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All That Glitters - Part 4

The Honor of Your Company:
Inaugural Ball Gowns

Inaugurations of political leaders are generally accompanied by formal celebrations. Often gowns worn to the inaugural balls receive more attention than the elected leader.

Smoke blue silk gown, 1865.

Smoke-Blue Silk, 1865

This gown was worn to President Abraham Lincoln's inaugural ball held after his re-election. Margaret Usher attended the ball with her husband John, who was Secretary of the Interior. The Ushers eventually settled in Lawrence, Kansas.

Three pieces make up this gown--a bodice, skirt and short jacket. All are of greenish-gray silk taffeta, and trimmed with blue velvet, plush fringe, and gold-colored silk balls. The jacket is trimmed with velvet epaulettes, in keeping with the gown's Civil War-era origins.

This ball gown also is featured on Cool Things, including views of the back and bodice.

View close-up of military details on jacket tails.


Peach chiffon dress, 1929.

Peach Chiffon, 1929

Minnie Hart Reed wore this gown to celebrate her husband's inauguration. Clyde Reed became Kansas' 24th governor in 1929. He and Minnie had been married for 38 years.

The low waist on this peach-colored chiffon dress dips in front and back. It is trimmed with rhinestones, sequins, and silver-toned glass beads in leaf designs and what appear to be cattails. The skirt is made up of several layers of chiffon of uneven lengths.

View close-up of beading.




Gold lace and lame gown, 1933.

Gold Lace & Lamé, 1933

Theo Cobb Landon wore this dress and matching shoes to the inauguration of her husband, Alf, as Kansas' 26th governor. The year was 1933, and Theo was in her mid-30s.

Mrs. Landon's gown of gold-colored lamé and lace is decorated at the shoulders on front, and cascading down the back neckline, with red and orange velvet floral ornaments. Beaded bands encircle the gown just below the bust and again at hips. The lamé train has a wristband, making it easier to carry.

View close-up of velvet ornaments at back neckline.



Lavender crepe gown, 1947.

Lavender Crepe, 1947

Alice Carlson wore this lavender gown ornamented with gold beads to her husband's inauguration in 1947. Frank Carlson became Kansas' 30th governor.

Made of pale lavender crepe, the dress has strong classical features, including its diagonal surplice front. Gold braid, beads, and sequins decorate the dress in the shape of bands and medallions.

View close-up of asymmetrical overskirt.





White net dress, 1957.

White Net, 1957

Formal dresses in the 1950s were often strapless, with full skirts. Virginia Docking wore this very typical gown to the inauguration of her husband, George, as the 35th governor of Kansas in 1957.

The bodice of Mrs. Docking's gown is entirely covered in tucked white net. The full, bell-shaped skirt is ankle-length and decorated with opalescent sequins. There are two net overskirts.

View close-up of net overskirt.




Red sequined gown, 1984.

Red Sequins, 1984

A more recent example of an inaugural ball gown is this sequined dress, worn by Karen Bigsby Hurley Carlin to the 1984 inauguration of her then-husband, John Carlin. He became the 40th governor of Kansas.

View close-up of bodice.







All That Glitters: Dressing Up & Stepping Out is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.

  1. Hoops & Bustles: 1860s-1880s
  2. Turn of the Century: 1890-1910
  3. The Party Decade: 1920s
  4. The Honor of Your Company: Inaugural Ball Gowns
  5. Dressed in White: Wedding Gowns

Contact us at kshs.kansasmuseum@ks.gov