Jill Biden won’t tell you what she’s wearing

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The day after President Biden released a video announcing he would run for a second term, he and the first lady, Jill Biden, stood on the red carpet outside the north entrance of the White House in black tie and evening dress to welcome President Yoon. Suk Yeol of South Korea and his wife, Kim Keon-hee, at the second state dinner of the Biden administration. It was interesting timing.

After all, what better way to show how at home you are in your current role – how gracefully you play it – than to welcome the world into your home (relatively speaking) in the ultimate pantomime of national hosting that the… well yes, flesh, of this particular political ritual?

When the dinner itself takes place largely behind closed doors, one photo always goes wide: the greeting portrait, the two couples side by side, dressed in pomp and symbolism. It tells an implicit story about soft power and priorities.

So what exactly does it say that although Dr. Biden and her office eager to participate in the usual preview of the evening’s menu, decor and entertainment, the blue tablecloths were chosen in honor of the 70th anniversary of the alliance with the Republic of Korea? ! The seats were bamboo, with cushion designs reminiscent of traditional Korean brush painting! – the only topic they didn’t officially communicate on was what the first lady was wearing?

Amidst all the hosting details, it seemed like a pretty glaring omission.

It’s not like everyone couldn’t see her dress, thanks to that greeting photo: a long, mauve column by Lebanese designer Reem Acra, whose work Dr. Biden has worn for many of her public events since Obama’s inauguration in 2009. She carried Reem Acra to her granddaughter Naomi Biden’s wedding at the White House in November and to the Kennedy Center Honors in 2021.

It’s not that she (and her office) don’t understand her power as a role model: She’s the first first lady to continue her day job while serving as the human face of an administration. What she wears is a signal in all sorts of ways – about who she is and who and what she represents – just as it has been for every first lady before her. Never more than at moments of great pomp, such as a state dinner.

This is why many such garments are donated to the National Archives by first ladies and why the Smithsonian collects inaugural dresses. That’s why the East Wing has released information about first lady’s dresses during past administrations. That’s why it seems such a popular saying as Dr. Biden wears clothes again. That’s why she’s been working unofficially with stylist Bailey Moon since Mr. Biden’s inauguration. And it’s not that clothes are more or less frivolous, or reminiscent of a homely atmosphere, than food or flowers. It’s just an easy connection point: everyone gets dressed.

So really, what gives?

Recognize what Dr. Biden would not undermine her content. And it could go a long way in increasing a designer’s name recognition, highlighting creativity, and telling a story about the Biden family values ​​or even the priorities of the Biden administration. Michelle Obama used her wardrobe very effectively to highlight America’s melting pot, her industry and her cross-border collaboration.

But dr. Biden seems to openly reject that tradition, especially given how clearly her staff thought about every aspect of the state dinner. In that context, it seems like a conscious decision not to include the details of her dress — who made it, the color, design, or material. (Oscar de la Renta, for example, a brand she wore to her first state dinner, was co-designed by Laura Kim, a Korean American, and would have seemed like a more obvious choice for this event than Ms. Acra.)

Instead, it was left to Vice President Kamala Harris, who wore a bright blue jacket with jet black beaded belt over a black velvet column from South Korean designer Miss SoHee – a brand, probably not coincidentally, Gen Z favorite that recently took a starring role at Sofia Richie’s wedding – to take up the baton of style diplomacy.

Again: what is this about?

Consider this: fashion as a symbol of ambition was closely associated with former first lady Melania Trump, once a model, whose guarded personality was often displayed in the polished seams of the luxury brands she wore. As the 2024 election begins to take shape as another possible showdown between Donald J. Trump and Mr. Biden, fashion seems to have become a line in the sand for the current first lady; a very visible difference.

She uses it, just not in the way expected. It is the statement of no statement.

Since the last election, Dr. Biden carefully positioned herself, not as the trophy first lady on a pedestal, but as the working first lady next door. This state dinner was a reminder of that framing. Perhaps foreshadowing her role in the upcoming campaign.

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