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. Ughhh

    Only in the USA can the most important news topic in the whole country be the "Dress Type" that the President's wife wore to the inaugural ball.

    Way to go CNN. Maybe this could go on a Fashion Page? – or something?


    January 22, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  2. Ughhh

    One other thing – I wonder how much that gown cost? Hell... how much the whole ball cost? I'd be willing to be $50 Million? – maybe $100 Million? I wonder how many teachers we could have employed with that?


    Our country is so whacked. We value Kim Kardashian and cellphones and material things...... so sad.

    January 22, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  3. zandhcats

    Nice dress, but Mrs Obama has a short torso, she should avoid any dress with waist line,a simple straight long grown will be great on her.

    January 22, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  4. whatistime

    The President and his family are so classy! As far as where our tax-payers money goes to (for the conservatrolls that are so miserable that they have lost forever) well what about your Mayor, or your social workers? Where do you think they get their clothing? The President makes less than members of Congress...and we all know that this republican congress is not worth paying anything to at all!

    January 22, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  5. jeanni

    FLOTUS is NOT 50 yet! She looked Amazing yesterday. Us 49ers' are the new 30's. Way to go MO!!!

    January 22, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  6. Bessy

    @ PJ
    I couldn't agree with you more. I thought the 1st lady looked beautiful and she certainly has the arms and shoulders to wear sleeveless attire. A beautiful woman and a beautiful family. They truely represent a well grounded American family.

    January 22, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  7. zandhcats

    Expat American
    I don't recall as much emphasis being placed on the First Lady's wardrobe in the past. Perhaps I am mistaken.

    Every First Lady's wardrobes have been the headline of the media. We need something else other than politics all the time.

    January 22, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  8. Sandy

    The dress was nice, but just nice. I was expecting something drop dead gorgious. This was not it, but it was still nice. It's probably not a nice as it looks on the First Lady. She can make anything look good.

    Love my First Lady!

    January 22, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  9. JMG

    Sorry, but I think that the dress style made her look "wide".
    A different style would have been more flattering.

    January 22, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  10. eeyore

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

    January 22, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  11. Voted 2012

    I didn't like the cardigan was shocked when she took her coat off, the dress could have been mid calf, boots were appropriate for the weather, all else was fine.

    January 22, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  12. Ughhh

    Though I have to point out that my comments indicate my hypocrisy...obviously I read CNN and obviously I own a computer so without material things, I wouldn't be doing much, would I?

    January 22, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  13. CBP

    The First Lady looked fabulous and I hardly think she looked wide. Is it really necessary to criticize every little detail.

    Mr. Jones might not have liked her dress but then I noted that Mr. Jones did not look so great on national television. The difference is we do not say such things on national television.

    January 22, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  14. Lardeau

    This is all well and good for the Joe Sixpacks of America. A little bit of pomp and elegance but actions ' cut ' it - not all that other stuff. Obama is not the guy who will turn America around. It's too far in debt to recover. The whole System has to be overhauled and brought into the World of 2013. If you think not - just watch that old debt clock spin. We are being consumed right before our very eyes.

    January 22, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  15. Michelle

    Beautiful First Lady...beautiful family...amazing country that we live in. Looking forward to the next 4 years.

    January 22, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  16. Joi Gibson

    She was smokin hot!!!!!!

    January 22, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  17. RinkRat

    The red dress was not very flattering, but it was better than that horrid white thing she wore four years ago. That was awful. I liked this year's swearing in outfit much better.

    January 22, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  18. Anne Magnolia

    All of you who criticize her looks, figure, etc. I suspect have been Miss or Mr. America. Did I miss it?

    January 22, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  19. MaryM

    To all that say "Taiwanese-born CANADIAN designer Jason Wu .. "
    Jason Wu's company is in New York. It is an American Company. Look it up

    January 22, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  20. Terri

    A first lady who admits to wearing Target and can still make it look classy is a tribute to everyone. And Ughh, a lot of the inauguration was paid for with donations. What Michelle is doing is promoting small US businesses and artists. Or would you rather she follow Nancy Regan's example and spend tens of thousands on big name designers who are a symbol of wealth and power.

    January 22, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  21. Expat American

    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.
    I realize that indeed you are correct. I think there may be even more buzz around First Lady Michelle Obama's wardrobe selections because she has more options available to her – that because she is in such good shape and she is also tall. That could be it perhaps.

    January 22, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  22. Shante'smom

    Classy Lady, Classy Clothes, everything she does is thoughtful, smart and does her husband, children and Americans proud. Enough said!

    January 22, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  23. David

    Ever watched the "Burnt in the Sun"? This ball reminded me of that scene where they dance on the pier with Stalin pictures in thebackground. lol

    January 22, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  24. myjive

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE Mrs. O!!! But, I'm not loving the new bangs tho...and I thought the dress underneath her amazing gray inauguration jacket was just OK. I thought the cardigan made it look less formal and attractive. I like her old hair style much better. Why hide her face with bangs?! Her red ball gown was beautiful and looked amazing on her, but from the back when Mrs. O moved, the material created some weird shapes and bumps in places it shouldn't. Bottom line, she's an amazing human, woman and my second favorite First Lady, (after Eleanor Roosevelt 🙂 She really can do no wrong...well, except for those bangs...yikes. :-/

    January 22, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  25. Malory Archer


    .....maybe Michelle would earn my respect if she got a real job.


    You mean like the high-paying Hospital Administrator job she had prior to her husband being elected to the highest office in the land? Her being in the workforce would require even more security, costing taxpayers even more $$$. But that would just give you something else to whine about. In your little hate-filled world the Obamas are danged if they do, danged if they don't.

    January 22, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
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