By Emma Austin

A vanilla silk crepe off-the-shoulder gown with a ruffled accent trim stood in the middle of the National First Ladies exhibit on Saturday afternoon as visitors walked around its glass display case. Some stopped for a closer look at the dress, and others continued past toward the other half of the exhibit.

First lady Melania Trump donated her inaugural gown to the Smithsonian First Ladies exhibit in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, adding to the museum’s collection of more than two dozen gowns dating back to Helen Taft.

When she spoke at the museum before the dress’s debut, Trump thanked French-American fashion designer Hervé Pierre, who designed the dress in collaboration with Trump in the two weeks he was given before the inauguration. Trump said:

“As most of you know, before being elected president my husband was never in politics, so you can imagine that after he won we were very busy with all that goes into preparing for a new administration and all the changes that we as a family would be facing. To be honest, what I would wear to the inaugural ball was the last thing on my mind.”

First Lady Melania Trump donated her inaugural ball gown to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in October 2017. Photo by Emma Austin.

Though they had never worked together before, Trump said she knew of Pierre’s “stellar reputation” and wanted to work with someone “who would do more than just design a dress.”

D.C. tourist Rachel McCall of Marion, Ohio, who visited the First Ladies exhibit the next day, said she enjoyed learning about each first lady by looking at their fashion choices.

“I really like the exhibit,” she said. “I think it’s neat to see all the dresses and the different styles during the many years and the types of things that [the first ladies] wore, because some of them are very intricate, so it’s neat to see their own personal touch on what they thought they should wear for the inaugural address.”

A portrait of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump hangs on a wall near Melania’s inaugural gown at the first ladies exhibit at the National Museum of American History. Photo by Emma Austin.



Each dress display included a label describing the dress and the first lady who wore it. In the early 1930s, Lou Henry Hoover made a point of wearing cotton dresses to promote the cotton textile industry. Eleanor Roosevelt’s display included a description of her promotion of ready-to-wear clothing and her cautioning against purchasing clothing made in sweatshops.

Pat Nixon encouraged volunteerism during her time as first lady and expanded public access to the White House, and Betty Ford is “remembered for her response to a diagnosis of breast cancer,” which heightened awareness of the disease.

In Trump’s first few months as first lady, the former fashion model has announced intentions to use her new role to fight bullying, which she said would be her platform as first lady during her husband’s campaign.

On Monday, Trump visited a middle school in Michigan, where she encouraged students to find new friends to eat lunch with for the school’s No One Eats Alone Day event. Last month, she focused her speech at a United Nations event on teaching children how to be morally responsible and ready for the future.