On Wednesday night, Michelle Obama wrapped up the first leg of her tour in support of her autobiography, Becoming, by conversing with Sarah Jessica Parker at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s not easy to show up Parker in the wardrobe department—she’s long made headlines for her cutting-edge, often outlandish outfits on Sex and the City and IRL. But on Wednesday, Obama abandoned her usual modest, classic-contemporary wardrobe for a pair of goddess booties that shone with the brilliance of a million suns.
The crotch-high Balenciaga stilettos (get them here if you’ve got $3,900 to spare) are covered in tiny gold sequins that twinkle with rainbow prisms when the light hits. On Obama, they almost looked like Rihanna-esque bootpants; it wasn’t clear where, or if, they ended. Made of stretch fabric, they functioned almost like a warm pair of winter leggings under Obama’s high-slit dress (also from Balenciaga and not yet available to the general public). Only Obama could make over-the-knee luxury disco boots seem like a sensible fashion choice.
During her time in the White House, Obama mostly wore casual, affordable, off-the-rack outfits from mall-store brands like J. Crew, the Gap, and Talbots. Her memoir hints at why: During her husband’s presidential campaign, both the mainstream media and right-wing press caricatured her as an unrelatable, unpatriotic black woman. One of her main goals as first lady was to stay out of the press, and building a humble, painstakingly unobjectionable wardrobe was a means to that particular end. When she had a state dinner or gala to attend, she made a point of wearing lesser-known designers and American designers of color. Obama knew her clothes were going to be scrutinized, so she made sure they matched her politics.
Shoe-wise, she’s played it even safer. After being criticized for wearing a pair of forest-green heels at her husband’s first inauguration, she mostly stuck to comfortable flats on busy-schedule days, sensible pumps for visits with dignitaries, and sneakers in the White House garden and at her “Let’s Move” events. More recently, headlines have praised her for wearing skin-toned heels, “the No. 1 most flattering” (read: boring) shoe style.
Now that she’s a private citizen whose husband has stepped back enough to let her claim the spotlight for a bit, Obama can wear whatever the hell she wants. And what she wants is a pair of the world’s most glamorous shoes—shoes that cover her entire legs, cost as much as a high-end computer, and look like they came from an alchemist’s laboratory. Instead of easing into a gutsier post–White House aesthetic with a gigantic fuzzy coat or statement jeans, Obama went from zero (a pair of pink kitten heels) to infinity (never-ending gold glitter boots) in the span of a single book tour. (The midway point was these white Jimmy Choo caged booties.)
When I polled my Slate colleagues on the gold boots, even those who didn’t love them said they were glad to see Obama taking a fashion risk. Some found special significance in the image of Obama as a mother who has sidelined her own ambitions to enable those of her husband and children—a reality she explores in great detail in her book—but can now focus on herself, entertaining both her major goals and her everyday whims. “With the amount of suppression that happens as a mom, especially a working mom, and supporting someone else’s career for half your life—you want to just let loose,” Slate event producer Kirsten Holtz Naim told me, adding, “When I’m Michelle Obama’s age, I will be covered in glitter.”