Michelle Obama's Ball Gown

Alright, I haven’t indulged my inner fashionista in a long time, but I must comment about Michelle Obama’s Inaugural styles.

First off, Mrs. Obama looked fantastic in this Narciso Rodriguez creation for the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial. She looked comfortable, the black-and-tan was dynamite on her and she looked warm; by far my favorite of her outfits. Everything about it – FABULOUS!

Unfortunately, she did not look anywhere near as comfortable, or as warm, at the inauguration, but I liked the lemongrass-gold color on her. She looked a little bulky in all that fabric, though, and no one wants to look like a lemongrass linebacker – I wondered if she was wearing silk “warmies” underneath against the cold.

Come to think of it, Mrs. Bush looked cold, as well, and why in heaven’s name did her light coat not button up?

I read comments good and bad about Mrs. Obama’s sheath/ matching coat ensemble and I came down squarely in the middle. I did not think it was the “glorious statement” the out-of-their-heads over-all things-Obama folks did, but I also did not think it looked she’d “pulled the drapes off the wall like Scarlett O’ Hara” as I read somewhere. I thought it was an interesting fabric – and interesting fabrics are good – but the outfit was not particularly well served by that jewelry-thing she was wearing as a brooch, or whatever, at the neckline. The bling was just distracting.

But the Inaugural gown, by 26-year old Jason Wu – the gown that will go into the First Ladies Collection at the Smithsonian Institute – well…

It was just too young on her.

The press is so committed to writing only good things about the Obama’s that they won’t honestly critique Mrs. Obama’s clothing – they’ll say she is “creative” or “has a sense of humor” or something along those lines (and that is our first taste of what lengths the press will go to, to “protect” the Obamas, in whom they have invested all of their credibility, but that’s for another post). In fact, here is an example from – where else, the NY Times:

Here is a bolder woman, a serious woman from Chicago and Harvard who is not afraid to express herself with fashion, and it is the kind of confidence that many women will recognize in themselves. Her clothes tell us that she has an adventurous spirit, as well as a sense of humor, and if some of these garments have almost an old-fashioned womanly quality, then they tell us that she is indeed not your average fashionista.

Every First lady since Mrs. Clinton has had an advanced degree (if those things are the measure of a person, for you) but if you can get past the gushing over her “Ivy League” connection, you can read that blurb as a well-spun, “she hasn’t much direction, sometimes looks a little absurd and can get matronly.” They wouldn’t have put it so nicely for Mrs. Bush, or Mrs. McCain, but they’re writing about Mrs. Obama, and they’ve already anointed her the “new fashion icon” so it all gets a “fresh and exciting” spin, and nothing negative is permitted.

Well, I’m not a member of the press, and I have no vested interest in promoting all-things Obama, so let me say it for them:

There was nothing wrong with the Jason Wu ball gown – it is, in fact, a very lovely piece. It was simply all wrong for Mrs. Obama, and for the occasion. It was much too young; it begged to be worn by a woman in her late teens to mid-20′s. Also, the gown was simply wrong for the occasion; it was romantic – and there’s nothing wrong with romantic – but when you’re stepping out formally and publicly as the First Lady of the most powerful man in the world, the gown needs to feminine but stable and slightly authoritative; a little bitchy, if you will. With Mrs. Obama’s commanding height, she could have pulled off something remarkable. Instead…she looked a little “little girl lost.” Kind of a wasted opportunity. I think others may feel the same way.

Here’s how I would have dressed her:

For the Inauguration; I loved the green gloves and I loved the color of her outfit. I would have lost the bling, put some faux-sable fur at the wrists and collar of the coat, and given the dress itself a little bit of a v-shaped neckline – not plunging – ladylike, but playful. Emerald jewelry at the neck, if she wanted it.

For the Balls: I would have put her in antique gold lace – it would have set her skintone off beautifully and “worked” under the lights. I would have insisted that she go for a daring neckline that was at once sexy and commanding – think this neckline, which Elizabeth Taylor pulled off so beautifully in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

I would have the gold lace falling in soft pleats from those athletic shoulders, but with an empire waist, which flatters Mrs. Obama – the skirt full but straight. Mrs. Obama would have been magnificent and regal, completely commanding and assured, and people would have been gasping.

Oh, deep down, I would have loved to have been on Project Runway. But I’m sure I’d end up more detested than Wendy

Slightly off topic; I loved – LOVED – Aretha Franklin’s hat. Loved.

The WaPo’s Robin Givhan is predictably breathless – everything Mrs. Obama wears is perfect – but her commenters seem to be a bit more thoughtful, honest and constructive in their critique. If I were Mrs. Obama – a mom with young children – I’d rather hear constructive criticism (and stick to what I know “works”) than hear the constant and unhelpful sighs of “isn’t everything she does just great,” which can really end up hurting more than helping a person. But I think the press has utterly lost their capacity to be honest about anything, anymore. They’ve reduced themselves to being well-connected, sometimes well-educated fan mag editors. I don’t see any indication that they’re at all concerned about that, either.

Fun Factoid: The Obama inauguration set the record for private jet usage. Did Al Gore use one?

Also: One can make a case that both Roberts and Obama, himself screwed up the oath of office, and the argument can be well-made that the whole mess was precipitated by Obama jumping the gun on Roberts. They both lost their rhythm. It happens.

Last One:
Yesterday Ann Althouse wrote of Elizabeth Alexander, “someone is committing poetry.” I myself had remarked, “I can think of a dozen rappers who would have done a better job than she.” Today, Ms. Althouse expands her remarks on Alexander, and brings Limbaugh into it. Delish! Have I mentioned that Althouse and her comments together are the irresistible one-two punch of the blogosphere? I’m sure I have!

