Michelle Obama’s inauguration wardrobe reviewed


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Just as President Barack Obama turned the page on American history Tuesday in Washington, First Lady Michelle Obama is turning the page on American design. The lemon-grass wool lace ensemble she chose for the swearing-in ceremony wasn’t designed by one of the aging custodians of the 7th Avenue Establishment Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan or Calvin Klein. It was by Isabel Toledo, a Cuban American whom nobody knows but everyone should.

By wearing clothes by up-and-coming designers such as Narciso Rodriguez, Thakoon Panichgul, Maria Pinto, Maria Cornejo and Toledo, Obama is helping to promote a new generation of talent, and write the next chapter in American fashion.


Toledo, who sells at Barneys New York, has been designing under her own name for 20 years in New York, and was briefly the creative director for Anne Klein. (Bet they wish they’d hung onto her now!) She is married to fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo. “She’s never been about making clothes to make herself famous,” says Rosemary Brantley, founding chairwoman of the Fashion Department at L.A.’s Otis School of Art and Design, where Toledo has been teaching since the 1990s. “She’s about flattering the figure and she’s curvaceous herself. Everything she does is thoughtful. She would never bang out a dress with a normal side seam. One of her things is rethinking construction.”

With its retro “Mad Men” silhouette and trendy yellow hue, the dress and coat proved that Obama can strike a balance between being conservative and taking risks. She looks better wearing one color, rather than breaking up her tall frame as she did on election night with the black-and-red Rodriguez dress.

Some might think that the inauguration ensemble was a tad dressy with its beaded collar. But Obama likes to dress up, and she’s determined to play her part in promoting fashion as fantasy. She may also have raised a few eyebrows with the borrowed $17,000 Loree Rodkin diamond chandelier drop earrings she wore to the “We Are One” concert over the weekend. After all, Nancy Reagan was skewered for borrowing clothes from Bill Blass, James Galanos and others. But that was before the red carpet became the runway, and lending became a key form of advertising for designers.

Besides, Obama knows how to do the high-low thing, too. She wore J. Crew for the Kid’s Inaugural Ball on Monday night. And just hours after the inauguration, the e-mails were already flooding in from Dress Barn, Bluefly and other retailers about how to get the look for less.

Because fashion is a business and Michelle Obama means business.

-- Booth Moore


Photos: First ladies’ inauguration gowns


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Photo: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama escort former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, to a helicopter at the U.S. Capitol after Obama’s inauguration. Credit: Tannen Maury / Bloomberg News