Inauguration Day: Michelle Obama's Fashion Oath

Inauguration Day: Michelle Obama's Fashion Oath
Michelle Obama wears a blue checked coat designed by Thom Browne during President Obama's second inauguration, left, Michelle Obama wears a red, velvet and chiffon gown designed by Jason Wu to the Inaugural Ball.
(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images, JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Michelle Obama ushered in a brave new Obama presidency over the weekend with a shocking new set of...bangs. Sensational though they were, the First Lady’s fashion choices, too, were of high-level of intrigue rarely seen in the land of pearls and pantsuits. In the end, however, she stayed consistent with her program of eclectic yet unfussy, body-conscious, American-made fashion. The inaugural weekend saw a trifecta of tried-and-true Michelle Obama tropes: bold colors, belts, cardigans, and those much-ballyhooed arms. The 48-hour ritual of public appearances was a sartorial cadenza, beginning with a state-appropriate, albeit slightly humdrum, knee-length dress and cardigan set, and ending with a showstopper crimson gown by — who else? — Mrs. Obama’s go-to inauguration dressmaker, Jason Wu.

At Sunday morning’s official swearing-in ceremony in the Blue Room, the second-term FLOTUS erred on the side of caution and color coordination. Her midnight-blue Reed Krakoff sheath harmonized with the president’s Brooks Brothers suit. At the inaugural reception at the National Building Museum Sunday night, Michelle recycled a Michael Kors sleeveless black sequined dress she rescued from 2009. At the public swearing-in on Monday, she significantly upped the fashion ante with a custom-made A-line navy jacquard coatdress by now-famous menswear-turned-women’s designer Thom Browne. The First Lady, who wore Browne at the second presidential debate, tempered the formidably voluminous, mildly avant-garde silhouette with a beaded belt from J.Crew. For the inaugural ball, she pulled out the proverbial big guns with Wu’s shoulder-bearing scarlet velvet-and-chiffon gown, adorned with a white gold ring of pavé diamonds by Kimberly McDonald.


If the angelic white confection Wu designed for Mrs. Obama’s first inauguration was a tabula rasa, a sartorial embodiment of the message of optimism and hope that won Mr. Obama the Oval Office, Michelle’s second turn in Wu channels the chutzpah that got him reelected. It’s tempting to fall into the epistemological trap of imbuing Mrs. Obama’s wardrobe with partisan meaning. And while Mrs. Obama's clothes reveal precious little about gun control, immigration reform, or the direction of the American economy, her embrace of high fashion and mass retailers, her penchant for turning emerging designers into household names (Prabal Gurung, anyone?), and patriotic investment in American manufacturing speak volumes about her views of her role.