Michelle Obama's Inaugural Gown - Setting the Tone

Filed under: Celeb Parents, Fashion

Susan Wagner Mom|Style

As preparations for President-Elect Barack Obama's inauguration swing into full force, we're all wondering one really important thing -- no, no, I don't mean which campaign promises the President will tackle first. I mean what will Mrs. Obama wear to the swearing in and -- more importantly -- to Tuesday night's round of inaugural balls?

You know you're curious.

Barack and Michelle ObamaMrs. Obama has made a name for herself as a fashion icon, despite not employing a personal stylist; she chooses her own outfits, telling Jay Leno that she bought her J. Crew outfit herself at the company's web site. "You can get some good stuff online," she told Leno. The simple sun dress from White House|Black Market that she wore to host The View sold out immediately; the store has brought the dress back into their stock for spring of 2009, because customer demand was so high.

Why do women love Mrs. Obama's clothes? Her look is accessible, for one thing; she shops at stores that you probably see in your local mall, rather than at high-end designer boutiques that don't exist in normal American cities. When she does wear designer, she chooses lines that are reaching out to average consumers. On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, Mrs. Obama wore a Thakoon cocktail dress (pictured at right). The designer has since partnered with Target for a line of clothing that is available in stores now. The next time you're shopping for groceries, you can pick up a blouse in a pattern very similar to the new First Lady's dress.

We're expecting a lot from Mrs. Obama's inaugural dress. After all, the First Lady's ball gown often sets the tone for her husband's presidency.Don't believe me? Take a quick look back at some recent First Lady's ball gowns. Nancy Reagan glided in to the White House -- and the Yuppie '80s -- in an asymmetrical white John Galanos gown, kicking off eight years of White House glamor. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, brought some Arkansas glitz to Washington in a purple gown by Little Rock designer Sarah Phillips. Of course, by the time her husband was reelected in 1994, she had traded up to an Oscar de la Renta gown. Laura Bush welcomed the Republicans back into the White House in a red dress by local designer Michael Faircloth; like Mrs. Clinton, though, she turned to Oscar de la Renta for her huband's second inauguration.

The last First Lady to move into the White House during an economic crisis was Roslynn Carter, who wore the same gown she had worn when her husband was sworn in as the governor of Georgia. Again, her repurposed gown set the tone for the Carter administration, which was one of pared-down economizing.

Michelle Obama Narcisso RodriguezWhat will Michelle Obama's gown say about her husband's presidency? Her gown will hardly be something the rest of us can buy off the rack -- more likely, it will be a designer piece, either by a big name like Narciso Rodriguez (who designed the controversial black and red dress she wore on election night) or by an up-and-coming designer like Maria Pinto, who is a personal friend and favorite of Mrs. Obama. Her gown will, mostly likely, be sleek and simple, rather than over-the-top; these are tough economic times, and a big, elaborate gown will not fit the mood of the nation.

At the same time, though, the nation's hopes are high for the Obama presidency, so Mrs. Obama's dress needs to make a confident statement -- yes, we can! The dress has to be more than just another ball gown; it has to be a conversation starter, like the Narciso Rodriguez, and like her husband himself.

Mrs. Obama is also the first mom of young children to live in the White House in decades, and moms everywhere are watching to see how she handles this experience. And to see what she wears. We all dream about getting dressed up and going to the ball -- Nancy Reagan said that she felt "like Cinderella" in her inaugural gown -- and we will be living vicariously through Mrs. Obama. We know her dress will be stunning, and that it will be something we can all imagine wearing.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.