Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Frances Folsom Cleveland's Gown

One of my favorite museums to visit is the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington DC. The first time I went I was a little kid, and you could not get me out of the first ladies' exhibit for anything!

Why, you ask?


Lots of gowns. Two hundred years of gowns.

Though there is only a small selection of gowns and accessories out at any given time, apparently the museum has thousands of artifacts relating to the first ladies. They have Martha Washington's dress, Abigale Adams' shoes, Mary Todd Lincoln's lorngettes (do you think she took them to the theater that night?...) and lots of other artifacts from Martha to today. And since Helen Taft, it has been tradition for each first lady to give her inaugural dress to the exhibit.

But today I'm going to be highlighting Frances Folsom Cleveland's wedding dress.

Frances Folsom Cleveland's dress, c. 1886.

I totally love this dress. The gown is of ivory satin, with a sheer over trim at the bust. It has a grand train and some lovely asymmetrical pleats and gathers on the skirt. 

The day after the wedding, the Washington Post reported, "The bride wore an enchanting white dress of ivory satin, simply garnished on the high corsage with India muslin crossed in Grecian folds and carried in exquisite falls of simplicity over the petticoat. The orange blossom garniture, commencing upon the veil in a superb coronet, is continued throughout the costume with artistic skill. She carried no flowers and wore no jewelry except an engagement ring, containing a sapphire and two diamonds."

Frances Cleveland wearing the dress,
ornamented with garlands of
Orange Flower blossoms.

Frances married President Cleveland in June of 1886, in the White House's Blue Room, at the age of 21. She is the youngest first lady so far, and their marriage had the biggest age gap of all the Presidents and first ladies, with a 27 year difference. The Clevelands are the only couple to be married in the white house and to have a baby born in the White House, as well. 

A stereograph of the Blue Room, taken during the Grant years.

Apparently Frances was quite fashionable for the day and was so well liked, she even received fan mail!

The Clevelands' wedding in the Blue Room.
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Esther Cleveland is the only baby to be born
 in the White House. She was born on
September 9th, 1893.
The White House Archives

Unfortunately, when I went to see this exhibit again last year, the dress wasn't on display. However, I remember, very vividly, from years past, that the dress had a little dime sized, light brown, splattery stain on the lap. I always thought this was the coolest thing because it made it so real and I could really picture her wearing it, and oops! Spilling a a little soup, or perhaps wine, in her lap. 

Now, this didn't necessarily happen at the wedding, as the dress was altered after, to an evening gown for two state events later that same June, and once more for a formal portrait on the 29th of June, 1886.

The Smithsonian also has another dress of hers and a bonnet on display on their website

From the First Ladies' Fashions exhibit,
"Frances Cleveland wore this silk evening gown
with fur-edged hem and black-satin-and-jet trim during
her husband’s second administration. It was made
by Baltimore dressmaker Lottie Barton."

Cleveland's cream velvet bonnet.
And because it's almost Christmas... The Cleveland family's Christmas tree!

The Cleveland's Christmas tree, c. 1895,
displayed in the Family Room and Library,
 now the Yellow Oval Room.
The White House Historical Association

Have a happy day all!


  1. I collect White House Christmas ornaments and I have the very ornament, down to the orange blossoms that represent the wedding. I hope to visit this exhibit soon.

    1. I have the very same one!!! I was decorating the tree and the ornament reminded me of the dress, so I wrote the post! How funny!

  2. Her gown is beautiful, and so interesting that they reworked them for other occasions! And, she was a beautiful woman, her beauty typical of the age. Thanks for the post. Reminds me of a happy time spent in DC!

  3. I would like to know who MADE the dress. When my father was a young minister in Massillon, OH in the mid-1930's, he had an elderly parishioner who claimed that she had made Frances Cleveland's wedding dress. It would be interesting to know if this was true.

    1. Ooo that would be so interesting to find out. Maybe the parishioner did make the dress...