First lady Michelle Obama takes the stage during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong—Getty Images

From ball gowns to sneakers

By Cady Lang
January 19, 2017

During her time as the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama‘s wardrobe has been more than just a series of pretty dresses, functioning instead as a way to relate to everyone from fellow nations to the American public. Sleeveless sheaths, classic cardigans, and stunning gowns made her a fashion favorite. But she also chose young, up-and-coming American designers of color like Tracy Reese as well as designers from relevant countries for events. Early on, she emerged as a the rare First Lady to routinely wear affordable off-the-rack choices from everyday retailers like J. Crew and Asos with pride.

What the First Lady wears really does matter, so with that in mind, see 35 of the most influential looks she’s sported during the past eight years below.


June 3, 2008

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama onstage during a rally at the Xcel Energy Center June 3, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)
Charles Ommanney—Getty Images

What: Maria Pinto dress, pearls, Alaïa belt

Why it’s influential: Obama chose a brightly colored sleeveless sheath dress from fellow Chicago native Maria Pinto during a rally in St. Paul, Minnesota, after her husband won the Democratic nomination. Her accessories spoke volumes about the future First Lady — while pearls are a standby, her studded Alaïa belt gave the dress a modern edge. The sleeveless sheath was just the first of many that would showcase the first lady’s famously toned arms.


August 25, 2008

Michelle Obama, wife of Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, brings daughters Malia (L) and Sasha on stage at the Democratic National Convention 2008 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado, on August 25, 2008. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
ROBYN BECK—AFP/Getty Images

What: Maria Pinto dress, brooch

Why it’s influential: Obama broke with the tradition for dressing for politics with a dress that was conservative but unconventional. She turned to Maria Pinto again for this dress with a bold color and unique neckline that she accessorized with a large brooch.


October 27, 2008

Michelle Obama during an interview with host Jay Leno on October 27, 2008 (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank)
NBC—NBC via Getty Images

What: J. Crew skirt, blouse, and sweater

Why it’s influential: During an appearance on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Obama told Leno and the viewers at home that everything she was wearing was from J. Crew, a popular (and affordable) ready-to-wear retailer. “Ladies, we know J. Crew,” she said. “You can get some good stuff online!”


November 4, 2008

U.S. President elect Barack Obama stands on stage along with his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha during an election night gathering in Grant Park on November 4, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

What: Narciso Rodriguez dress and cardigan

Why it’s influential: On the night that Barack Obama won his first presidential election, the family showed a united front by dressing in matching tones of red and black. It’s also worth noting that the dress designer Narciso Rodriguez is the son of Cuban immigrants; with this choice, Obama began what would become a trademark of her style: supporting American designers of color.


January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk in the Inaugural Parade on January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)
Pool—Getty Images

What: Isabel Toledo dress and coat, Nina Ricci cardigan, J. Crew leather gloves, Jimmy Choo heels

Why it’s influential: Obama’s decision to wear a light green look by Isabel Toledo for the Inauguration marked yet example that set her apart from first ladies of years past. Both the color and designer were unexpected but welcome; wearing Toledo was an intriguing move for Obama, who resisted relying exclusively on Oscar de la Renta, a favorite of former first ladies.


January 20, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama poses during the Midatlantic Regional Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, January 20, 2009. (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

What: Jason Wu gown

Why it’s influential: Obama chose to wear Jason Wu, a Taiwanese-born Canadian and first generation American for one of her first public events as the First Lady, the Inaugural Ball. The designer shot to mainstream success after the First Lady selected his dress for the ball.


February 2009

In this handout image provided by the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama poses for her official portrait in the Blue Room of the White House February 2009 in Washington, DC. This was the first time the offical First Lady portrait was captured digitally. (Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House via Getty Images)
The White House—Getty Images

What: Michael Kors dress and a double strand of pearls

Why it’s influential: Obama and her famously defined arms were the talk of the nation once her official White House portrait was released, showing the First Lady in a sleeveless black Michael Kors dress. There were some who called it scandalous and others who argued it was unapologetically strong.


