The President’s Birthday Ball, 1935

From the Lewis Family

From the Lewis Family

Off and on I give talks on fashion history for local groups and at the end I always ask for pictures and stories for my blog. After a recent talk for the county chapter of the American Sewing Guild a fellow ASG member, Gloria Lewis, sent me a scan of a family treasure. Her in-laws were invited to attend a birthday bash for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in January, 1935 and kept the program for posterity. She also gave me copies of the Washington Herald coverage of the event. “Typists, Debs Crowd Roosevelt Ball,” one headline reads.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Marist College

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Marist College

The newspaper photos are of poor quality, but through the magic of the internet I discovered the scan of an original photo taken of Eleanor Roosevelt at the ball. She was fifty at the time. Although she was not known for her interest in clothes, she did try to dress the part of First Lady. Very tall and not particularly slender, many critics thought she looked best in long gowns. Since I’m used to seeing her in suits with sensible shoes, I was surprised by this glittery low cut dress. Here’s how the Washington Herald described the ensemble: “A gown of sapphire blue chiffon, with a broad girdle of silver cloth… Her wrap was of ermine with a deep collar of white fox.” She carries the program in her hand, a wonderful historic detail, along with “a huge blue feather fan matching her gown.” I was glad for a description the fan, because I couldn’t figure out what that gigantic feathered thing was.

BallAds35The interior of the program is almost as interesting as the exterior, with many ads from local sponsors. They ranged from pest control companies to hair salons. This one ad for a dress store indicates the kind of women advertisers thought would attend the ball, obviously more debs than typists. Converted to today’s prices, the clothes were expensive, from $235 to $373.  The size range was very broad and included larger sizes. These details, along with the reference to the “Southland” (which must mean Florida), indicates that the store was appealing in part to the older, wealthy society woman.

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