Does Michelle Obama's Official Portrait Gown Have a Hidden Meaning?

Does Michelle Obama's Official Portrait Gown Have a Hidden Meaning?

There's more to the halter dress than meets the eye ...

By Jenny Berg

It's not the typical first-lady portrait. In the Amy Sherald painting of Michelle Obama, which was unveiled at Washington's Smithsonian Museum on February 12, the former first lady exposes her arms in an eye-catching halter gown. As it turns out, Milly designed the dress that has since become immortalized — and there's more to the arresting frock than its modern silhouette. 

The bespoke gown was based on a piece from Milly's Spring/Summer 2017 collection, and Sherald was drawn in by the geometric shapes that adorn its billowing fabric. Speaking at the portrait's unveiling, the painter said that the shapes reminded her of Gee's Bend, which is an all-black community in Alabama that's known for its quilts. 

Milly designer Michelle Smith told Vogue: "It’s made of a stretch cotton poplin print in a clean, minimal, geometric print without a reference to anything past or nostalgic, which gives the dress a very forward-thinking sensibility — this is very Michelle Obama.” Smith added: "It’s up to Mrs. Obama to say why she chose this for the portrait, but I would say that it’s a very modern, emotional dress with a very womanly, very American spirit." 

Politico also suggested a hidden political message in Obama's choice of Smith as the gown's designer. Smith has been outspoken about her support of causes such as Planned Parenthood, and has been a vocal opponent of the Trump administration. 

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