April 1, 2009

US First Lady Michelle Obama walks into a room to pose for group photo, at 10 Downing Street, in central London, on April 1, 2009. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MANDEL NGAN—AFP/Getty Images

What: J. Crew cardigan, pencil skirt

Why it’s influential: Hours after Obama was spotted in a bejeweled J. Crew cardigan during the Obamas’ first U.K. visit in a presidential capacity, the cardigan sold out online, a testament to the First Lady’s impact on fashion.


April 1, 2009

LONDON APRIL 1: US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama pose for photographs with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during an audience at Buckingham Palace on April 1, 2009 in London, England. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
WPA Pool—Getty Images

What: Alaïa cardigan, Isabel Toledo dress, double strand of pearls

Why it’s influential: When Obama showed up to Buckingham Palace in her signature cardigan, she faced criticism (perhaps most significantly from Oscar de la Renta, a favorite of first ladies like Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush) for the casual feel of the look. However, this was a prime example of Obama’s easy elegance in classic American sportswear.


April 28, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama, (L) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) arrive for the unveiling ceremony for the bust of Sojourner Truth in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center April 28, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

What: Sophie Theallet shirtdress

Why it’s influential: While the shirtdress at the time may not have seemed groundbreaking, the designer, Sophie Theallet, has been a go-to choice for the First Lady. Years later when Donald Trump was elected, Theallet made headlines by declaring that she would not dress Melania Trump, urging her fellow designers to do the same.


April 29, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and Lynn Brantley, Capital Area Food Bank President and CEO, join congressional spouses and volunteers at the Capitol Area Food Bank for Feeding America on April 29, 2009 in Washington , D.C. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Sunshine Sachs & Associates)
Paul Morigi—2009 Getty Images

What: Cardigan sweater, shirt, jeans, and Lanvin sneakers

Why it’s influential: Although Obama had garnered plenty of praise for wearing clothes from retailers like Talbots and White Market Black Market and for championing easy-to-wear sportswear items like denim and cardigan sweaters, her choice to wear a pair of $540 Lanvin sneakers while volunteering at a food bank divided some critics.


August 16, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia step off Air Force One August 16, 2009 upon arrival at Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Grand Canyon, Arizona. (AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MANDEL NGAN—AFP/Getty Images

What: Short-sleeved button down, shirt, shorts

Why it’s influential: Despite the fact that she was on a summer vacation, Obama faced criticism for getting off Air Force One during a family trip to the Grand Canyon from people who felt it was inappropriate. Years later in 2013, Obama said she regretted wearing them, telling 106 & Park hosts “that created a huge stink because people were like, ‘She’s wearing shorts getting off Air Force One,” she said. “And I thought, ‘We’re on vacation. It’s hot.”


November 24, 2009

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the North Portico of the White House November 24, 2009, as the Obamas host their first official State Dinner. AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NICHOLAS KAMM—AFP/Getty Images

What: Naeem Khan gown

Why it’s influential: For her first official state dinner as First Lady with India’s prime minister and his wife, Obama chose a gown by Indian-American designer Naeem Khan.

 


January 19, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and first lady Michelle Obama (L) welcome Chinese President Hu Jintao for a State dinner at the White House January 19, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson—Getty Images

What: Alexander McQueen gown

Why it’s influential: This gorgeous Alexander McQueen dress might have been the most controversial of Obama’s formalwear; while many of First Lady’s fashion choices have been praised for being politically diplomatic, her choice to wear a British designer to a state dinner upset American designers to the point that the Council of Fashion Designers of America issued a statement expressing its disappointment with the choice.


May 24, 2011

Queen Elizabeth II poses with U.S. President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle Obama and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace ahead of a State Banquet on May 24, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Chris Jackson—Getty Images

What: Tom Ford gown and opera-length gloves

Why it’s influential: For this formal event, Obama selected a gown by Tom Ford, an American designer whose headquarters are in London.