Neo also didn’t much like the gown and Fausta weighs in with a nay and a nice suggestion.

WELCOME: Ann Althouse readers! While you’re here, please look around. If you can’t get enough Inauguration links, there’s a big link here and today we’re also wondering if Obama = Bush 3 and we’re discussing what has become the first act of every American president since Clinton: the downright Mosesian choice between life and death; that post contains the harshest criticism I’ve yet read of Obama, and it’s from across the pond. Later today: Valentine’s Day gift ideas, so check back!

Related: Beautiful and well-played, Mrs. O

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://sisu.typepad.com Sissy Willis

    Fun fashion review, and you’re spot on about the fawning press’s “new fashion icon.” The shorter version, from my sis:

    “HATED Michelle’s Ball Gown. She didn’t wear the dress, the dress wore her. Looked like one of those Barbie dolls that they pipe frosting around to make a skirt to make it look like a lovely centerpiece.”

  • Pat_Patterson

    A friend of mine, who actually was a debutante in Atlanta back in the days when it was still all white, commented that the First Lady’s gown looked like a grown up version of the cotillion dresses they wore during one of the many events she was obligated to attend. She claimed that the only thing missing was the hat, the parasol and the little servant boy holding up the train of the gown.

    I said off-handedly that I would have like to have seen her as a teenager in one of those antebellum dresses. Using her old Southern drawl, she informed me that, “Sugah, you would have been quite unsuitable to be my escort.” Then she laughed. Nasty!

  • http://optimistmom.blogspot.com/ Ruth Anne

    I didn’t hate the dress, and I agree it was a little prommy, but the thing I disliked was how poorly she moved in it. The train was troublesome for her on stairs and while dancing. She has a gangly gait.

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  • mmarteen

    She doesn’t dress for her body shape. That’s her biggest problem. She looks like she sees the clothes on a rack, admires the fabric or the design and then picks them. Her election night dress, apart from being bold and colorful looked like a sack on her, cut wise. The day before ensemble was good, I’ll agree. The lemmongrass dress with the pretty lace fabric gave her no waistline at all and at the luncheon showed it had a yellow matching cardigan. Hello, Grandma! I would have gone for a purer yellow too, she can pull off the bright colors. And the prom dress, don’t get me started. It managed to take her feminine shape and make her look a linebacker in drag by accentuating her broad shoulders, making her bust disappear and making her hips look 3 feet wide. Hillary Clinton made the same mistake in trying to be fashion plate rather than asking what looks good on ME. And Michelle has a lot more to work with than Hillary did. Hopefully she’ll get it right eventually.

  • http://AmusedCynic.com driver

    I’m still laughing over “lemongrass linebacker.” Very funny post, and you have a very good eye about the outfits.

  • Sensible Mom

    I don’t like the single strap look on formal dresses. It makes the ensemble look unbalanced. Plus, the dress made her look like a country bride especially with that train.

    She’s got great arms, but there are better styles, like you said, that would have suited her figure better.

    I liked the bling around the neck of her inauguration dress. It gave it a little pizzaz. The scarf under the coat was odd and made the effect chunky instead of svelte.

    And the unmatching gloves, scarf and shoes — all green but different shades — was bizarre. If Sarah Palin dressed like that the fashionistas would have ripped her to shreds for not color coordinating it properly. Instead Salon “loved” it saying, “… favorite touches are her yellowish leaf-green gloves (from J. Crew, apparently) and ocean-hued blue-green pumps. I love the intensity of the colors, and the way they artfully clash. Down with matchy-matchiness. Long live Michelle!”

    Only a democrat would be complimented for artfully clashing her clothes. The rest of us would be dumb country bumpkins for not knowing how to artfully blend them instead.

    It’s going to be a long 4 years.

  • Maggie45

    The dress is really very nice, but not for Michelle Obama. Her posture is not good enough to carry a one strap dress.

  • newton

    She’s a lawyer. She should sue the designer of that ball gown!

    I used to dress my old Barbies with dresses similar to that! Ugh!

  • http://www.therextras.com Barbara

    On my new HD much-bigger-than-we-had-before tv, her inaugural dress appeared gold, and I thought better suited to her shape than anything I had seen her in previously. I admired it, but my teen thought the yellow was unappealing.

    ditto mmarteen

    I thought Laura Bush looked lovely, and neither of them looked cold, to me.

    The photo here is the first time I’ve seen the ballgown. She does not need a dress to make her …. disappear. She needs dress to look like she has a …..

  • http://www.marchhareshouse.blogspot.com March Hare

    Isn’t Robin Givhans the author who trashed Mrs. Alito for her taste in clothes and for the way she dressed her children for Judge Alito’s swearing-in? Why should I pay any attention to what she has to say?

    OTOH, wouldn’t it be fun to have the designers on Project Runway dress Mrs. Obama as a project? Wouldn’t Christian make her look “fierce”? (Although I think Rami would do a better job with Mrs. Obama’s body type.)

  • http://www.justgrits.wordpress.com Obis_Sister

    The gown reminded me of my grandmother’s bedspreads. It didn’t flatter her or suit the occasion. She’s got a long way to go.

  • jaed

    The lemongrass dress just doesn’t seem right for the weather – more like something you’d wear to a luncheon in springtime. I read somewhere or other that the designer had sewn in linings for her so she wouldn’t freeze, which is practical but will bulk up any dress.

    Perhaps she should have taken a page from the Obama daughters – they both wore wool topcoat-sort-of-coats and scarves in interesting color combinations, and I thought they both looked very cute (and warm). A shaped wool coat in a striking color with Condi-boots, perhaps.

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