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. ronvan

    A CLASS ACT!! ALL of them! What I see is a YOUNG family living in TODAY'S world, not the old "fuddy duddies" that have problems speaking or walking!

    January 22, 2013 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  2. Sheila

    If you wear off-the-rack most of the time, you can afford designer some of the time.

    January 22, 2013 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  3. ChrisM

    Why is it so many comments are focused on the cost or the negatives when really the focus should be on how clearly they love each other? It's completely obvious they not only love each other but are in love (I mean you can see he's singing to her in the video) – so why can't that be the focus as an example for everyone including young people? Just sad.

    January 22, 2013 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  4. betty

    Do you have to bring politics into everything. Rep or dem it was a great day and everyone looked good.

    January 22, 2013 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  5. C

    Why do Americans always try and claim the best as their own? It happens all the time.
    Born in the capital city of Taipei, in the democratic country of Republic of China (Taiwan), Wu moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada at age nine and attended Eaglebrook School in Deerfield, Massachusetts and Loomis Chaffee, in Windsor, Connecticut

    January 22, 2013 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  6. ES

    Gorgerous dreee, very good choice.

    January 22, 2013 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  7. Coco Chanel

    I think it's absurd that Michelle Obama has been made into a "style icon." She's not wearing anything that amazing, and the fact that people STILL make a big deal about her showing her arms. So what?!! This isn't 1860, and she is younger than many of the past first ladies who stuck to boring old suits. She wears clothes that most women her age wear anyway, which doesn't make her a trendsetter. And her arms really aren't that great. Maybe four years ago they were toned, but her arms being shown should hardly be newsworthy.

    January 22, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  8. PushingBack

    Anyone posting negative comments about this beautiful and classy lady for political reasons should be ashamed. Michelle is simply stunning and is the most beautiful first lady we perhaps have ever had. And it's clear how much they love each other. We should be proud as Americans to have this representing us!

    January 22, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  9. Realityblowz

    Why is it when there is a Republican woman wearing an outfit like that, they criticizen her for wearing such an expensive dress in these economic times, but now when a Democrat does it, it is the best thing? This is another fine example of how the media forms your opinions, and the mindless will follow the direction.

    January 22, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  10. me2

    Beautiful dress...I am sure that Mr. Wu is very happy that he is on the First Lady's speed dial list.

    January 22, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  11. Pat in IL

    This is a first family we can be proud of in every way. It shows in how they present and carry themselves. The best accessory each one of them wore was a sincere, happy smile.

    January 22, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  12. Kate F.

    Great outfits and dresses - so modern, flattering, elegant. But I doubt President Obama would approve of his wife being referred to as having an "arms-bearing" style. She has an "arms-BARING" style. Spelling counts!!!

    January 22, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  13. ll

    Most beautiful inaugural gown I've seen – period.

    Worst: Rosalyn Carter.

    January 22, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  14. hk

    Just beautiful and she wore them so well. I liked the fashion of her daughters as well. Lovely family.

    January 22, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  15. Rhodalee

    She looked lovely.

    January 22, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  16. to all of you haters

    Why is it you assume that she spent taxpayer money on a dress? You do understand that they had money BEFORE he was president right? SHE made more money than most people in her private sector job. Stop hating so much. she looked great and chose a designer that knows how to dress her.

    @ Dawn, I'm sorry your life is so stressful and I wish you peace but keep it real. She had more than you before he was commander and chief. Sometimes life is like that.....

    January 22, 2013 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  17. Rudy NYC

    Sheila wrote:

    If you wear off-the-rack most of the time, you can afford designer some of the time.
    "You can't soar like an eagle when you fly with turkeys."

    The same is true when it comes to most anything else, too, especially belief systems. The designer most likely donated the dress or loanded it to her. It would be well worth it for the exposure of his brand.

    January 22, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  18. CarolinaGirl

    The First Lady looked absolutely beautiful! Great choice!

    January 22, 2013 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  19. Jonathan

    "Why is it when there is a Republican woman wearing an outfit like that, they criticizen her for wearing such an expensive dress in these economic times, but now when a Democrat does it, it is the best thing?"

    With regards to Mrs. Obama, she tends to lean much less opulently than Republicans of the same era. There were comparisons floating around during election season. Michelle Obama does wear rather expensive clothes, but nothing a middle class woman couldn't buy if she saved up a bit (Usually running about $1,000).

    By contrast, Anne Romney was repeatedly spotted out and about in outfits costing upwards of $10K.

    Both are frivolous to the average American, but it's a matter of degrees. The former is more than most can afford, but the latter is more than all but a few can afford.

    January 22, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  20. jackie

    At first I was hoping for something a little more spectacular, but the First Lady did what all of should do...she chose a dress that was flattering for her.

    January 22, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  21. Kathy

    shows a very well-turned out family, a lot of love among them, its just a shame they didn't take dancing lessons and learn how to waltz.

    January 22, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  22. E. Rick Copeland

    Positively adorable

    January 22, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  23. Julia

    Our President understanding the working class people of this country, and that we must save our environment. Man cannot live without clean air.

    January 22, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  24. Over 70

    Clothes aside, this couple shows what makes them great examples. First, they obviously put family first and foremost. As one person commented earlier, they not only love each other, they respect each other. As a First Lady, Michelle Obama has set the bar high for future first ladies–classy, well educated, incredibly well spoken, down to earth, knowledgeable, and smart.

    January 22, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  25. cjack

    I thought the dress was gorgeous! What is the big deal about which designer she chose? Did anybody stop to think that just maybe she liked that red dress more than the others gows that she had to choose from. As for the President, how do you know it was the same tuxedo? Maybe it was just the same style. Who cares...It looked fine. Everybody can always find something negative to say about everything.

    January 22, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
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