January 21st, 2013
09:17 PM ET
10 years ago

Drama in red: First lady doubles down on Jason Wu

Washington (CNN) – After all the anticipation and waiting, perhaps the biggest bombshell about Michelle Obama's inaugural ball dress was that it really wasn't a surprise at all.

Like 2009, the first lady wore a gown by the Taiwanese-born American designer Jason Wu, who was catapulted into the highest echelons of fashion when Obama donned one of his designs four years ago.

Obama, who is known for favoring lesser-known American designers, had several dresses presented to her before she made her decision, and didn't reveal what she would wear before she stepped out on stage at the Commander-in-Chief's ball, making her repeat turn in Jason Wu a rare moment of suspense amid the scripted revelry of the inauguration.

Monday's gown was a vibrant ruby red, made from chiffon and velvet, according to details released by the White House. It had design parallels to the flowing white chiffon dress Mrs. Obama donned in 2009, which firmly cemented the first lady's arm-baring, cinched waist style.

Those arms were again on display Monday in Mrs. Obama's halter-style dress, and a strip of duchess satin gathered the vibrant red fabric in tightly to her waist. An embellished ring designed by Kimberly McDonald held strips of fabric together at the first lady's neck. She paired the gown with Jimmy Choo shoes, the White House said.

As for the president, he wore what appeared to be the same tuxedo he donned at his 2009 inaugural balls, complete with white bow tie and flag pin.

Mrs. Obama's first appearance Monday sparked a blitz of amateur fashion criticism on Twitter, with the reaction mostly positive:

[tweet https://twitter.com/ClaudiaMota/status/293543716126355458%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/LaurenKMaloney/status/293543652758794241%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/saramsteckling/status/293544586901585920%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/amroth86/status/293545014074671104%5D

Others, however, were less thrilled. Van Jones, a former Obama administration official and a CNN contributor, said though the gown was "very nice," it wasn't "such a great dress that the other dozen people shouldn't have had a shot."

One other American designer was given a boost Monday - Mrs. Obama stepped out for her husband’s swearing-in ceremony wearing a navy silk coat in a checkered pattern and a matching dress by Thom Browne, an American designer known mainly for creating men's suits. The White House said the first lady's outfit was based on the style of a man's necktie.

More: Lessons in style from Michelle Obama

Speaking to CNN Monday, Brown said the nod from Michelle Obama was an honor – and an important boon to his two-year-old womenswear business.

"You can never predict life to happen this way," he said. "I'm just so fortunate, so honored, so proud that she chose mine."

Michelle Obama also wore J.Crew gloves and belt, earrings by Kathy Waterman, and blue suede boots from Reed Krakoff, the same designer who created the indigo shift dress and cardigan the first lady wore to the president's official swearing-in ceremony on Sunday.

Krakoff's namesake line sells shoes prices north of $500, but he is also the president of the American leathergoods purveyor Coach, whose shoes (and bags and wallets) are priced lower.

The White House said Monday that Mrs. Obama's swearing-in outfit and Jason Wu gown would head to the National Archives.

The Obama's two daughters were also decked out Monday – Malia in a lavender coat and royal blue dress from J.Crew, and Sasha wearing a purple jacket and dress from Kate Spade.

Filed under: Inauguration • Michelle Obama
soundoff (171 Responses)
  1. Laurel Canada

    He is actually Taiwanese and Canadian, not american, he holds both passports from Canada and Taiwan. He is only based in New York. Get it right CNN!

    January 22, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  2. M.Z.

    I think, she has that beautiful skin complexion and the height to wear anything and everything will look gorgeous on her.

    January 22, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  3. ShirleyW

    Michelle is a classy woman and I just love the way her husband looks at her
    her red dress was beautiful and said to everyone here I am THE FIRST LADY!!!!!

    January 22, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  4. M.E.

    I know there's much grumbling about the fashion commentary, but the fact of the matter is that apparel of all sorts is actually a pretty big chunk of the economy. Everybody has to wear something, so everybody has to buy clothes. Even if you're buying walmart jeans, that design trickled down from the designs of higher level names. There's a reason you've hardly been able to buy anything with a flared leg for the last decade whether you're shopping at Target or Neiman Marcus. Now you'll probably see other designs incorporating that neckline, color, or the velvet/chiffon combo. As someone who enjoys designing and creating much of my own attire, I most certainly went, "velvet and chiffon, eh? That is a clever combo!" and started toying with it in my head. Even if you don't think fashion design affects anything you wear, trust me, it does. Remember that time you bought that same style of Levi's you always liked so much and found it to be different from the previous pairs? Just like a car can be subtly redesigned to meet current styles and tastes while maintaining the same name, so can your jeans. Just like a lower car company may hint at a higher car (unless it's the new Corvette, in which case they did it entirely backwards, eff sake GM!) in its designs, your bog standard blue jeans may hint at something that was on a runway a year ago.

