Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama, in Cushnie et Ochs, presents the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver in Los Angeles, California, July 2017.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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.

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.

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