October 13, 2011

Republic of Korea first lady Kim Yoon-ok, U.S. first lady Michele Obama, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama pose for photographs on the North Portico of the White House before attending a state dinner October 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

What: Doo-Ri Chung gown

Why it’s influential: Obama chose a one-shouldered jewel-toned gown by Korean-American designer Doo-Ri Chung for a state dinner with South Korea.


March 14, 2012

Samantha Cameron, First lady Michelle Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and U.S. President Barack Obama pose for photographs on the North Portico of the White House before attending a state dinner March 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson—Getty Images

What: Marchesa gown and Tom Binns necklaces

Why it’s influential: While pearls have long been a staple for first ladies, Obama’s layered take on it for a state dinner with British Prime Minister David Cameron was praised as a decidedly fresh and fun way to style the Marchesa gown by English designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig.


August 15, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives at a campaign event with first lady Michelle Obama August 15, 2012 in Dubuque, Iowa. The stop was one of two scheduled for today as the president wraps up a three-day, nine-city campaign trip across Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson—Getty Images

What: ASOS dress

Why it’s influential: The First Lady campaigned for Obama’s re-election in a cheery red dress from popular online retailer ASOS that anyone could snap up for less than $100; it was also favored by Hillary Clinton staffer Huma Abedin.


September 4, 2012

First Lady Michelle Obama takes the stage during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong—Getty Images

What: Tracy Reese dress, J. Crew pumps

Why it’s influential: Obama chose to wear the black designer Reese’s creation on the first day of the Democratic National Committee. Twitter reportedly exploded with questions about who made the dress. Her dress, like the speech she gave in it, got rave reviews.


October 16, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is greeted by his wife Ann Romney and son Matt Romney as U.S. President Barack Obama hugs wife Michelle Obama after a town hall style debate at Hofstra University October 16, 2012 in Hempstead, New York. (Photo by Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images)
Pool—Getty Images

What: Michael Kors dress and matching jacket

Why it’s influential: Obama wore a suit in the same bright pink shade as Ann Romney’s sheath dress for one of the presidential debates. The possible coincidence made headlines, and prompted people to wonder if the color was a nod to Breast Cancer awareness.


November 6, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson—Getty Images

What: Michael Kors dress

Why it’s influential: For the night that Obama won re-election, Obama opted to wear a dress that she already owned and had worn publicly in 2009 and 2010. She was praised for recycling dresses as a show of “restraint.”


January 21, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama and First lady Michelle Obama walk the route as the presidential inaugural parade winds through the nation's capital January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

What: Thom Browne coat, Reed Krakoff boots and J. Crew belt

Why it’s influential: For the second presidential inauguration, Obama went with an edgier and more sartorially adventurous look, picking fashion favorite Thom Browne for her outwear. However, she coupled the standout coat with an embellished belt from J. Crew, eschewing an all-designer look for a high-low combination that could appeal to a wide range of audiences.


January 21, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive together for The Inaugural Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on January 21, 2013 in Washington, United States. (Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage)
Michael Kovac—WireImage

What: Jason Wu gown

Why it’s influential: For her second inauguration gown, Michelle chose to go with the same designer who outfitted her for 2008’s ball, Jason Wu, selecting a red gown with an eye-catching neckline.


February 12, 2013

In this handout provided by the White House, first lady Michelle Obama poses in the Green Room of the White House for her official photograph, made available to news outlets February 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chuck Kennedy/The White House via Getty Images)
The White House—Getty Images

What: Reed Krakoff dress, pearls

Why it’s influential: For her second official White House portrait, the First Lady opted for an asymmetrical navy dress with sleeves by Reed Krakoff.


August 28, 2013

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on August 28, 2013. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

What: Tracy Reese dress

Why it’s influential: Obama again turned to favorite, black designer Reese at this event honoring the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.


