Thursday night, Jill Biden rose to the occasion. When she and President Biden hosted French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, for the administration’s first state dinner, they greeted their guests in the crisp December air on the steps of the House. White. The beads on the first lady’s long-sleeved, navy blue, off-the-shoulder column dress shimmered; light danced through the gaps between the multitude of subtle floral appliqués that made up its exterior silhouette.
Yes, the first lady has found a way to slip her signature flowers into even the most formal presidential events — and dazzle while doing so. But that wasn’t his only big statement of the night. Biden’s choice as the designer for his inaugural state dinner as first lady – Oscar de la Renta – also revealed subtle volumes about his relationship not just with fashion but also with tradition.
For most of the past few days, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s Brigitte Macron whose fashion sensibility has won over onlookers. When she arrived Tuesday evening and disembarked at Joint Base Andrews, a French magazine praised her luxurious monochrome beige ensemble, calling her delicious buttery shade under the tarmac lights “luminous” and “downright chic”. . To visit the grave of Pierre Charles L’Enfant at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, Macron wore all black – traditional at the top, with a long double-breasted overcoat and high-necked blouse, and glamorous at the bottom, with chunky black heels sticking out of his signature black cigarette pants.
Biden, meanwhile, has remained in her comfort zone for most of this visit: Saluting the Macrons at the White House Thursday in the daytime, she opted for a high-necked coat, heels and gloves all in the same rose-pink hue, wearing a head-to-toe jewel tone as she did for Inauguration Day in 2021. At a private dinner with the Macrons the night before, she wore a coat in dark wool over a modest knee-length dress.
By choosing to wear a personalized Oscar de la Renta for Thursday’s state dinner, the first lady not only took rewarding risks (That startling cleavage! The playful tiny cutouts!) but also conveyed a commitment to customs and beloved conventions.
Oscar de la Renta, who is now under the creative direction of designers Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, made the custom dress for Biden. (Garcia told the Washington Post over dinner, “It was important for her to feel like herself.”) But the American brand’s namesake has been dubbed America’s first unofficial designer for the number of first ladies who have worn her work. Jacqueline Kennedy, the first, in the 1960s; Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush followed in her footsteps.
De la Renta once criticized Michelle Obama for wearing a European designer (Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton) at a state dinner with China in 2011: — American products in China and Chinese products in America. Why do you wear European clothes? Some have speculated that the statement was partly born out of a sense of rebuff: Obama had never worn his designs before. (Obama, ultimately, well into her second term as first lady, wore an Oscar de la Renta cocktail dress, just weeks before De La Renta’s death.) Like Obama, Melania Trump only wore de la Renta. with parsimony.
In other words, first ladies wore Oscar de la Renta all the time on official presidential occasions. Biden’s sparkly dress on Thursday night was therefore not just an elegant fashion choice, but a bold step towards restoring a cherished relationship. And above all, a statement of support for the tradition of American fashion.
Robin Givhan contributed to this report.