I find myself in good company when I say, with all due respect, that I was disappointed by Mrs. Obama's ball gown. Now, seriously, I am no fashionista. In fact, I know almost nothing about fashion, and haute couture just annoys me. Fashions made for stick figures just don't do anything for me. I just didn't like the dress.
Not that it was a complete disaster. It just was such an opportunity to wear the perfect dress, and that opportunity, in my humble opinion was missed.
What the dress did right:
I liked the bare neckline (or would have, without that shoulder thing. Let's pretend that shoulder thing didn't exist for right now.) Mrs. Obama has good shoulders, which is a "rare fair feature" and I am glad they featured it. Also, as an art historian, the showing of strong shoulders creates such a wonderful, powerful image of a self-assertive and powerful person, it was a good thing to emphasize.
I liked the swing and flow of the skirt. When Mrs. Obama turned, there was a dramatic sweep of motion in the skirt, and I think that created a sense of motion and mystery, energy and flow that really worked.
What I would have done differently:
White? White is a color you put on really skinny people to give them an illusion of weight. And I mean really skinny. Brides wear white our of post-Victorian tradition, not for flattering the figure. In fact, many bridal dresses pull out a whole host of other tricks for flattery to make up for the color. On top of that, Mrs. Obama can really wear color, so why not take advantage of that? A rich green. A bright peacock or royal blue. (I'm not into red for inaugurations).
The textured fabric? No, no. no. What were those things? Flowers? The dress needed some sparkle, but keep it flush. Don't look like a bunch of random butterflies just landed all over you. That's more for a kid's prom dress, not an adult's ball gown. Maybe some beading, or some sequin work, a little flash without overdoing it. I'd prefer beads, but they can be a little heavy, and you don't want to disturb the motion in the skirt. Maybe a shimmery material of some kind. LAce is OK if it isn't pop-up.
Waistline- oh dear. Mrs. Obama apparently has a high waistline naturally, so why not go with a faux empire waist to flatter? Especially with the white...
The shoulder thing. Dump it. It was distracting. It was way too heavy. It looked like an afterthought, disturbing the lines of the dress. What was the point? Was that added to help her get in and out of the car or something?
So I think in the end, I wanted there to be more elegance, more of an adult feel to the dress. To me, the dress looked like a glorified prom dress, not a formal ball gown.
I put out this critique not really as a critique of Mrs. Obama. She has the right to have her own taste, and to select any gown she feels is appropriate. This critique is really more about what I feel are appropriate and desirable qualities in a a wife, a mother, a First Lady, and a woman in today's world, as communicated through clothing. In other words, this is not about the Obamas, the designers, or even really a dress; it is about me, how I feel, and what I want. So, Mrs. Obama, go for it. Set your own style, and never wear anything you don't love. Show us your ideas. We want to know!