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Michelle Obama at DNC: Tracy Reese Dress with J. Crew Heels (PHOTOS)

In a dress by young African-American designer Tracy Reese and J. Crew shoes, Michelle Obama sent the message of what her four years in the White House have been about. By Isabel Wilkinson.

Harry E. Walker / MCT via Getty Images

“Our first lady is spectacular,” tweeted designer Diane Von Furstenberg. And indeed, she was.

When Michelle Obama took the stage on Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, she tore the house down with a speech that underscored her husband’s strengths and her role as “mom-in-chief.” It was, as Howard Kurtz put it, a resounding triumph.

But seconds after she first appeared onstage, everyone wanted to know: what—or rather who—was she wearing? It was a stunning custom-made dress by the young African-American designer Tracy Reese, which the first lady paired with pink pumps by J. Crew. It was a true Michelle Obama moment—and symbolic of her democratic attitude about style.

The choice underscored her support of homegrown talent. The 48-year-old Reese is a native of Detroit—and the symbolism didn’t stop there. Reese worked her way up in the fashion industry, moving to New York in 1982 to attend the Parsons School of Design, after which she apprenticed at Perry Ellis and formed her own eponymous label in 1988. Hers is a bohemian but classic style—and Obama has worn her designs several times before, including on the cover of People magazine in 2009—and to visit a Walgreens on the South Side of Chicago last year.

Obama has also long been a champion of high and low fashion. She paired the unique dress with J. Crew’s rhubarb Everly suede pumps—which retail for $245. (She wore three J. Crew pieces from the Fall 2009 collection when she appeared on the cover of Vogue.) And she even matched her manicure to her outfit, flashing nails that were a shade of teal.

Relative to the dresses at the Republican National Convention, Michelle’s style was refreshing. Ann Romney, who looked beautiful and classic in an Oscar de la Renta design—still managed to look old school, eagerly following the first-lady handbook letter for letter with red nails and lips to match. Janna Ryan, on the other hand, opted for the overly symbolic: she chose two conservative Talbots dresses, each that retail for under $200. The choices demonstrated a concern for showcasing the value rather than using fashion as a tool to inspire.