On the Runway: Michelle Obama’s Dress May Have Looked Simple, but It Spoke Volumes

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On the Runway: Michelle Obama’s Dress May Have Looked Simple, but It Spoke Volumes

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Vanessa Friedman

Vanessa Friedman

ON THE RUNWAY

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, as many of my colleagues have described. Which is not to say it lacked a fashion statement or two.

The loudest may have come early in the evening, courtesy of a video starring the economist Austan Goolsbee and the actor Ken Jeong in which Mr. Goolsbee reveals to Mr. Jeong that most of the Donald Trump-branded clothing line is not Made in the U.S.A., but rather in Bangladesh, China, Mexico and other countries (facts that seem to undermine Mr. Trump’s assertion of America First but also seem to have had no impact on his supporters). But the most pointed came, not surprisingly, from Michelle Obama.

Not that you would have known it at first. Like her speech, in which she castigated Mr. 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 the designer Christian Siriano, and it pretty much matched the backdrop, playing down Mrs. Obama’s appearance and playing to the patriotic theme, especially when contrasted with the bright red jacket that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wore during her speech.

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

But unlike another reality TV star, Mr. Siriano has built his career on being inclusive: on 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 late-40-something six-foot-tall star of the movie remake “Ghostbusters,” complained recently that no designer wanted to dress her, making 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 earlier this year, and has dressed other celebrities including Kate Hudson and Zendaya.

“I just don’t think 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 all Mrs. Obama’s wardrobe choice was happenstance, however, know that the convention appearance was only the second time she has worn Mr. Siriano; the first time was this month, at the funeral for the police officers killed in Dallas.

Throughout her time in the White House, the first lady 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 because their back story 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 Mr. Siriano is.

Think that’s just a coincidence?

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