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. JC

    I wish that the editors of CNN would pay a little bit more attention to what is written. Mrs. Obama does not have "an arm-bearing cinched waist style". She has an "arm-baring cinched waist style". I'd kill for those upper arms of hers, but I don't think she uses them to sling a rifle over her shoulder.

    January 22, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  2. lovingcouple

    @coco chanel You said her arms really aren't that great, they are for a women her age especially here in America. When our people are starting to look like hot air balloons. Have you forgotten we have a show that helps obese people lose weight?

    January 22, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  3. Lillybet58

    Thanks JC, you took the words right out of my mouth!

    January 22, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  4. Marie MD

    @Jonathan, not only did our FLOTS look beautiful in a fantastic gown but she has proven time and again that having lots of money doesn't buy or make you a fashion icon. Sometimes less is better in fashion.
    The President and the Michelle are truly in love. You can't fake that!!!
    I still can have nightmares of that awful looking fish full tee that the twit's wife had on a morning show.

    January 22, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  5. mowey

    This family is classier than the Kennedys ever were. I love watching them.

    January 22, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  6. dakotahgeo

    Who couldn't be prouder of our First Family? President Obama cares about all people, not just his own. If any person can turn this country into a more progressive, economically sound, nation, it would be President Barak Obama and his Administration. Again, I see great expectations and winning goals in our future.

    January 22, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  7. BobVila

    So this is what we are spending the tax payers money on. Glad they aren't worried about the debt.

    January 22, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  8. critical thinking

    btw, Sally Fields called, she wants her hair style back.

    January 22, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  9. a little sad

    critical thinking

    btw, Sally Fields called, she wants her hair style back.


    Actually, I like it, but it did remind me of the scene in Steel MAgnolias where the kids tell Fields that her hairstyle is a brown football helmit.

    January 22, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  10. Kathleen

    Pretty dress. Just not appropriate for the "First Lady." Less skin would have been acceptable. Never in the past did we have First Ladies that were not classy until now. She is "supposed" to represent our country as modest and respectful.

    January 22, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  11. Expat American

    I don't recall as much emphasis being placed on the First Lady's wardrobe in the past. Perhaps I am mistaken. Nevertheless, First Lady Michelle Obama looked great.

    January 22, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  12. lindaluttrell

    Love the bangs & red dress! Lovely First Lady!

    January 22, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  13. Woman In California

    Great article CNN.

    The First Family was beautiful.
    Since the First Lady is tall, she always gets extra attention and since I love fashion, here's what I thought:

    The First Lady was stunning in the coat and boots but I was highly disappointed when I saw her in that cardigan.
    The First Daughters were stunning. Perfect.
    The color of the gown was beautiful but the dress didn't give her the opportunity to showcase her lovely figure.

    Bottom line: Nancy Pelosi gets the prize again as the best dressed woman in Washington. She's always perfectly dressed.

    January 22, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  14. Woman In California

    I forgot to mention the new hair style.

    Since I wear my hair exactly like that, (except I keep mine short in the back), I love it. It looks great on her.

    January 22, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  15. Linda K.A.

    I think she looked like a Romulan at the swearing-in ceremony. And why red at the inaugural ball? Shd have been blue

    January 22, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  16. Woman In California

    @ Expat American

    There is always buzz on what the First Lady wears. We women can't wait to see fashion on any woman so we can either like it or hate it.

    As far as the Sally Field comment. As I stated earlier, I started wearing my hear like the First Lady over six months ago, and the compliments still continue. Men LOVE it and so do the women.

    January 22, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  17. trueamerican

    I remember a few months back the liberal media slammed Mrs. Romney for wearing an expensive dress that was actually less expensive than Mrs. Obama's. |Nope you won't see them slamming a liberal for outlandish personal expenses. Just more proof of the bias and hatred for conservatives.

    January 22, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  18. Tonie

    I certainly wish the WHite House, CNN, and the Dems would pay as much attention to our economy and sad state of affairs rather than what Michelle Obama is wearing. Oh, and how much did all this crap cost us? They owe, they owe, so off to work I go.....maybe Michelle would earn my respect if she got a real job.

    January 22, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  19. PJ

    Good grief, woman, how old are you? Mrs. Obama represents America better than most. She is caring, kind, a
    great wife, great mother, and looks great.
    Your critique of her dress is embarrasingly ridiculous, or are you jealous?

    January 22, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  20. Ronnie Jackson

    trueameican no one cares what the first lady wears.

    January 22, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  21. Fiona

    The dress is beautiful, but maybe a bit too "look at me" for the event? After all, the night is about her husband, not her. But at least she didn't kill it with odd accessories, as she did her parade outfits in both this and the one for the previous term.

    A word about the new hair and makeup, though...not the best move. She does look more youthful, but the straightened hair combed down into her face closes her off. She loses that open, bright look that is her real beauty. The heavier makeup also darkens her face and makes her looks slightly sad and unsure of herself. The whole effect looks desperaye for a woman over 50.

    January 22, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  22. Hillary2016

    Oh, Mary, you just don't get it. No, gerrymandering elected the House. You do realize that more Americans voted for Democratic representatives than Republicans. I am not necessarily complaining because that is how the system works. However, to imply that a majority of Americans wanted a conservative House is just plain wrong.

    And now, the Republicans are trying to change the electoral rules so that each district counts as one electoral vote. Pretty sleezy.Change the rules until you win, I guess that is the American way!

    January 22, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  23. Lynndel

    Do not know much about fashion but put a sack on a lady I would call it beautiful.

    January 22, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  24. Fupped Duck

    The coats look great.
    Remember the old saying:
    " Many are cold, but few are frozen".

    January 22, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  25. Wake up People!

    @Debbyk. While I'm sure you found your comment amusing it speaks volumes about you. First of all the First Lady has a wonderful figure. Can you say that about any of the last three? Second of all she does NOT wear a wig or a weave. That is her hair and the same goes for Sasha and Malia. People make me sick speaking on things which they possess no knowledge of.

    January 22, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
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