During Michelle Obama’s term as first lady, Americans got used to headlines of the “Michelle Obama looks hawt” variety. She stunned in satin, she fascinated in florals, she prevailed in pleats, and gradually it began to seem ordinary that our first lady regularly turned out such high-grade looks. Now as this eight-year-long runway strut nears its end, we should pause to appreciate how good we had it: The end of the Obama administration is going to be sad for a lot of reasons, but mourning the loss of Mrs. Obama as first lady of fashion will be a not-insignificant part of it.
For the next few weeks every time Michelle Obama steps out in a fancy dress, there will be a hint of pathos to it: Will this be the last time? The last time we’ll get to see her like this, decked out in full FLOTUS regalia? Such is the case with this weekend’s Kennedy Center Honors dress, a black Gucci full-skirted gown covered in metallic green and pink flowers. The colors were festive and fitting for December, the perfect complement to twinkly Christmas trees, and the off-the-shoulder neckline even nodded to one of this year’s biggest trends. Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times read Michelle’s choice of an Italian designer as a possible show of support to Italy on the same day the country’s prime minister resigned but also noted its undeniable prettiness.
Michelle Obama will of course continue to wear clothes and look good in them long after her husband’s term ends, but right now we’re still in these last prelapsarian, preapocolyptic moments of the Obama years, the rapidly dwindling period before the Trump administration begins in earnest. Just a few weeks ago, we admired Michelle’s rose-gold Versace chainmail gown, but we didn’t know then what we know for certain now. As far as first spouses went, we knew Mrs. Obama’s replacement could never be her equal. But most of us thought we were going to get Bill Clinton in a velour track suit, not Melania Trump, a woman whose interest in fashion tends to be eclipsed, and rightly so, by her husband’s interest in misogyny and racism. With all the attention Michelle gets for her style, it’s not only that she looks good in these getups—as a former model, Melania often looks just fine herself. It’s more that Michelle Obama is someone whose personality and values many Americans embraced, and having already embraced her inner beauty, they were that much more proud to embrace her outer beauty as well.
The Kennedy Center Honors constitute “Washington’s cultural event of the year”—insert joke about how Washington, D.C., is a cesspool devoid of culture here—and in disheartening times like these, Michelle’s dress shows us that life goes on, and maybe even gives us some small reason to be excited again. Not unlike her husband’s commitment to a peaceful transference of power even if that means helping someone like Donald Trump find his footing in the White House, Michelle is setting an example; she’s carrying on. In the year 2016, we may not have everything we want, but we’ll still have the holidays, and by God, Michelle Obama is still going to wear fabulous dresses.