    January 22, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  5. Malory Archer


    Kathleen, you must have forgotten all about Nancy Reagan's inaugural gown. It was a one-shoulder style and bared some skin, too.


    Yeah, and she resembled a frail elderly woman attempting desparately to hold onto some vestiage of her long lost youth. Definitely a fashion don't.

    January 22, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  6. Jt_flyer

    Nice... Now back to the economy.

    January 22, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  7. Grahame Rhodes

    Thank God Romney didn't win. His wife would be wearing anything that cost enormous amounts of money but would look really rotten on her

    January 22, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  8. Brett

    Nice to see the president and his wife arent taking any cuts in their budget. Figures as much, if they are well off, why care, right? All for a ball to feed their selfish and prideful personalities. Oh well, i guess thats why the US is falling apart financially and morally.

    January 22, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  9. Midwest Mom

    @ Dawn: I'm sorry for you current life situation, but honestly, we all deal with something, you're delusional if you think otherwise. And really, were you planning on running for the White House at some point in your life and just got derailed by bad luck? On sheer high IQ and brutal hours did you make it through law school like both Obamas did? Again, I'm sorry your life turned out the way it did but hating on the First Family is not going to improve your life at all. When Mrs. Obama was working 80+ hours as an associate I guarantee you she was working hard. Why in the world would you WISH disabled children on anyone – what the hell is wrong with you? @ CJ... you clearly did not read the article or anything about Mrs. Obama – she ROUTINELY, shops at Target and wears JCrew. The dress she's wearing while walking down the air plane stairs is from TARGET! I guess if she wore an outfit from Wal-Mart to the inauguration you'd complain it was made in China.

    January 22, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  10. Lardeau

    I like these people. But can the Chief really cut it ? The National Debt is now mind-boggling. It will consume all of us very soon unless some new ideas are introduced to rein it in. Compound interest is one of theeeee strongest forces in the world.

    January 22, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  11. Ll

    One word: Wow!

    January 22, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  12. TO BRETT

    It looks like you didn't read the captions about the pictures taken , most of her outfits she wears them more then once, she's the FIRST First Lady to even do that so she is taking into consideration the budget.

    January 22, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  13. Brett, you are wrong.....

    The First Lady doesn't pay for her inaugural gown, nor do the taxpayers. The designers see it as some of the best free marketing for their product they could ever hope for. They are in competition with each other for her to wear their designs, free of charge.

    January 22, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  14. Selah

    Michelle, the first lady looks fabulous and feminine. I love her Flirty hairstyle (flippy sides).
    Barack, the President looks dignified and handsome. The girls are sweet.
    Now, lets hope this term in office is lead with the wisdom and direction of God.

    January 22, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  15. Sarah H

    I LOVE her dress. It suits her perfectly. It's so elegant and its rich fabric flows beautifully. She looks fabulous in it. Great choice!

    January 22, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  16. Viewer

    MUCH better choices of outfits for Michelle this time. Very nice. The ones 4 years ago were just awful.

    January 22, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  17. nomad2003

    should have spent the money on more security for Benghazi!

    January 22, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  18. pjoe

    Anoher reason to be revolted by the "news" media. Style over substance. Those who care about such things should not be allowed to vote.

    January 22, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  19. Lisa

    I love Michelle Obama and think she looks great in anything she wears, but truthfully I wasn't really crazy about the gown she wore to the ball. When I saw it, I thought..."meh...." , which was the same reaction I had about the dress she wore 4 years ago. I liked the Michael Kors dress she wore last month at the Kennedy Center honors much better.

    January 22, 2013 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  20. Jacqueline Vargas

    Even with all the money that Mrs. Obama can afford now, as first lady of the USA, you just wonder how in the world her fashion advisers wouldn't tell her she looked like a drag queen wearing that outfit to the inauguration event. Honestly, she looks terrible, even her make up was awful. I felt embarrassed by her coming out to such an important event looking like that, and who was the person who tell her that such hairdo was good????? my goodness, what an epic fail !!!!

    January 22, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  21. gmenfan54

    Jason Wu could not buy this kind of publicity.

    January 22, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
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