Jill Biden’s scintillating state dinner dress revived a first lady tradition


It’s just a fact: When the French come over for dinner, you should probably step up the glamour. And when those friends are France’s first couple, one of them a true fashion icon, a favorite of the Paris celebrity magazine press β€” a little extra shine becomes even more imperative.

On Thursday night, Jill Biden rose to the occasion. When she and President Biden hosted French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, for the administration’s first state dinner, they greeted their guests in the chilly December air on the steps of the White House. The beading on the First Lady’s long-sleeved, navy blue, off-the-shoulder column gown sparkled; light danced in the spaces between the multitude of subtle flower sconces that made up her outer silhouette.

French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, arrived at the White House for a state dinner on December 1. (Video: The Washington Post)

Yes, the first lady found a way to sneak her signature flowers into even the most formal presidential events, and dazzle while doing it. But that wasn’t her only big statement of her night. Biden’s choice of designer for her inaugural state dinner as first lady, Oscar de la Renta, also spoke volumes about her relationship not only with fashion but also with tradition.

At state dinner, Biden and Macron stand shoulder to shoulder

For most of the last few days, perhaps unsurprisingly, it has been Brigitte Macron whose fashion sensibility has captivated viewers. When she arrived Tuesday night and disembarked at Joint Base Andrews, a french magazine praised her luxe-looking monochromatic beige ensemble, calling its luscious buttery hue under the asphalt lights “luminous” and “downright chic.” To visit the grave of Pierre Charles L’Enfant at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, Macron dressed all in black: traditional on top, with a long double-breasted coat and high-necked blouse, and glamorous on the bottom, in thick black heels. peeking out of his trademark black skinny pants.

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Biden, for his part, has stayed in his comfort zone for most of this visit: Greeting the Macrons at the White House on Thursday during the day, he opted for a high-necked coat, heels and gloves, all in the same shade of pink. her rocking a head-to-toe jewel tone just as she did for Opening Day in 2021. For a private dinner with the Macrons the night before, she wore a dark wool coat over a modest knee-length dress.

A state dinner flummoxes everyone, even a little. And that is glorious.

By choosing to wear a custom Oscar de la Renta to Thursday’s state dinner, the first lady not only took some rewarding risks (That amazing cleavage! Those tiny, playful cutouts!), but also conveyed a commitment to manners. and most beloved conventions.

Oscar de la Renta, now under the creative leadership of designers Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, custom-made the gown for Biden. (Garcia told The Washington Post at dinner: “It was important for her to feel like herself.”) But the namesake of the American brand has been called America’s first unofficial designer For how many first ladies have their work worn. Jacqueline Kennedy, first, in the 1960s; Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush followed in his footsteps.

Macron’s state dinner guests include Colbert, Louis-Dreyfus

De la Renta once criticized Michelle Obama for dressing a European designer (Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton) at a state dinner with China in 2011: “I understand,” he said. told Women’s Wear Daily, β€œis that the visit was to promote US-Chinese trade: American products in China and Chinese products in the United States. Why do you wear European clothes? Some surmised that the statement was born in part out of feeling slighted: Obama had, up to that point, I never used your designs. (Obama, finally, well into her second term as first lady, wore an Oscar de la Renta cocktail dressjust a few weeks before De La Renta died). Like Obama, Melania Trump used De La Renta sparingly.

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First ladies, in other words, used to wear Oscar de la Renta on formal presidential occasions all the time. Biden’s sparkly gown on Thursday night, then, was not just an elegant fashion choice, but a bold step toward restoring a cherished relationship. And above all, a statement of support for the tradition of American fashion.

Robin Givhan contributed to this report.