Michelle Obama's subdued dress speaks volumes

United States First Lady Michelle Obama's choice of a dress from Christian Siriano, a designer who built his career on being inclusive, may not have been a coincidence on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
United States First Lady Michelle Obama's choice of a dress from Christian Siriano, a designer who built his career on being inclusive, may not have been a coincidence on the first night of the Democratic National Convention. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

NEW YORK • The first night of the Democratic National Convention on Monday was, rightly, not about the clothes: It was about trying to unify the party, rise above the opponent and so on. Which is not to say it lacked a fashion statement or two.

Not that you would have known it at first. Like Mrs Michelle Obama's speech, in which the First Lady castigated Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump without ever saying his name, her dress spoke volumes while appearing, at first glance, to be entirely subdued.

Cobalt blue silk crepe, with cap sleeves, a flared skirt and a neat waist, it was by designer Christian Siriano and it pretty much matched the backdrop, playing down her appearance and playing to the patriotic theme.

But the simplicity and colour were just the beginning. See, Siriano is a former reality television star - the only designer to really have emerged from the show Project Runway (he won the fourth season of the competition) and carved out a place on the New York Fashion Week scene.

But unlike another reality TV star, Siriano has built his career on being inclusive - catering to women regardless of size or age.

Most recently, he was, for example, the designer who stepped forward (via Instagram) when Leslie Jones, the 48-year-old 1.8m-tall star of the movie remake Ghostbusters, complained that no designer wanted to dress her. He made a custom off-the-shoulder red gown for her premiere that became something of an Internet moment. He also has a collaboration with the plus-size store Lane Bryant, for which he held a runway show at the United Nations this year, and has dressed other celebrities including Kate Hudson and Zendaya.

"I just don't think that anyone should be excluded from having a beautiful dress," he said to me, when we were talking about the Jones brouhaha and why he had volunteered to play fairy godfather.

Lest you think Mrs Obama's wardrobe choice was just happenstance, however, know that the convention appearance was only the second time she has worn Siriano; the first time was this month, at the funeral for the police officers killed in Dallas.

Throughout her time in the White House, she has made something of a secondary cause out of supporting new, independent American designers and choosing her clothes not only because she likes them, but also because their backstory has a certain resonance that goes beyond the aesthetic. Monday night was no different. Fashion is not known for its embrace of togetherness (more for its exclusion). But Siriano is.

Think that is just a coincidence?

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2016, with the headline 'Michelle Obama's subdued dress speaks volumes'. Print Edition | Subscribe