In the sea of dark businesses suits and fitted jackets in Republican red or Democratic blue, First Lady Michelle Obama's sleeveless oxblood-and-black ensemble shimmered, accented with a simple silver flower brooch at her left shoulder. The President blew her a kiss as he took the stage to deliver the 2013 State of the Union address.
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The first lady had already made headlines earlier in the day, when her office released the list of people who had been invited to sit with her during Tuesday's speech. Along with Dr. Jill Biden and senior advisor to the president Valerie Jarrett, Apple CEO Tim Cook, "wounded warrior" Sergeant Carlos Evans, and Mars Curiosity Rover flight director Bobak Ferdowsi are among the 24 honored guests, as are Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton Sr., whose teenage daughter, Hadiya Pendleton, was shot and killed on Chicago's south side just a few days after performing at President Obama's inaugural celebration in January.
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Tuesday night's appearance was Mrs. Obama's first big fashion opportunity since the inauguration in January, when we were once again reminded why everything that Michelle Obama wears matters. Moments after she arrived for the daytime inauguration ceremony wearing a power-suit-inspired coat and dress, menswear designer Thom Browne became a household name; The New York Times called it a "lightening strike moment" that vaulted Browne "from influential semi-obscurity into the limelight and the American mainstream." Her decision to once again wear a Jason Wu gown to the inaugural ball didn't just put an obscure young designer on the map, it secured his place in fashion history.
The first lady's State of the Union outfit isn't scrutinized as much as her inaugural choices, but she has used the occasion to make powerful fashion statements before. In 2009, she wore a deep purple sleeveless Narciso Rodriguez dress to the State of the Union speech and, even though she wasn't the first First Lady to accessorize by baring her arms -- in 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy stood out in a sleeveless black sheath dress during President John F. Kennedy's State of the Union address, a stark contrast to the fur-collared crowd surrounding her -- the look took the fashion world aback.
"Oh my God," Cindi Leive, the editor of Glamour magazine told the New York Times soon after. "The First Lady has bear arms in Congress, in February, at night!"
Perhaps because of all the attention focused on her bare arms, the first lady scaled things back in 2010, when she wore a modest, 3/4-sleeve wine-colored Isaac Mizrahi dress, which she paired with a single strand of pearls. In 2011 she kept her arms covered up again, wearing a sleek, pale-gray dress by Rachel Roy. But the shiny, sapphire-blue silk Barbara Tfank dress that she wore last year featured dainty capped sleeves that showed off those famously toned arms.
This year, she went back to her signature sleeveless look in a subtle fit-and-flare color-block dress that some viewers thought was too sparkly for the occasion. "Forget FLOTUS' dress designer," Samar Kaukab Ahmad quipped on Twitter. "Justice Ginsburg and her collar are the fashion story of the night."
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