On Inauguration Day, all eyes will be on Barack Obama. But when the sun goes down, that gaze will shift to his wife, Michelle.
What the new first lady wears to the myriad balls will be parsed, praised and maybe even pilloried — a dress so significant it might one day be displayed at the Smithsonian.
Fashion writer Simon Doonan, the creative director of Barneys New York and the author of Eccentric Glamour, tells NPR's Renee Montagne that he's become "sort of increasingly uncomfortable with this hysteria about what's she's going to wear and how she looks.
"But there's a tremendous amount of talk about what she will or won't wear because everyone in fashion can see she has that great physicality," he says. "She can wear the most conservative, appropriate clothes and she's always going to give them this extra sizzle."
The Web is teeming with designers' sketches of ideas for what Michelle Obama might don for the inaugural balls. Doonan says he's been seeing those sketches for the last six months.
"It is fun to play paper dolls and, you know, think about what would look good on her," he says. "Basically, when you're a public servant, you have to dress in an appropriate way."
Doonan says if he were in Obama's place, he would wear something very simple. "When you start adding couture ruffles and fooffles and bows, you could get into trouble."
Much has been made of Obama's past appearances in dresses from stores like J. Crew. "I think one always wants to think that she's a populist, she's shopping where the rest of us shop," Doonan says. "But I feel that, you know, you want her to be known for something else: education, mental health, I don't know what else, but she has to be known for something other than looking great in a shift dress."