WASHINGTON — First ladies typically donate their inaugural ball gowns to the Smithsonian Institution for its collection. Jill Biden is giving up two clothing ensembles, and neither one includes a gown.
The first lady is donating the ocean blue tweed dress and matching coat that she wore to her husband’s presidential inauguration at the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021, along with the ivory silk wool dress and cashmere coat ensemble she wore at the White House later that evening.
Usually, first ladies donate the gown they danced in at celebratory balls following the oath-taking ceremony, but there were no inaugural balls for President Joe Biden. He took office at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when large indoor gatherings were discouraged.
In a nod to the historic nature of Joe Biden’s swearing-in, Jill Biden’s matching face masks will also become part of The First Ladies Collection at the National Museum of American History.
Her attire will be formally added to the collection of attire worn by her predecessors, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, Melania Trump and others, during a ceremony Wednesday featuring the first lady, her fashion designers and museum officials. The museum will reopen to the public on Thursday.
It will be Jill Biden’s first public appearance since Jan. 11, when doctors removed a cancerous lesion from her face and another from her chest.
“Since Helen Taft in 1912, every first lady who has been approached and has an inaugural gown has donated it,” said Lisa Kathleen Graddy, a curator of American political history at the museum.
The museum is “always interested” in having both the day and evening outfits, if possible, because “it allows us to show a different aspect of the day and the first lady’s participation” in the inauguration, she said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
“We are very lucky that we have the space in this particular case to be able to display both of them,” Graddy said.
Joe Biden’s inaugural festivities were altered by the pandemic. People were not allowed to gather en masse on the National Mall to watch him take the oath of office. A traditional lunch inside the Capitol afterward was scrapped, and the customary parade down Pennsylvania Avenue was replaced by a virtual one. In the evening, actor Tom Hanks hosted a televised concert featuring performances by various musical artists. Biden and his family then watched fireworks from a White House balcony.
For the ceremony at the Capitol, Jill Biden chose an ocean blue wool tapered tweed dress embellished with pearls and crystals, a matching overcoat with a dark blue velvet collar and cuffs, and a face mask. They were designed by Alexandra O’Neill, founder and designer of Markarian.
In the evening, she donned an ivory silk wool dress, an ivory double-breasted cashmere coat and a face mask, all embroidered with the flowers of every U.S. state and territory. They were designed by Gabriela Hearst, founder and creative director of Gabriela Hearst.
The Smithsonian says its exhibit about first ladies is among its most popular attractions. It currently features 10 inaugural gowns. The broader collection, meanwhile, holds some 1,000 items ranging from inaugural gowns and other dresses to personal effects and other White House memorabilia.