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. william

    Another hard-hitting, brilliant investigative piece in the tradition of Woodward and Bernstein from CNN

    January 22, 2013 01:00 am at 1:00 am |
  2. troof

    no mention on the price tag and how out of touh she is?

    January 22, 2013 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  3. Epidi

    Adore this couple. Individually & together they rock the house.

    January 22, 2013 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  4. YO

    Erratum: "... Taiwanese-born CANADIAN designer Jason Wu .. "

    January 22, 2013 02:49 am at 2:49 am |
  5. Teresa

    She looked fabulous tonight. Loved the vibrant red color. Those who are critical are just jealous that they don't look as good as her. Very few women her age are willing or able to bare their arms without showing flab. She is the most stylish First Lady since Jackie Kennedy!

    January 22, 2013 03:04 am at 3:04 am |
  6. Mary

    I always wonder how these famous women can wear sleeveless dresses in the middle of winter. Aren't they just freezing to death? I know I would!

    January 22, 2013 05:22 am at 5:22 am |
  7. @Marita

    She looked wonderful in everything she wore yesterday! 'Just thought the little blue cardigan dressed down her outfit! New hair-cut really suits her well! The entire First Family looked good! – @Marita.

    January 22, 2013 05:31 am at 5:31 am |
  8. Angela

    Loved her gown simple but elegant and flowed with every movement and ask any woman it looked sooo comfortable to wear for hours.

    January 22, 2013 06:37 am at 6:37 am |
  9. Anonymous

    Must be nice to be tall and beautiful – she can wear anything, but the red was a treat. Let's remember she is a real brain too and I love the fact that she is not a sized 0. Young women need to see that you don't have to be starve yourself to look good – just eat healthy and stay active.

    January 22, 2013 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  10. Wake up People!

    The President and First Lady looked stunning as usual. She has her own mind and can wear whatever she wants to wear. This IS a free country. I loved the blue coat and boots and the red gown looked great on her.

    January 22, 2013 06:49 am at 6:49 am |
  11. Steve

    The use of the term "double-down" shows a lack of intelligence! Stop being a lemming and use your head.

    January 22, 2013 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  12. elbob248

    Top story in the politics section. Way to go CNN.

    January 22, 2013 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  13. ND4190

    The whole Obama family looked great for all of inauguration day. I'm proud to have them as our First Family. Four more years!

    January 22, 2013 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  14. adam

    curious, how much did the dress cost? If she were a republican that is the only thing CNN would be talking about.

    January 22, 2013 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  15. dj1s

    @Leopold Stotch
    I know, right? Personally, I would have preferred that she wear the Leopold Stotch that she has hanging in the mop closet.

    January 22, 2013 08:21 am at 8:21 am |
  16. Red in CT

    Hat the dress! She has such a beautiful figure, yet she she constantly chooses dresses at these black tie events that hide her best features. Hated it!

    January 22, 2013 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  17. widget

    At least this one didn't look like a bedspread.

    January 22, 2013 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  18. Seriously

    How about "arm-baring," not "bearing". Sheesh.

    January 22, 2013 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  19. Pepou27

    They are gorgeous and so much in love. I am happy for them and for the next 4 years.

    January 22, 2013 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  20. Rudy NYC

    Wow. There's more chatter about the First Lady's dress than Beyonce's.

    January 22, 2013 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  21. Malory Archer


    curious, how much did the dress cost? If she were a republican that is the only thing CNN would be talking about.


    Probably less than the blouses the also-ran's wife favors.

    January 22, 2013 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  22. Johns

    You can dress it up all you want.....

    January 22, 2013 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  23. Jim

    I turned on the TV and they were discussing the fashion choices of the presidents teenage daughters. Now CNN has this article under "politics." Really sad.

    January 22, 2013 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  24. Obama Supporter

    I am so proud of how our President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama does not allow ignorance to change their characters nor their spirits, hopes or dreams. Mr President and First Lady continue showing all people of different races,creed or color how to deal with hatred and ignorance in this free world we all helped build.

    January 22, 2013 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  25. Sheila

    Who wears white tie with a tuxedo? Seriously – get a bit of education. A tuxedo is for afternoon and early evening, and worn with a dark tie. White tie is worn with tails, for very formal occasions.

    January 22, 2013 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
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