If anyone could handle the pressure of dressing for this historic Inauguration Day, it’s former First Lady Michelle Obama. As the first Black First Lady, she has a better understanding than most of the pressures Vice President Kamala Harris will face as the trifecta of first woman, first Black, and first Asian American Vice President of the United States.
And with that comes the responsibility of what to wear. It isn’t mere superficial vanity, Obama expertly deployed her fashion early on to share her values and promote emerging designers. “It seemed that my clothes mattered more to people than anything I had to say,” she told the New York Times in 2018. “Optics governed more or less everything in the political world, and I factored this into every outfit.”
On January 20, she arrived in a burgundy coat and jumpsuit cinched with a gold belt by Black designer Sergio Hudson and a black face mask. Hudson, an up-and-coming designer who made his debut on New York Fashion week in February 2020, has designed looks for Obama’s Becoming book tour and at the Essence festival and his clients include celebrities like Rihanna and Beyonce. Kamala Harris wore Sergio Hudson shoes to the inauguration with her outfit by Black designer Christopher John Rodgers.
For President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, she wore a sparkling gold sheath dress and coat by Cuban-born American designer Isabel Toledo for the presidential swearing-in ceremony. There was the color: sunny and full of optimism. And there was the designer: Toledo immigrated to the U.S. at age eight, and went on to fulfill the American dream of becoming a successful fashion designer. In 2013, she wore a Thom Browne dress and coat, polished and businesslike. And of course, there were the stunning gowns for each inauguration, both designed by Jason Wu. It is clear from these examples alone (and there are many more) that Obama artfully represented American designers of all races and all genders, particularly championing emerging designers. As the years went on, her approach became dubbed “sartorial diplomacy,” drawing comparisons to Jackie Kennedy, who took a similar approach, although with fewer political landmines to navigate.
It is no surprise that she chose Sergio Hudson, a Black designer originally from South Carolina, to celebrate Harris’s historic inauguration to underscore that we are entering a new era, where new voices will be given room to be heard—and seen.