A presidential tradition began at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on Jan. 14. First lady Michelle Obama’s second inaugural gown is displayed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the “First Ladies” exhibition at the Smithsonian.
Custom-made by the renowned designer Jason Wu, the ruby-red halter gown shimmered onto the stage as President Barack Obama celebrated his second inauguration in January 2013. Michelle Obama’s first inaugural dress, also by Jason Wu, showed her attention to her clothing and the fashion world. Her wardrobe choices have kept her on top of the fashion radar.
Her distinguished, classic taste has rubbed off on some of her admirers. Some of Michelle Obama’s outfits from J. Crew have sold out almost instantly online. I tried to order a striped cardigan from J. Crew because I saw the first lady wear it during a press event. Unfortunately, it was sold out. It seems that the first lady has more influence in the world around her it might seem.
Throughout history, the influence and iconic image of the first lady have painted presidential history. For example, the name Jackie Kennedy evokes the image of class, elegance and a Chanel suit. According to the National First Ladies Library, Kennedy’s popularity grew to such an extreme that she created a new role of official in-house photographer because the paparazzi had become obsessed with her signature 1960s style.
Her style became an international treasure. She became a more involved and active member of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Her appeal and acceptance of the media led to a cult following of Jackie. Her image transformed from a wife to one of the faces on the cover of a magazine. She was a constant presence in the media. Jackie’s most prominent television appearance was “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy.” According to the National First Ladies Library, she was the first lady to have her own press secretary.
She set the trend, and manufacturers mass produced items from her wardrobe. I remember my grandmother telling me that, when she lived in Queens, she searched high and low looking for a purse just like Jackie Kennedy’s. She set the tone for first ladies, showing that women could and should have an active role in the presidency.
Powerful women throughout presidential history have proven that fashion matters. How American citizens view a president or first lady can be determined strictly by the suit or gown they wear. Sometimes in order to get someone to listen, you need to grab their attention. And oftentimes, achieving that through fashion is the best method.
I am personally ecstatic that the Smithsonian has finally recognized how a gown can truly change the world. To some, an inaugural gown is just a piece of fabric, but to others it can be a defining moment in history. All you need is for the right woman to wear the gown.
Follow Jacklyn Maza on Twitter: @jbizzmazzz