March 28, 2015

US First Lady Michelle Obama speaks onstage during the "Black Girls Rock!" BET Special at NJPAC – Prudential Hall on March 28, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Brad Barket/BET/Getty Images for BET)
Brad Barket/BET—Getty Images for BET

What: Zac Posen dress, Jimmy Choo heels

Why it’s influential: Obama selected a fun and flattering look for BET’s Black Girls Rock! special; the off-the-shoulder style and more casual length fit for the show’s youthful audience, giving viewers a rare glimpse of the First Lady outside of a White House capacity.


April 28, 2015

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and first lady Michelle Obama (2nd L) welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe after they arrived at the north portico of the White House April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson—Getty Images

What: Tadashi Shoji gown

Why it’s influential: Obama chose a bold purple gown by designer Tadashi Shoji, a Japanese designer based in the U.S., for a state dinner with Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe.


September 25, 2015

Chinese President Xi Jinping's wife Peng Liyuan, first lady Michelle Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama pose for a formal photo prior to a state dinner at the White House September 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)
Pool—Getty Images

What: Vera Wang gown

Why it’s influential: After the backlash over her wearing Alexander McQueen in 2011 to the last state dinner with China, Obama chose an elegant gown with a mermaid silhouette and off-the-shoulder detailing by Chinese-American designer Vera Wang to welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping.


July 25, 2016

US First Lady Michelle Obama gestures during Day 1 of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 25, 2016. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

What: Christian Siriano dress

Why it’s influential: To deliver her powerful, emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama wore a simple cobalt blue dress from Project Runway alumnus Christian Siriano, who’s made headlines in the past year for providing high fashion to women of all shapes and sizes.


August 2, 2016

(L-R) Ho Ching, first lady Michelle Obama, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore and U.S. President Barack Obama pose for photographs in the North Portico of the White House August 2, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

What: Brandon Maxwell gown

Why it’s influential: Obama wore this design by Maxwell, a former stylist for Lady Gaga and newly minted fashion designer who’s been vocal about LGBTQ rights, for a state dinner with Singapore.


October 18, 2016

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wait for the arrival of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife Mrs. Agnese Landini, for a state dinner at the White House, October 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson—Getty Images

What: Atelier Versace gown

Why it’s influential: For her last state dinner as the First Lady, Obama went with a shimmering gown by Atelier Versace. The rose gold chain mail style gown was a fashion insider’s dream and a nod to the guests of honor, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and his wife. Many pointed to this gown as the apex of Michelle’s style evolution as the First Lady.


November 7, 2016

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greet supporters during a campaign rally on Independence Mall on November 7, 2016 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

What: Aubergine dress and matching coat

Why it’s influential: Instead of her signature bolder colors, Obama opted for a demure dark purple ensemble while hitting the campaign trail to support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton who wore the brighter pantsuit; both of their wardrobe choices reflected their roles on the campaign.


December 4, 2016

US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stand for the National Anthem during the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center on December 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. (CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
CHRIS KLEPONIS—AFP/Getty Images

What: Gucci gown

Why it’s influential: While the fashion set was overjoyed to see Michelle in a custom gown by Gucci, others were quick to point out that this was the first time that Michelle had worn a non-American designer to the Kennedy Center Honors, coinciding with the resignation of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.


January 6, 2017

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks during a ceremony honoring the 2017 School Counselor of the Year in the East Room of the White House January 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

What: Narciso Rodriguez dress

Why it’s influential: For her final speech as First Lady, Obama brought things full circle by wearing a red dress by the same designer she wore when her husband first won the presidency.


January 10, 2017

US First Lady Michelle Obama (2R) and US President Barack Obama greet supporters as daughter Malia looks on after the President delivered his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017.(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NICHOLAS KAMM—AFP/Getty Images

What: Jason Wu dress

Why it’s influential: Obama wore a dark blue lace dress by Jason Wu, the designer behind her two inaugural gowns, to Barack Obama’s farewell address.

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