Mixologists are creating new cocktails at the swankiest nightspots.
Hotel managers are preparing to welcome guests from all over the
world. Event planners are shoring up last arrangements for private
soirees. Politicians are dispensing coveted ball tickets. Floats are
being readied for the parade.

Washington is in full inauguration mode. The air is heavy with
anticipation. How many visitors will converge on the National Mall?
What will President Obama say in his inaugural speech? And more
importantly, what will First Lady Michelle Obama wear?

Jan. 21 will absolutely be about Barack Obama. That the nation’s
first Black president is returning to the Capitol for his second
swearing in has special significance to the nation and the world. The
event will go down in history for its importance.

So will the first lady’s Inauguration Day outfits.

While Obama will create buzz with what is likely to be an eloquent and
inspiring message to lead the nation forward, Michelle Obama will
cause as great a stir with her choice of couture. The image of the
first lady smiling and waving as she strolled the parade route with
the president in 2009 in the elegant light green dress suit remains engrained
in our minds. The president’s words, for most, are a vague—if not
forgotten—memory, spectacular as they were at the time.

Four years later, the first lady is our nation’s most famous fashion
icon. She’s the darling of Fifth Avenue, sought for the cover of
fashion magazines. Her appearance on a television program in a frock
from White House Black Market led to a run on the stores. The mention
that she favors J. Crew led women to converge on the retailer’s
website in record numbers.

Designers clamor to get her into their clothes, knowing that one
opportunity to dress Michelle Obama could mean the difference between
tremendous success and continuing struggle.

“She has elevated the American fashion industry into the spotlight in
a way that no other first lady has, including Jackie Kennedy,” said
Pulitzer-prize winning fashion writer Robin Givhan. “She has raised
the profile of so many fashion designers in the industry…”

Besides looking fabulous, Michelle Obama has helped to forge an
evolution of the fashion industry, experts said. In 2009, she selected
two contemporary American-based designers for her inauguration
choices. The lemongrass-yellow dress suit by Cuban-born designer
Isabel Toledo, accessorized with sage-colored gloves and low-heeled
patent pumps, launched Toledo to another level in her career. Her
impact on the career of Taiwan native Jason Wu, then 26, whose
one-shoulder white chiffon gown she wore in the evening, was even more
profound. She helped to skyrocket him from near obscurity to
astounding popularity.

Michelle Obama’s choices for the first inauguration, Givhan said,
showcased the “American dream”—that small businesses operated by
tenacious entrepreneurs can be successful. Toledo and Wu’s companies are
the epitome of the “small business model politicians are quick to
lavish praise on,” she told the AFRO.

Givhan, like the rest of the world, is anxiously waiting to find out
what the first lady will wear for Inauguration Day 2013. She guessed
that Michelle Obama may select another up-and-coming designer, like
Wu, or another American-based one, perhaps Michael Kors.

Local fashion watchers are eager to see what she’ll select as well.
“I went out and purchased several pieces similar to ones I saw the
first lady wear after the last inauguration,” said Carlee Hudson, 36,
of Bethesda. “She has tremendous style. She made it okay for us to
pair a $250 pair of slacks with a $40 T-shirt, then top that with a
$25 cardigan from Target. With money being so tight in recent years,
that was a great help to women who want to look stylish.”

A Baltimore Michelle Obama fan said she launched a fashion and fitness
revolution at the same time. “She’s got women wearing dresses without
sleeves in the wintertime! You never saw this many women in sleeveless
dresses and tops in the cold weather before. We couldn’t wait for the
temperature to drop so we could hide our arms, which we hated. Now,
we’re all working out and going sleeveless.”

{W} magazine suggested that Michelle Obama, for daytime festivities,
might choose something like an animal-print coat and skirt suit by
Marc Jacobs or create a “Jackie O moment” by donning a matching
bubblegum pink dress and short-sleeved jacket by Michael Kors.
{Essence} offered several designers an opportunity to showcase their
ideas. Tsemaye Bintie drew a beautiful beaded strapless snug-fitting
evening gown with a “sandwashed silk” train and “chiffon frill”
overlays from the waist to the hemline in the front. Project Runway
season 9 designer Kimberly Goldson created a lace body-caressing
“I think the romance of lace is so befitting for this moment,” Goldson
told the magazine. “The strapless accentuates her toned arms,
and the peplum into the fit-and-flare skirt just skims her gorgeous

Whatever she chooses will make headlines, just like the president’s speech.


Krishana Davis and Jacqueline James

Special to the AFRO