— As the hours ticked down to the historic inauguration of Barack Obama, it was the question on everyone’s lips: Who would Michelle Obama wear?
Part of the answer was finally revealed Tuesday morning when the incoming first lady stepped out of Blair House in a dazzling gold sheath and matching coat by Isabel Toledo. Her bright color was all the more dramatic next to the simple red tie and white shirt her husband wore with his suit to his moment in history. Still to be revealed, however, was the larger question of which designer Obama would wear to the inaugural ball Tuesday night.
It was not the first time Michelle Obama opted for the 47-year-old Toledo, an avant-garde designer born in Cuba and little known outside the rarefied world of fashion. Last June, Obama appeared at a Calvin Klein fundraiser in Manhattan in a black tunic and palazzo pants Toledo had designed. Obama bought the outfit at Ikram, a Chicago outlet for Toledo's clothing line.
The former creative director of Anne Klein, Toledo is known as a “designer’s designer.” She works out of a Manhattan loft at Broadway and 28th Street. When Obama was seen wearing her tunic and pants last summer, a flattered Toledo commented that Obama was “a visual message that read, ‘I'm in control,’ ” the New York Daily News reported then.
Obama’s choices generated suspense right up to inauguration eve. “It is going to shock women across the country,” NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Monday morning. “I am told by a very good source that Michelle Obama has not yet chosen what to wear for either the inauguration tomorrow or the inaugural balls.”
Guthrie explained that Obama was not keeping the nation holding its breath on purpose. “The simple fact, as it was explained to me, is this is a woman who has moved her family three times in the last few weeks. She’s got a 7- and a 10-year-old,” Guthrie pointed out.
“Clearly, she has an array of choices, but apparently it’s going to be a game-time decision and Michelle Obama tomorrow — not even today, but tomorrow — will be in a position that so many women have been in, looking in their closets the day of a big event and thinking, ‘All right, which one should I wear?’ ” Guthrie added.
Obama’s long-awaited decision is sure to be the subject of debate and even sniping. It’s not a recent phenomenon.
Footsteps of first ladies
According the The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, historians say that 148 years ago, Washington society tut-tutted over the extravagantly showy off-the-shoulder dress Mary Todd Lincoln wore to Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural ball.
The subject is important enough for the Smithsonian to have a collection of the gowns worn by first ladies going back to the white silk-chiffon gown Helen Taft wore for William Howard Taft’s inauguration in 1909.
Whatever Michelle Obama chooses to wear, it will be discussed and dissected by fashion critics, who still swoon over the sleeveless ivory sheath that Jackie Kennedy designed herself for her husband’s 1961 inauguration.
Current first lady Laura Bush wore a crystal-embroidered red gown to her husband’s first inaugural ball. Nancy Reagan wore a $10,000 gown that designer James Galanos loaned her for the occasion.
And Rosalynn Carter, thinking she was being practical, got bludgeoned by the fashionistas for wearing the same blue chiffon gown to husband Jimmy’s inaugural ball that she had worn six years earlier when he was sworn in as governor of Georgia.
As for Michelle Obama, her key fashion decision — what she would wear to her husband’s inaugural ball — was still generating suspense even as Barack Obama prepared to take the oath of office.