Michelle Obama, recently returned from gallivanting around the world, certainly didn’t lose her touch style-wise while on vacation. The former first lady appeared at the ESPY awards Wednesday evening, where she presented the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who established the Special Olympics in 1968. (Kennedy Shriver’s son, Timothy Shriver, received the award.)
For the ceremony, which many outlets are calling her first major appearance since husband Barack Obama left office in January—if you don’t count every appearance she makes as a “major appearance”—Obama wore a tea-length, fitted navy Cushnie et Ochs dress, according to WWD, with cutouts along the neckline and long sleeves. It offers yet another example of the former first lady’s support of home-grown design talent; she’s been an early adopter of designers like Brandon Maxwell and Jason Wu (Canadian, but based in New York). She paired the look with asymmetrical stiletto pumps of a dizzying height and Jennifer Fisher jewelry.
It made for a sleek, yet sporty look, a balance Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs have mastered in their near-decade designing for their namesake label. Ten years on, body-conscious looks with bold cutouts remain a signature.
Michelle Obama Might Be the Best Dressed First Lady Since Jackie O
Michelle Obama in Alexander McQueen at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., January 2011.
Michelle Obama in Azzedine Alaïa in Baden-Baden, Germany, April 2009.
Michelle Obama in Ralph Lauren in London, England, May 2011.
Michelle Obama in Michael Kors on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, January 2012.
Michelle Obama in Thom Browne at President Obama’s second inauguration in Washington, D.C., January 2013.
Michelle Obama in Carolina Herrera at a state dinner in Berlin, Germany, June 2013.
Michelle Obama in Marchesa at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., May 2014.
Michelle Obama in Bibhu Mohabaptra at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2014.
Michelle Obama in Zac Posen at the BET Black Girls Rock! special in Newark, New Jersey, March 2015.
Michelle Obama in Mary Katrantzou in London, England, June 2015.
Michelle Obama in Christopher Kane in London, England, June 2015.
Michelle Obama in Carolina Herrera at the arrival of Pope Francis in Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, September 2015.
Michelle Obama in Vera Wang at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2015.
Michelle Obama in Tanya Taylor in Washington, D.C., March 2016.
Michelle Obama in Jason Wu at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., March 2016.
Michelle Obama in Carolina Herrera arriving in Havana, Cuba, March 2016.
Michelle Obama in BCBG at the opening ceremony for the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, May 2016.
Michelle Obama in Naeem Khan at the Nordic state dinner in Washington, D.C., May 2016.
Michelle Obama in Hugo Boss speaking with Oprah in Washington, D.C., June 2016.
Michelle Obama in Marni in Monrovia, Liberia, June 2016.
Michelle Obama in Proenza Schouler in Marrakech, Morroco, June 2016.
Michelle Obama in Peter Pilotto in Marrakech, Morocco, June 2016.
Michelle Obama in Proenza Schouler arriving in Madrid, Spain, June 2016.
Michelle Obama in Preen in Madrid, Spain, July 2016.
Michelle Obama in Christian Siriano arriving at a memorial for police officers killed in Dallas, Texas, July 2016.
Michelle Obama in Christian Siriano at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 2016.
Michelle Obama in Brandon Maxwell at a state dinner honoring the first family of Singapore in Washington, D.C., August 2016.
WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 08: First lady Michelle Obama speaks during the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities poetry reading to honor student poets at the White House, September 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. The first lady honored five students with the nation’s highest honor for teen poets presenting original work. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Michelle Obama in Naeem Khan at the Phoenix Awards dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2016.
Michelle Obama in Self-Portrait at the Broadway Shine a Light event in New York, New York, September 2016.
While the look might be classic Cushnie, it’s a deviation for the former first lady, whose looks in office were a bit more conservative, with classically feminine silhouettes—nary a cutout or body-con look in sight, but plenty of florals and A-line skirts. Even when she opted for closer-fitting or strapless looks, these were usually paired with cap sleeves or a longer hem as a counterpoint. But this new Cushnie et Ochs look has more in common with the shimmering chain mail Atelier Versace look Obama wore for her final state dinner as first lady, with the Matteo Renzi, prime minister of Italy, and his wife, Agnese Landini. In rose gold chain mail, the first lady upstaged them all—including Gwen Stefani, who performed that night, and Frank Ocean, who arrived in classic Vans.
But I digress. Obama has continued to work with stylist Meredith Koop, who was a member of her transition team in 2008 and became her wardrobe consultant when Barack Obama took office in 2009. It’s evident Obama and Koop are ushering in a new, post-grad life for the former first lady. Our favorite FLOTUS spent the beginning of the summer traveling the world with Barack and, intermittently, their two children Sasha and Malia, but even while she was taking her sort-of gap year, Michelle never went on a style hiatus. (A pink-and-white blouse by the Finnish designer Teija just about broke Twitter and nearly sold out as soon as its designer was revealed.)
With its demure length and long sleeves, Obama’s ESPYs look isn’t such a departure from her White House wardrobe—but it’s just enough of a deviation, with its sleek silhouette and asymmetrical cutouts, paired with teetering high heels, to mark an evolution in the former first lady’s style. We’re glad she seems to have had a magical vacation—but we’re even more pleased she’s back.
Designer Giambattista Valli describes his dream show: