Throughout much of the year, black tie in Washington is a burden—generally some sort of work event you have to attend at the end of a long weekday to hobnob with clients, sources, or vendors in uncomfortable formalwear that they slipped on in the office bathroom before hopping into a cab.
The inauguration is the one clear exception—and for the crowd at the Lincoln 2.0 Inaugural Ball, it was the night of a lifetime. Held in the stunning courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum, the ball—sponsored by the tourism group Destination DC—paid homage to the second inaugural ball of Abraham Lincoln, held in the same building in March 1865. The women who had their hair done and the men who donned tuxes for the first time since a wedding lent an air of a grownup prom to the event rather than a typically suffocating Washington black-tie gala.
Guests who envisioned the 16th president twirling in tails through what is today the Kogod Courtyard would be mistaken. The real site of Lincoln’s ball was the resplendent third-floor; the room where an 1865 inaugural buffet dinner famously got out of hand now houses the Luce Foundation Center—which, for the ball, was turned into a VIP Champagne reception, complete with the big-band stylings of the Eric Felten Orchestra, led by the white tux-clad Felten.
In the courtyard, musicians such as Keb Mo, JT Taylor, and Anita Baker kept guests entertained between trips to the bar and the appetizer buffet as a Lincoln impersonator posed for pictures.
Throughout the multilevel party—guests wandered through a second-floor exhibit about Lincoln’s inaugural ball and explored the museum collections on every floor until the 11 PM closing—young men and women wandered in period attire. The hoop skirts and Civil War uniforms gave some sense of what the Lincoln 1.0 ball would have felt like nearly 150 years ago—and gave today’s ballgoers one more reason to be excited about dressing up: Modern formalwear is vastly easier to maneuver in.