhibition at the Smithsonian and the museum’s 50th anniversary. The gown is being displayed in the center of the museum’s popular exhibition, “The First Ladies.”

The long ruby-colored chiffon gown, with a cross-halter strap neckline and deep back, custom-made by designer Jason Wu, features velvet details. Obama paired the gown with shoes designed by Jimmy Choo, which will also be displayed alongside the gown. The white dress from the first Obama inauguration, which was a gift to the museum, will not be on display for the year.

For a century, the First Ladies Collection has been one of the most popular attractions at the Smithsonian. The original First Ladies exhibition opened Feb. 1, 1914, and was the first display at the Smithsonian to prominently feature women. The exhibition itself has changed in size, location, style and focus several times during the past 100 years, and the museum, which opened in 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology, has been its home for 50 years.

“We hope that this loan begins a new tradition of allowing the public to see the second inaugural gown before it goes on display in the future presidential library,” said John Gray, director of the museum. “The donation of the first inaugural gown to the Smithsonian is a long-held tradition and this loan will enhance the visitors’ experience to one of the most popular attractions at the Smithsonian.”

The museum’s current “The First Ladies” exhibition opened Nov. 19, 2011, and features 26 dresses and more than 160 other objects, ranging from those of Martha Washington to Michelle Obama, and includes White House china, personal possessions and other objects from the Smithsonian’s unique collection of First Ladies’ materials, established in 1912. Among the dresses displayed in the exhibition are Grace Coolidge’s flapper-style evening gown, Jackie Kennedy’s yellow-silk gown worn to the Kennedy administration’s first state dinner in 1961 and Eleanor Roosevelt’s slate blue crepe gown, which she wore to the 1933 inaugural ball.

First Ladies are unofficial but important members of presidential administrations. For more than 200 years the public has judged their clothes, their parties, their projects and their roles in the White House. The exhibition examines this in four main sections:

The “Fashionable First Lady” explores the public’s interest in the First Ladies’ fashions. Only a few First Ladies have become fashion icons, inspiring trends and promoting American designers, but all have had their wardrobes scrutinized by the American public, continuing the debate over what is “appropriate” for presidential style.

The “Nation’s Hostess” looks at the role that the First Lady has played for the nation and the presidential administrations. Each reception or dinner is an opportunity for the First Lady to help build America’s international relationships, win political friends and public support for the President, or further his administration’s legislative agenda. Each First Lady puts her own stamp on presidential hospitality.

“Inauguration and Opportunities” looks at the inauguration of a President as a time of optimism and new beginnings. In addition to attending ceremonies and balls, incoming First Ladies announce the agendas and special projects they intend to pursue. Some projects are ambitious. Some are traditional. Some may be controversial.

“Changing Times, Changing First Ladies” highlights Dolley Madison, Mary Lincoln, Edith Roosevelt and Lady Bird Johnson, who all fashioned their own ways of handling the White House, families, parties and politics. During different times and circumstances they crafted significant roles for themselves that they believed would allow them to best serve the President and the country.

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