First ladies’ fashion on display at Prague’s National Museum

A new exhibition showcasing the fashion style of Czechoslovak and Czech first ladies is currently on display at the National Museum in Prague. Visitors can see dozens of items from the first ladies’ wardrobes, including a blouse and skirt that belonged to Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk and the inaugural dress of the current first lady, Eva Pavlová.

The National Museum in Prague boasts a unique collection of fashion items that used to belong to the wives of Czech and Czechoslovak presidents, including dresses, suits, hats and other accessories worn on various occasions. Some of them are now on display at an exhibition called First Ladies - Fashion and Style at the museum’s new building.

Miroslava Burianová is the show’s curator:

“The whole concept of the exhibition is to show the role and style adopted by the country’s first ladies. Because the “first lady” is not an office. It's not an official role, it's a position linked to customary law and public expectations, which the first ladies approached in different ways.”

Photo: National Museum in Prague

The exhibition presents altogether 38 outfits from twelve wives of Czech and Czechoslovak presidents. They include items from the wardrobe of Marta Gottwaldová, the wife of the first communist president Klement Gottwald.

Photo: National Museum in Prague

She was known for her mostly unsuccessful efforts to imitate the style of her predecessor Hana Benešová, widely considered one of the country’s most elegant first ladies.

Miroslava Burianová again:

“Mrs Benešová had been honing her style for many years, since the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic. She travelled a lot, for instance to France, and had the opportunity to observe elegant women and be inspired by their style. By the 1930s, when she became the first lady, she had created a unique wardrobe and style of her own.”

Photo: National Museum in Prague

One of the items testifying to Hana Benešová’s exquisite taste in fashion is a long cream-coloured gown with gold decorations, which is also displayed at the National Museum.

Miroslava Burianová says that while preparing the exhibition, she was surprised to find that a strict dress code was observed even after the communist Coup in February 1948:

“For instance Božena Novotná, who is certainly not considered a fashion role model, travelled a lot alongside President Antonín Novotný. She would always dress impeccably for the occasion, wearing a suit and gloves, a hat and a handbag.”

Mrs Burianová also points out that while some of the presidential wives enjoyed their role and frequently appeared in public by their husbands’ side, other preferred to guard their privacy:

Photo: National Museum in Prague

“That's why we divided our exhibition into two parts: one room is dedicated to the first ladies’ official duties alongside the president, the other to the semi-private sphere, because first ladies are under scrutiny even when they pursue their hobbies or their professional career.”

The exhibition also includes some of Dagmar Havlová’s theatre costumes, as well as Livia Klausová's trouser suit and Olga Havlová’s iconic sweater. Visitors can also see the inaugural dress of the current Czech first lady, Eva Pavlová, who is being hailed as a new fashion icon.

Photo: National Museum in Prague
Photo: National Museum in Prague

The exhibition First Ladies - Fashion and Style runs at the new building of the National Museum until the end of next April.

Authors: Ruth Fraňková , Michaela Vetešková
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